George Clinton

Star Child : George Clinton Interview

May 28, 2016

 

Last month I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing the one and only George Clinton for Wax Poetics. When I first bought Funkadelic’s self-titled debut Funkadelic as a teenager, I never dreamed that one day I would get to chat to George himself about tour stories, life philosophies, and spirituality…

Peep the interview below and enjoy!

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For a musician whose creativity orbits around its own funk-fuelled planet, spinning out infectious melodies and dreaming up the most liberated of ideas, George Clinton is remarkably down to earth.

Born in North Carolina and raised in New Jersey, Clinton founded the group the Parliaments in 1955, releasing their hit single “(I Wanna) Testify” in 1967. The group went on to evolve into the now iconic acts Funkadelic and Parliament in 1968 and 1970, respectively. The combined creative output from Parliament and Funkadelic in the ’70s is truly staggering, including platinum albums Mothership ConnectionOne Nation Under a Groove, and Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome, and hit singles such as “Flashlight” and “Aqua Boogie.” The list, of course, could go on and on (and on). It is no exaggeration to say that Clinton’s work has inspired countless other artists, and, he continues to record and collaborate to this day.

In conversation, the man behind the P-Funk juggernaut, arguably one of the most influential movements in music history, is at once open and brilliantly funny. He chuckles heartily and speaks candidly, sharing views and drawing from personal experiences. It was after a show at the New Parish in Oakland that I caught up with George to chat about the Bay Area, tour stories, perspectives and spirituality, and, of course, new music.

 

There are so many great funk and soul acts from the Bay Area. Which of those groups have inspired you? Do you have any favourite Bay Area groups?

Oh, you know who it is! [laughs] It’s gonna be Sly Stone.

Of course.

Without a doubt. There’s a lot of them from that area over the years, going back to Jefferson Airplane and all the way up to Too Short. But overall? Sly Stone.

Do you remember when you first heard his music?

Sixty-six or something like that. I knew him as a DJ before I knew he put a record out. He was a DJ right there in Oakland.

I didn’t know that.

Oh yeah. Sly Stone, that’s where he was first, as a DJ on KSOL on KDIA.

Did he play parties as well? Did you ever see him DJ?

Nah, I never saw him. But I used to listen to him on the radio, ’cause he talked so much shit! As a matter of fact, on my new album I have out right now I recorded Sly doing “The Nazz.” That was his theme song when he came on the radio.

It’s neat that you remember his theme song. It obviously still sticks out. You tour a lot, it seems like you’re almost constantly on tour.

I live on the road.

Do you have any favourite memories from being on tour or any tour stories? 

Oh lots. Lots from when we first got the Mothership and were going to different places like the Oakland Coliseum. That’s a good one right there! We actually did the live album there, it was called the P-Funk Earth Tour. I can remember getting there in the afternoon on the day of the show and watching them set up the spaceship and the big hat. And I fell asleep under the bleachers! [laughs] And when I woke up the show was on. The show was on. Scared the shit out me, I was goin’ be late!

Were you or did you make it?

Oh I made it. Got in the costume and was there just as my turn came on. [chuckles] Bootsy was on when I woke up.

They must have panicked wondering where you were.

Oh they were panicking. Nobody knew where I was at because I got there early afternoon. I just sat down by the bleachers and fell asleep!

That’s brilliant. And the audience would have had no clue. So I interviewed another Bay Area artist Shock G a couple years ago – 

Oh, that’s my boy.

Yeah. He talked a little about when you made Sons of the P and said that after he spent time working with you, he felt that his life got better in all regards and that you have a very positive influence on people. Do you have a life philosophy or outlook that you share with others?

Basically, do the best that you can and then funk it! [laughs] That’s basically my philosophy. You know, after you’ve done the best you can, that’s all you can do and that takes so much pressure off of you. You goin’ be alright most of the time like Kendrick Lamar says, “We goin’ be alright.” Whether you like it or not, you goin’ be alright! You can take a lot of the stress off of yourself by just knowing that for a fact that no matter what any moment might feel like at any given time, 99% of the time you going to be alright. And if you know that you don’t worry.

Shock G, oh man, he’s like that himself. He’s one of the few that makes sure the people are taken care of and is concerned that people are getting paid for their samples. Same with Ice Cube. A lot of people don’t know, they just make the record and they don’t know nothing about the business and business form. They don’t care about your relationships with other people, so they don’t care about paying the other people. But Shock G is one of those ones that the paperwork was clear right from the get go.

Bootsy, Cube, & GC

George Clinton, Shock G, and P-Funk's Gary "Mudbone" Cooper

He cares about musicians. Do you have any spiritual beliefs?

