George Clinton – The Maestro of Funk

George Clinton – Legendary funk artist who has influenced countless musicians and musical genres from hip-hop to rock. Not only is he a singer, songwriter, bandleader, record producer but can style hair as well! P-funk isn’t just masters of funk, they embraced all genres.

With Clinton as their ringleader and at the helm, their eclectic style and musicality during the 1970s influences many artists and bands. Their performances were otherworldly and outlandish with elements of science fiction, psychedelia, and humor.  But most of all, they wanted to play music and have fun doing it.

So, it’s Friday and you deserve a break today, so we want you sit back and relax to some P-Funk OK?…This early video is from their performance at the Capitol Theatre circa 1978. And remember “Everyone’s got a little light under the sun!”

Influencing Future Generations

Early West Coast hip hop music is partially built on influences from P-Funk. Especially through samples and guitar riffs. Have no fear, there is also metal and rock influences here! Certainly bands such as Fishbone, Living Colour, Red Hot Chili Peppers and even Rage Against the Machine tip their hats to P-Funk. If you listen closely, you’ll hear P-funk elements with these aforementioned bands and many others. 

Starting Out – Early Years

George Clinton was born in 1941, in an outhouse in North Carolina. Being the oldest of nine children, his mother is a house cleaner and baby sitter during the days. Times were hard and eventually he and his siblings would go and live with his father in Plainfield, NJ.  The neighborhood is tough, so he joins a gang and it’s during this time that a close friend is murdered in front of him. 

His world goes blank, and he starts working at a barbershop. Realizing that he’s not cut out to be a gang member, he finds his calling when he hears a song by Frankie Lymon. He wants to be a singer and performer.  Just like the movie “Barbershop” all of his friends would hang out at the shop. He and some friends started a Doo Wop group called “The Parliaments” and would rehearse in the back of the shop and Clinton uses his money to record albums.  

Motown & Other Changes

The Parliaments travel to Detroit to audition for Motown. While they get a contract, they never record an album. Clinton is signed on as a songwriter but it leaves a bad taste in his mouth. Mainly because he’s writing music for other musicians and not creating or performing music  for himself.  So, he hooks up with another label and releases “I Want To testify” and it hits the charts in the top 20. 

In 1968, there were race riots in Detroit, NJ and other major cities. Clinton and the band see their town destroyed. Yet, they continue to tour and its in Boston where they connect with the hippy college scene happening there. They start doing LSD and dropping acid with everyone else, and they realize that they no longer wanted to perform soul & doo-wop but instead rock. Along the lines of Hendrix, Sly & The Family stone while mixing James Brown rhythms with psychedelic rock.

Add some Clinton elements and you pretty much have Acid Rock meets R&B funk and beyond! Also, realizing that there is money to be made in this new scene. Shortly after they open for the likes of Iggy Pop, MC5 and other rock bands.

Parliament & Funkadelic Thang!

While Parliament is doing more funk and touring, Funkadelic is recording a new album. They go into the studio and while tripping on LSD, they have enough material for two albums the first is “Funkadelic” and the other is “Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will follow”. Other albums follow such as “Maggot Brain” and “One Nation Under A Groove” and many more!

Furthermore, these two albums get radio play on R&B oriented stations and before they know it, they’re selling albums and tracks charting. Really what fuels the fire is their over the top live stage performances and the Funk Mob playing for hours. How was all this chaos happening between the different bands?

Well, they were basically the same bands with the “band” not being under a contract through any label, only the band names were under contract. This way, they could basically create what they want and then Clinton would decide if it would go to Parliament or Funkadelic. Things were going great for quite a while, but change is coming. 

To keep the momentum going, the live shows had rotating musicians, millions were spent on extravagant stage props. While they start getting more fans coming to the shows, they are unfortunately not making the money they should be. After a while, they cut back on the stage props and just play as a band.

1978 is the peak time period for the P-Funk crusade. In 1979, Clinton wants to retire and just produce but there is tension among the band members. Mainly due to getting paid and publishing royalties, communications issues and such. By the early 80s lawsuits start.  

Parliament, Funkadelic & P-Funk Call It Quits

Sadly, in 1981, Parliament and Funkadelic play their last show in Detroit. George Clinton loses everything and retreats back home, broke and owing the IRS a lot of money. Meanwhile,  the rest of the band either joins other bands, goes solo, becomes session musicians or quits the music business. Lucky for us, Bernie Worrell joins Talking Heads.

George Clinton Reinvents  Himself

Despite the IRS and all the lawsuits, he manages to get a record deal with Capitol records as a solo artist. He releases his album with the help of some of the P-Funk players with differences set aside, while also dealing with a nasty drug habit. Needless to say Atomic hits #1 on the charts and Clinton was finally off the drugs.

The success of this album and the song invigorates the group once again. In 1984, he files bankruptcy, In 1985 The Red Hot Chili Peppers wants Clinton to produce their album Freaky Styley.  It’s a hit for the Chili Peppers and for Clinton it introduces him to the Indy rock scene. In 1986, P-Funk performs on Saturday Night Live and David Letterman. 

Prince, Lollapalooza, Anniversaries & More!

While in 1988, Clinton reached out to Prince for help with a new album.  While this is happening, Capitol Records drop Clinton from their roster.  Shortly after, he gets signed to Paisley Park. Also, as long as he gets paid, he allows artists to sample his songs. MC Hammer, Del La Soul and more. 

He starts doing commercials, he releases “Hey Man Smell My Finger” album in 1993, and he performs with P-Funk at 1994’s Lollapalooza in Vegas. With these particular events he’s able to survive through the rest of the 90s. Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of ‘Mother Ship Connection on July 4, 1993, in NYC, he reunites with Worrell and Bootsie.

In the meantime, there are three generations of Clinton’s on stage.  In 1997, Clinton & the P-Funk collective are inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Clinton, Worrell and Collins are honored by the Grammy’s with a Lifetime Achievement Award. 1999 he reunites with P-Funk for Woodstock. Lastly, While he’s won back the publishing rights for the “One Nation Under a Groove” LP and others, the saga continues. In 2019, he tells the world he’s retiring from touring.

Be sure, to check out the other blog posts: https://jbonamassa.com/category/blog

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