In a year that has brought too many losses of R&B greats, yet another has been reported. On Sunday, Solar Records posted the news of the death of longtime Lakeside percussionist and songwriter Fred “Timbales” Lewis at age 72.
Another in the long line of talented funk acts to come out of Dayton, Ohio, Lakeside was formed around 1970 by members of two local groups, the Nomads and the Young Undergrounds. The group, consisting of members Otis Stokes, Thomas Shelby, Steve Shockley, Mark Wood, Tierneyer McCain, Norman Beavers, Marvin Craig and Lewis was truly unique in that it essentially consisted of two groups: a stand up 4-man vocal group, and a full-on four person (later five person) funk band.
The mega-sized group won a contest that sent the members to Chicago to record a session for Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label. The recording never materialized, and the group made the decision to move to California to jumpstart their careers. There, Lakeside Express picked up new member, drummer Fred Alexander, and became one of the most popular club acts in L.A. Their popularity attracted music empresario Dick Griffey, who became their manager and, after shortening the group’s name to Lakeside, negotiated for them an ill-fated contract with Motown.
The Motown experience was the first of several where record company executives attempted to shape a sound for Lakeside that was inconsistent with the group’s own unique vibe. The Motown relationship ended quickly, without any releases, but those recordings ultimately became part of the group’s debut album on ABC Records, a disc that failed to chart. As ABC shut its doors, Griffey decided to move Lakeside to his own nascent SOLAR Records, an LA-based label that would develop a signature sound and become the hottest record imprint of the early 80s.
With their name shortened to Lakeside, the group’s 1978 SOLAR debut single, “It’s All the Way Live,” shot to the top 5 on the R&B Charts and paved the way for their SOLAR album Shot of Love. With group members actively shaping their musical direction, Lakeside began an Imperial Period of successful albums and memorable singles that have continued to receive airplay decades after their original release. Lakeside’s gritty funk songs and hand-drawn album covers, portraying group members as pirates, G-Men, Arabian Knights, etc., gave them a unique position among the numerous soul/funk groups of that time.
uring the early 80s, Lakeside’s musical party continued with such funk gems as “Your Wish Is My Command,” “Raid” and their biggest hit, “Fantastic Voyage” (later remade by Coolio). But Lakeside also showed itself to be a legitimate soul group, most notably on a wonderfully gritty remake of the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” a cut that bore almost no resemblance to the pop classic original but which became one of the great soul songs of 1982.
By the 90s, Lakeside’s hitmaking days were over, but their music has lived on, with “Fantastic Voyage” becoming a funk anthem shared by generations.
Prayers and condolences to the Lewis and Solar families and may Mr. Lewis rest in peace.