Timothy Lawless was known for his soulful voice that often took concertgoers by surprise.
“People were always shocked because he was a freckle-faced red-haired kid who sounded like Barry White,” said his sister, Chrissy Meyer, of Greenlawn.
Lawless, a prominent Long Island singer musician, died on Sept. 9 of complications from surgery.
The Northport resident was 68.
Lawless was born on March 28, 1955, in the Bronx and subsequently moved with his family to Centerport. He attended Holy Family High School where he played football, performed theater, and discovered his love of music. In his early teens, Lawless began jamming with friends and performing at local venues.
“Before he was legal he was playing in bars with his buddies,” said his sister, Peggy Lawless, of Westhampton.
Around age 19, Timothy Lawless became the frontman of Sweetback, which was “a pretty popular band in the clubs back then,” according to former member Greg Schleich, a longtime friend and bandmate.
“[Lawless] could have been a trained opera singer,” Schleich said. “He had a really legitimate baritone voice and a high falsetto that was amazing for things like Earth, Wind & Fire and that kind of stuff.”
In the '70s, Lawless performed six nights a week on Long Island and New York City. In 1980, he moved to the city and got more into studio work, singing commercial jingles for brands such as Snickers. He went on to provide background vocals for multiplatinum recording artists, including Long Island’s Debbie Gibson and Darlene Love.
“Tim was in [Love’s] band as well, and he was on [David] Letterman with her,” Schleich said.
Lawless understood the art of producing great vocal work. Schleich witnessed Lawless hear complex harmonies and match them perfectly many times.
“The guy just had incredible ears,” Schleich said.
He was a go-to choice for many local musicians looking for backup singers.
“Every female vocalist I knew would say the same thing to me,” Schleich said. “They would say, ‘Oh, me and Timmy have a special blend,’ because he blended great with everybody.”
He could even blend well with his own voice.
“There were stories about him matching himself so well [that] it would be hard to tell even that he sang a second part because it matched the first part so exactly,” Schleich said.
At age 28, Lawless signed with Atlantic Records. Despite his tremendous vocal talent, he wasn’t much looking for fame, according Meyer.
“He was more interested in writing, producing and doing background vocal arrangements,” Meyer said.
In 1985, Lawless became a founding member of Funk Filharmonik, one of the longest-running funk and soul bands in the Long Island area. He played with them for 15 years. Members of the band have collectively worked with some of popular music’s greatest talents, including Mariah Carey, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Janet Jackson, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Donna Summer, according to the band's website.
In the '90s, he started a wedding band business. Around that time, he had his only child, Katie Lawless, who lives in Ocean City, New Jersey.
Some of Meyer’s favorite memories of her brother were when they recorded vocals together.
“You hear about The Carpenters and The Bee Gees — we had that kind of family blend [when] singing together,” Meyer said.
His final act was a James Taylor tribute band called Hourglass.
“That was a labor of love for him,” Meyer said.
Lawless stopped performing in the spring of 2020 because of illness.
“He taught me so much in the time I worked with him, but we always laughed and we always had so much fun,” Meyer said.
Outside of music, Lawless was known for his passion for film, a terrific sense of humor and a warm personality.
“We had a memorial for him last week and the running joke of the evening was everyone there was Tim's best friend,” Meyer said.
Along with Meyer, Peggy Lawless and his daughter, Timothy Lawless is survived by eight other siblings.
A visitation was held Sept. 20 at the Nolan Funeral Home in Northport.