Ronnie Wilson, founder of the Gap Band, dies at 73


Ronnie Wilson, the founder of the Gap Band, who shot a funky sound on the R&B charts in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, passed away on Tuesday. He was 73 years old.

The death was announced on Facebook by Mr. Wilson’s wife, Linda Boulware-Wilson. She did not say where he died or what the cause was.

The Gap Band topped the R&B charts four times and placed 15 songs in the R&B Top 10 from 1979 to 1990; two of his singles, “Early in the Morning” and “You Dropped a Bomb on Me”, reached the Top 40 pop in 1982. Ronnie Wilson mainly played keyboards, but also contributed horn and percussion parts in a rotating vocal and instrumental arrangement with his two younger brothers, Robert, who played mainly bass, and Charlie, the singer.

Hits like “Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)” (1980) defined the sound of the Gap Band, which New York Times critic Stephen Holden described in 1981 as “swinging – sweaty minimalist funk, slang and streetwise ”. Some of their other better-known tracks, like “Outstanding” (1982), hit an erotic tone in a smoother way – less stomping of the feet, more rolling of the hips.

The Gap Band appeared on “Soul Train,” the leading television showcase for black music at the time, and appeared in concert alongside bands like Kool & the Gang.

In the years since their popularity peaks, the Gap Band’s tracks have been sampled hundreds of times. Ashanti’s 2002 hit “Happy” gets its quiet, bouncy sound from “Outstanding” and NWA’s canonical “Straight Outta Compton” accelerates and darkens “Burn Rubber on Me”.

In an interview with the San Francisco weekly The Sun-Reporter in 1999, Mr. Wilson said that he and his younger brothers were addressed with the honorary “Uncle” before their names by current music stars like Snoop Dogg “because we helped lay the foundation for hip-hop.

Ronnie Wilson was born on April 7, 1948 in Tulsa, Okla. His father, Oscar, was a pastor, and Ronnie and his brothers grew up playing music in church.

Ronnie formed his first band as a teenager, and over time he got his brothers involved. The word “Gap” in the Gap Band’s name comes from Greenwood Avenue, Archer Street and Pine Street in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa – the neighborhood, once known as Black Wall Street, which was the site of the racial massacre. of Tulsa in 1921.

The band quickly got into the music business, and met stars like Bob Dylan, thanks to long-time Tulsa-based singer and rock pianist Leon Russell, who brought the Gap Band back to his album “Stop All That Jazz “(1974). The Wilson brothers signed their first major contract with Mercury a few years later.

Ronnie Wilson then worked as a minister and continued to perform occasionally. Her brother Charlie pursued a successful solo singing career. The other brother of the group, Robert, died in 2010.

A full list of survivors was not immediately available.

Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.


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