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George Clinton is giving up the funk -- on the road, at least
Dr. Funkenstein may be ready to give up the funk on the road, but he promises that one nation — all nations, really — will remain under a Parliament-Funkadelic groove for the foreseeable future.
George Clinton says the One Nation Under a Groove Tour he's doing with his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted funk coalition will be his last — a product of age (77) and health as well as a desire to do other things. But he's confident that with the current incarnation of the group, which features some of his children and grandchildren, the musical empire Clinton built is in good hands.
"The kids and the band, they've got it down," Clinton, who resided in Michigan from the mid-'60s until 1997, says by phone from his current home in Tallahassee, Fla. "We've been touring and selling out, and I've just been directing them through it, really. They've got their own sound and a lot of new music. It still works as P-Funk, but it's theirs and they'll take it into the future."
They'll certainly be building on a formidable past.
Born in North Carolina and raised in New Jersey, Clinton started in doo-wop but, after forming the Parliaments during the early '60s, began formulating a synthesis of R&B, rock and the funk James Brown pioneered before him. "Funk was the mid-tempo version of rock 'n' roll and blues," Clinton explains. "Rock 'n' roll was fast, blues was usually real slow. Funk was that mid-tempo of the two."
He came to Detroit to be a staff writer for Motown. That didn't amount to much, though Clinton feels he made a subtle mark on the company.
"We'd be doing all this crazy funk at the 20 Grand and the different stars at Motown would come to see us," Clinton recalls. "To see the Temptations do 'Psychedelic Shack' and 'Cloud Nine.' We knew we changed them." Motown also didn't pan out as the right home for the Parliaments, either. "We figured we were cooler than Motown," Clinton says with a chuckle. "They had their polished, charm-school type of thing. We were just totally funky, rude looking. It was not a good fit."
Clinton and the Parliaments found their home at Revilot Records instead, launching the 1967 hit "(I Wanna) Testify" — though Clinton was the only group member on the recording as the others remained back in New Jersey. It was the first shot from an empire that yielded two bands (Parliament and Funkadelic), spin-offs (Bootsy Collins' Rubber Band, the Brides of Funkenstein) and a nonstop barrage of releases, including seminal works like "Maggot Brain," "Mothership Connection," "One Nation Under a Groove" and "Motor Booty Affair." The troupe also put on some of the most flamboyant live shows of the period, with an actual spaceshiplike Mothership hovering above the stage and elaborate costuming, including — famously — the late guitarist Garry Shider in a diaper.
"We just did it the funnest way we should do it — sheets and diapers and crazy costumes, whatever," Clinton recalls. "You had what Motown was doing on the one side, and rock 'n' roll and the flower child image on the other, so we had to find our own way. We just went to stores and bought up everything we could find that was stupid — chicken feet, all kinds of different stuff. 'That's a diaper? Gimme that!' (laughs)
"Then when we got ready to do the Mothership we went completely bourgeoisie — leather suits that cost a fortune, all that. We had to be totally the opposite of what we'd been."
Parliament and Funkadelic piled up the hits, but the good times came with a dark side, too — personality conflicts within the bands as well as drug abuse that took Clinton's eye off business, leading to decades of legal haggling — still ongoing — over everything from copyrights and song ownerships to the horse farm he owned in Brooklyn, Mich.
"I learned that you can't be (messed) up and expect anything else but (messed) up (stuff)," Clinton notes now. "I thought I could make music that would make people want to take care of the business right and everything would be good.
"But that's not true. There's greedy people who, no matter how much they get, they want it all.
"I spent a lot of money to be (messed) up, so I got what I was asking for."
Sampling, however, kept Clinton afloat. He is, in fact, one of the most sampled artists in history via the hip-hop and EDM communities.
"Funk is DNA for all the dance music," he says "so we've been able to be included in every new genre that comes along and we've been able to forge relationships with almost every new dance music, whether it's disco, hip-hop, techno, acid jazz, bass and drums, whatever.
"We've been able to be a part of everything that comes by, so whatever happens, I can find me a reason to be valid."
Clinton says he'll miss performing, "just getting out there and jamming," but he has a full docket to pursue, including producing an album for the current Parliament-Funkadelic, the ongoing "Dope Dog" movie project and the "Trolls II" film, for which he'll be the voice of King Troll and contribute music to the soundtrack.
And don't expect to see Clinton, who holds out the possibility of concert cameos in the future, shedding any tears as he makes his final rounds on stage this year.
"We're having too much fun," he says. "It's actually much wilder than it used to be, so I don't have a chance to think about it. I might get sad towards the end, but you can't let that get in your head. I can appreciate what I've done, but I make sure I don't linger on that (stuff) too much. That only gets in the way of some new (stuff)."
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Fishbone and Miss Velvet & the Blue Wolf perform at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 20, at the Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre at Freedom Hill, 14900 Metropolitan Pkwy., Sterling Heights. Tickets are $29.50 and up. Call 313-471-7000 or visit 313Presents.com.
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