I was recently listening to “(Not Just) Knee Deep” by Parliament, and was reminded of the sublime feeling that song can stir! I have loved the music of Parliament/Funkadelic for many years now, and I think it will always hold a special place in my heart. Going back into the P-Funk archives inspired me to pull out an interview I did with George Clinton in the summer of 2011. Enjoy!
I first discovered George Clinton when listening to the Prince Paul-produced De La Soul album De La Soul is Dead. It was the opening vocal-sample on “Millie pulled a pistol on Santa” (promising some funky emotion-licking in return for sucking on a soul) that was enough to convert me over to The Funk.
The world of George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic is deliriously intense (in the best, most liberated, technicoloured possible way) and his contribution to the world of music through the P-Funk empire is undeniable – not only to funk styles, but to so much music since. Clinton is one of the most heavily sampled and borrowed-from musicians of all time; nearly every one of his songs can be traced in a hip-hop joint somewhere. Just listen to anything from the G-Funk era to hear an instance of his influence.
The P-Funk are also known for their legendary, epic live shows. Think roller-skating onstage, prosthetic noses, half-an-hour guitar solos and a whole lot of soul.
All the way from Houston, Texas, George was nice enough to catch up with a fan in London and chat about his music, inspirations and experiences…
One thing that really strikes me about your music is how it pulses with so much imagination. I’ve often wondered whether you always had a strong imagination growing up?
When I was growing up?
Yeah. Since you were a child maybe…?
Well, when I was growing up, there were singers like Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers that made me want to be a singer. I started following them in grade school, in 1956. I’d always love to be those singers. And then, ten years later, we got a first hit record in 1966.
So would you say it was then that your creativity took off? Once you were a teenager?
Yes. We did “I Just Wanna Testify” in 1966. We put out the first record in ’57, and we didn’t get a hit until like ’66. That was the beginning. We came to London in ’68, and we had that hit record out. And then we had Parliament, and Funkadelic. And then ten years after that, ’76, we came off The Mothership Connection, which was the biggest, you know – The P-Funk – which is still going on now. They had a space-ship, and we came over there in ’78. And it’s still Funk in every sense.
I find your artwork and your music so complementary of one another.
I mean, all the Funkadelic, then we had Bootsy, the Horny Horns, and all the other names that we had with the group. We have all the bases covered, because they all complement each other.
I was wondering about how you feel your relationship with music has developed. The Funk – does it still mean the same thing to you today than it did say forty years ago?
Oh yes. Well, The Funk still is the way it should be, and it always evolves. Whenever I hear that – that beat – that is the new Funk. Hip-Hop is Funk. Hip-Hop – Funk is just being that. Or Techno, or any dance music – Funk is the DNA in it and that’s what makes it survive. So yeah, I’m still into Funk music. Whenever I hear somebody say “No, don’t do that in music,” to me, that’s the music to do.
So much of your music has influenced so many musicians afterwards – do you have a particular favourite song that samples or is obviously inspired by your music?
Oh, there’s quite a few of them that I’ve liked the samples. I like Public Enemy’s music and use of samples, a lot – an awful lot. And I also like Digital Underground. There’s so many clever ways and real good producers that can just make brand new music from samples. But I liked it right from the get-go – EPMD, Rakim and all of the Bronx music, and then out of the West coast – NWA, Dre and all them, I like their music too.
Yeah, same. I’ve been following your FunkProbosci blog – (Sadly, whilst Clinton is one of the most respected and influential figures of the music scene, he is currently involved in an on-going battle about the royalties of those celebrated samples – check out the full story here – it seems like it’s been such a struggle for you with the royalties case.
Well, we’re getting ready to go to court now for a lot of that royalty stuff. The record companies, the BMI, publishing companies – they’ve been stealing the money from all the writers. So, FunkProbosci, that’s what we’re talking about over there. All of that is getting ready to come out into the courts. We just came in The Mothership to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, the museum, and we’re doing a big thing at the British Museum.
Yeah, I saw that you’re doing the ‘Space Children’ talk – I was actually wondering if there were any particular works of Science Fiction you would cite as favourites?
Well, you know, like Star Trek and all Space-life. I mean, The Mothership has always been there in my heart, you know cos I’m not from this planet – I’m from the Dark Star. Life is serious. But I’m glad to be a part of the British show over there, because it shines light on how important the music is throughout the world.
Yeah. I’m going to come to the London show in June… Would you say that London’s a Funky place?
Oh yeah. Always. London has always been a good place for The Funk because in the sixties when we came and did “Testify,” and it was more Motown, but London was going all funky. A partner of mine in 1959 named Jimmy Miller, who was producing The Rolling Stones, Spooky Tooth, Traffic, Steve Winward – he was producing all those songs and those groups – and he was Funky as all hell. He was my partner in ’59/’60. And then they have Northern Soul out of Birmingham and Manchester. I have a big stake in that as a lot of songs I did in ’62 and ’63 are really popping up there in Northern Soul. So I enjoy being over there a lot.
What can London expect from the show when you play later this month?
(pause) A whole lot a rump-shakin’!
The new music we got is called ‘I Got That Doo-Doo’ – ‘Got that Doo-Doo’, that’s the slogan.
I’ll be sure to remember that one… And I was wondering – firstly, whether you remember your dreams often? And if so, whether you could tell us about a funky dream if you’d had one?
Dreams? Ooohhhh, shoot. Well, I was dreaming that we had the entire planet inside a Mothership shell, and that the Mothership came back with a second landing on the planet Earth. And we’re getting ready to realise that one – I think that that was not a dream; I think it’s a…déjà vu. It’s on its way in now – The Mothership. So, we’ll see the dream come true.
First published on SomeThinkBlue in 2011.