George Clinton: Keeping The Funk Fresh (Interview)

George Clinton is bringing his Parliament/Funkadelic thang to Auckland’s Powerstation on Wednesday, April 8th. George has been making music since the mid-1950s and has just released a new, three-disc album called, First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate. Its the first new P-Funk album in 33 years and features a cast of characters old and new. Marty Duda spoke to George Clinton recently and asked him how his old friend Sly Stone was doing…Sly appears on the new record…and how he manages to keep the funk fresh.

Click here to listen to the interview with George Clinton:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here: 

MD: Looking forward to you bringing the P-Funk thing down here once again to Auckland. Maybe you can tell me a little bit just briefly who’s coming with you and what we can expect in your show when you come here.

GC: Well you know we got a new album out.

MD: Yeah.

GC: First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate and I used a lot of new kids, faces, my grandkids they all perform, a lot of them are on the road with this tour along with the regular band with regular people like the P-Funk horns older guys like myself.

MD: Yeah.

FirstYaGottaChackTheGateGC: Plus a bunch of new kids. We’re jamming so we’ve been having a good time, going out everynight, putting that new energy into the group.

MD: Right. I was kind of curious as to what happens when you get these new kids mixing with veteran Funksters like yourself and Maceo Parker and Garry Shider and those folks. What happens when the two meet?

GC: Well most of these kids grew up around the group, 6 of my grandkids and Garry Shider’s son, he’s in the group. Garry passed a couple of years ago but his son’s playing lead in the group and I got like 6 grandkids and my son is in the group. So they grew up around us, so they pretty much know, these older people pretty much know them.

MD: Yeah.

GC: So it’s been  a really easy bridge cos they put us up on the new styles of dancing and topics that kids think about. So it works out pretty good. Like it did in the 60s, 70s.

MD: I guess it’s really important to not just become a museum piece but to keep moving forward with your music. Is it a challenge for you to do that or is it fun?

GC: It’s fun because you have to change to whatever the new thing is. It’s always funny cause’ it’s always pretty simple, the kids when they change it, they make it real simple. So you have to adjust yourself to when you first started out, how simple you found it.

MD: Right.

GC: And I go back to the. (sings)  in the 50s, the Doo-Wop, that was simple.

MD: Yup.

GC: Hip Hop, the beat, they always take it from Rock and Roll back to its infancy. So music, kids always do that. So we look for it, when it gets overwhelming we just start mixing them together.

MD: Right. I know the new album, there’s 3 discs involved in that thing, It’s a massive undertaking. Why so many songs, were you, just had that material to get out?

GC: I was so busy over years fighting in court for copyright issues that I was saving Funkadelic songs here and there.

MD: Yeah.

GC: When I had a chance to put out a record and concentrate on the concept behind promoting it because radio’s not the same, had to have a whole another program in order to put out a record. I couldn’t hope to get on radio, being my age and style of music.

MD: Yup.

GC: We’ve been around forever but with Hip Hop, keeping it alive. I came up with a concept about putting a book out and adding the album to the book and put 33 songs in there, a song for every year that we didn’t have a record out. So we gave it a lot of concept.

MD: Right.

GC: Now people will be interested in what is 33 songs, what can they possibly sound like and people are liking them so far.

MD: Right, right, yeah. I’ve seen some of the reviews have been pretty good. One of the tracks that attracts a lot of attention is the one when you have Sly Stone featured on there and you mentioned legal, spending time in court, I see Sly just won a major victory in court.

Listen to The Naz, featuring Sly Stone, here:

GC: I’ve been working with him on that case for the last 3 years, he and I together. We had the same lawyers and managers and they all are so crooked, it’s overwhelming. You’re going to find a lot more is getting ready to come out, that’s only a drop in the bucket.

MD: Amazing.

GC: That is nothing compared to what his songs have been licensed for over the years, you’d be surprised at how many people sampled it along with ours.

George Clinton & Sly Stone
George Clinton & Sly Stone

MD: Yeah. There’s a lot of speculation about Sly’s state of mind and how he is. How is he?

GC: He’s always in trouble, I mean I had to help him. He’s still ill.

MD: Yeah.

GC: Everybody’s trying their best to get some help.

MD: Yeah.

GC: It’s just hard as hell in this day and time.

MD: Yeah.

GC: The whole country is on meds.

MD: Yeah.

GC: That’s just the nature of the society we’re in and he just happened to be on the kind that’s illegal.

MD: Right.

GC: Its hard to get out from under that if you got a prescription or not but the illegal ones, you got twice the problem.

MD: Yeah.

GC: You’re getting worried about getting caught doing it and there’s no help for that.

MD: Right, well hopefully he’ll pull himself out of that.

GC: He’s trying hard. We all, trying to keep him in the studio cause’ in the studio you can see he still got good music, he still got good songs, everything.

MD: Right.

GC: I hope he gets inspired like I did, get a chance to do it again, that’s what I meant and I’ll be right there with him, whatever he wants to do.

Black MessiahMD: Right. Music-wise one of the guys who seems to be kind of paying tribute to you, I saw D’Angelo playing a couple of months ago and the first thing he did in his show was a P-Funk song. So I’m wondering…

GC: But he’s like one of my kids. His new album, one of the girls from P-Funk wrote most of the songs with him…Kendra Foster

MD: Right.

