Techno-funk pioneer Andre Lewis dies

This saw news only came to our attention today: techno-funk pioneer Andre Lewis – bandleader of Maxayn, mastermind of Mandré, and an unsung music-technology innovator – passed away on January 31, 2012.

Lewis is well known for his involvement with the early ’70s soul-rock group Maxayn, as a keyboard player for Frank Zappa and for his late ’70s/early ’80s future-funk project known as Mandré. Criminally under-recognized are his contributions as a pioneer in recording synthesizers and his early championing of drum-machine technology. He was one of the first American recording artists to introduce Roland drum synthesizers (including the legendary Roland TR-808) and was a major contributor to the design of Roger Linn’s LinnDrum digital drum machine.

Born in Nebraska, Michael Andre Lewis was a child prodigy who led his own Mike Lewis Quartet at age fifteen, and then led his Andre Lewis and the New Breed, which included future members of the Electric Flag as well as Hank Redd, who would go on to work with Stevie Wonder. He wound up joining the band of his childhood friend Buddy Miles and appeared on several of his albums, including Them Changes.

Lewis met Maxayn at a Chicago tour stop while in the Buddy Miles band. Lewis’s groundbreaking work with synthesizers began to take shape with the three albums that he and Maxayn’s band released under the name Maxayn for Capricorn Records: Maxayn (1972), Mindful (1973), and Bail Out for Fun (1974).

Lewis was hired by Frank Zappa to replace George Duke in 1975. Lewis contributed keyboards, organ and vocals to various Zappa albums, including Zoot Allures, Sheik Yerbouti and Studio Tan.

In the late 70s Lewis recorded three space-aged and intergalactic-sounding albums under the name Mandré: Mandré (1977), Two (1978), and M3000 (1979), for perhaps the most unlikely of labels, Motown Records, who promoted the group as being “funkier than Parliament.” In 1982, he recorded and released his final Mandré album, 4, for his own Future Groove label, singing and playing clavinet, organ, piano, bass, vocoder, and Roland synthesizers.