GC: She’s been with us, but yeah, she’s been working with him for the last 2 or 3 years, off and on with us. So he’s like part of the family. Him and Garry Shider they used to jam all the time.

MD: Oh I see.

GC: Him and Jessie Johnson, in his group, they’re Funkadelic  whether they know it or not.

MD: Now one of the things I was interested in talking to you about, you mentioned the fact that you started out singing Doo-Wop music in the mid-50s. I think from what I read that you were working in a barber shop, is that right?

GC: That’s right. That’s where we did our Super Fly hairdos.

MD: Yeah.

GC: And got ourselves ready and rehearsed  and went back and forth to New York to write songs.

MD: So when you were working in the barber shop, were you like giving processes and things like that. I mean I don’t even know if people know what those are anymore.

Parliament%2B-%2BTrombipulation%2B-GC: That’s what it was. Like my hairstyle on Trombipulation the album. I went back to the same shop that I used to work in and got my hair done.

MD: Fantastic. So kind of give me an idea of how the music translated and moved from this Doo-Wop thing that you started out doing into the Funk thing that ended up happening in the late 60s?

GC: Motown came in 59’ and Doo-Wop changed into the Motown sound.

MD: Right.

GC: We became part of that and were doing that right up until 66. English invasion had started and I could see that what we loved about Motown was getting ready to do that same thing. It happened with Doo-Wop in the 50s. I saw that coming. I saw Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Beatles, all that comes in. So we had a hit record, Testify. We started right then, playing with the Vanilla Fudge, seeing what those big amps sounded like.

MD: Right.

GC: We knew we had to change right then and then legal problems made us not be able to use Parliament name for a couple of years. So we just took our band and named them Funkadelic and we became their backup singers.

MD: Right.

GC: That’s how we survived it. And after that I realised I needed two groups, Parliament and Funkadelic were two different labels that way I could keep, able to do what I want to do without being restricted and tied down, if you don’t do what they say.

MD: Yeah, yeah. I see you do a version of the Four Tops’ Bernadette on the new album. Is that kind of tribute to the Motown years?

Listen to The Four Tops’ version of Bernadette here:

4 Tops BernadetteGC: Yes. I love that song. That’s one of the best produced and written songs. I mean Holland-Dozier-Holland, Smokey, everybody, Mickey Stevenson, everybody around there, Ashford & Simpson, all of them were good writers. That just happened to be one of my favourite songs put together, beautiful song, beautiful arrangement and you can still dance to it.

MD: Right.

GC: Levi’s the best Rock and Roll singer that sang R’n’B. I mean he could interpret the Bob Dylan styles and all of that and still make it musical.

MD: Yeah. I mean his version of If I Were a Carpenter is beautiful, the Four Tops and Levi Stubbs, great stuff. You really were pioneers in combining those different kind of musical forms, they were all happening at the same time in the late 60s and bringing them together. Was there a resistance to that?

GC: That’s what I was trying to do.

MD: Yeah.

GC: Just make a…I saw it all merging anyway. People would do The Beatles songs real quick and make some really good soulful records out of them and vice-versa, The Beatles would do Shake it Up Baby (Twist and Shout).

MD: Right.

GC: I just think, wow, its all just one era. I’ll just throw them all together…Emerson, Lake & Palmer and King Crimson all playing classical Jazz and Rock and Roll. We had Bernie Worrell who could do that. So we mixed him with the really funky Motown stuff we had and turned it up really loud like Jimi Hendrix and we got some cool Funkadelic.

MD: So who these days do you look at as kind of leading the musical charge for new stuff? Other than D’Angelo, what other contemporary artists do you listen to?

GC: Pharrell, he’s so funky in all kind of areas.

MD: Right.

GC: Like a mystical, the girls used to like it. Now what he’s doing with all these dance records, man, he’s full of talent.

MD: Yeah.

GC: Kendrick Lamar, he’s another one.

MD: And do you watch The Grammys when they’re on recently?

GC: Beyoncé’s always bad

MD: Yeah.

GC: I mean her and Eminem, you can’t, they’ve been like that for the last 10 years.

MD: Yeah.

GC: Eminem and Beyoncé sort of big but they still sound fresh as ever.

MD: Right. Yeah I was curious if you watched The Grammys and the whole Kanye West thing and had an opinion about that?

GC: It’s everybody’s intentions to showboat when they get a chance! One popular things is to do something to irate people. I don’t think he means half of that shit. He’s taken the opportunity to do a photobomb.

BeckMidniteVulturesMD: Right, right. I Gotcha.

GC: You can’t even say you’ve been around as big as he is and don’t know his craft enough to know who Beck is.

MD: Right.

GC: They’re not new to this, they’re not just, and if they make a record, they make it because they want to make it.

MD: Exactly.

GC: I mean I remember they first record I thought the thing was silly…sings “why don’t you just kill me”.

MD: Yeah, I mean his Midnite Vultures album is extremely funky, it sounds like a Prince record almost.

GC: I’ve seen him do a Prince like show.

Click here for more information about George Clinton’s show at The Powerstation.