Well I believe in everything; I believe in all people’s beliefs. I understand all people’s points of views and the supreme being that all of them are relating to. I think it’s the same one that we just have a different way of saying or doing it or relating to it. Oh I know we ain’t the only ones in here! I know there’s something else controlling us, ain’t no doubt about that. What it is or who it is, I don’t know or care, you know, I appreciate it, that what we call god or whatever. He is appreciated, or she is appreciated – whatever you want to call it!

Yeah! Your music has influenced and inspired so many and such a range of artists, from funk musicians to hip-hop producers. When you were starting out at the beginning of your career, was building such a body of work something you dreamed of? Was that what you were going for?

Yeah, I mean, when I got started, Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy were my models and they were turning out shit so fast. That’s what I was trying to do. I was trying to get a crew of people to be like the Miracles with Smokey, like Mickey Stevenson, you know, all the teams. I really did love that concept. And we modelled P-Funk after that, you know with Bootsy and the Horny Horns. More or less. A body of work that goes on and on. And it’s still going on. We got a new record out with Kendrick Lamar and Ice Cube: “Aint That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You.” Matter of fact they did it at Coachella a couple of nights ago.

Were you there?

I was supposed to be, I was invited but I couldn’t make it, I had a show the very next day. I had no idea they wanted to do that, but I saw the show last night and realised they actually did the song and had the video on. Oh it blew my mind. Kendrick did “Alright,” and I had to call him and tell him, “You made me cry with that shit.”

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

Working on the new Parliament album, it’s called Medicated Frog Dogs.

 

Keep up to speed on the world of George Clinton here : www.georgeclinton.com

Originally posted on Wax Poetics here .

Sailing On

May 6, 2016

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At the start of last week I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my favourite human beings and probably one of the most influential musicians of all time. George Clinton, the inimitable force behind the P-Funk juggernaut and a bonafide hero to many. Clinton is a dream to chat to, and I can’t wait to share our conversation with my write up real soon.

Since our interview I’ve been listening to a nice little mix of Smokey Robinson, Kendrick Lamar, Sly Stone, and Parliament (of course…).

I’ve also been listening to Deru’s “1979: Remixed” and a sweet little mix City Pop Vol. 2 that dropped on Wax Poetics:

~Ridiculous car in the Marina~

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I hit up Laughing Lotus Yoga on 16th St last Thursday and would definitely recommend going – the pranayama and sweet tea felt hella good :)  One of my favourite thrift stores in the city is Crossroads Trading by Church & Market, and on this trip I managed to pick up a vintage Missoni dress (pictured below) and some vintage Marni wedges for a song. There is also a cute cafe super close by called Church Street Cafe which I often stop at to write, and recommend if in the area.

~Bathroom selfie on Saturday night~

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On Saturday I hopped around a few parties with friends and got to see a really neat hotel called The Phoenix . It reminded me of the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs with it’s super retro US motel vibe.

~The Phoenix pool~

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I also got to visit a pretty dope house nicknamed ‘The Starship’ which was used as a location for HBO’s Silicon Valley.

~View from The Starship’s roof terrace~

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On Sunday I got to go out sailing around Marin which was super beautiful and a lot of fun. The waters were royal blue and the local wine flowed. We stopped off at Tiburon and Angel Island, before heading to a spot called Fish in Sausalito for dinner (luckily they serve salad ;) ). I just love how the fog envelops the land like something from science fiction when it rolls in at dusk.

~View from the water back to San Francisco~

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~Angel Island~

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 ~Party on a boat~

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~Sausalito~

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 ~Fog coming for Sausalito~

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As we sailed back to San Francisco through the dusky purple fog, fittingly listening to lots of vintage Prince, I found myself very nostalgic thinking about the first time I visited California with my family. I was 16 and remember taking the ferry to Sausalito one day, eating ice-cream by the water and being so excited about it all. I thought about all that had happened in my life since (a decade sounds rather epic, doesn’t it?) and how most of it I would have never predicted back then. It’s a funny feeling, a sort of culmination of energies and emotions, at once appreciative of it all though somehow there’s a sadness to it. To feel happy and sad at the same time, and that life is short but long too in many ways. It is quite amazing how all these feelings exist simultaneously. There are so many facets within us to experience that it is really rather staggering to contemplate.

~Embarcadero~

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~The Ferry Building. Time waits for no man~

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George Clinton Interview

July 5, 2015

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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!

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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’!

(laughs) Amazing.

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.

Shock G Interview : Not Just Knee Deep (Part 3)

February 19, 2014

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George Clinton, Shock G, and Gary “Mudbone” Cooper

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

George Clinton has had a considerable influence on your work. When did you first hear his music?

First song I noticed was “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker).” When it came on the radio in ’76, I thought it was some weird and twisted gospel group, because the vocals were layered so densely. It was actually kind of haunting; it scared me and seduced me at the same time. [laughs] The music had an exaggeratedly dark, urgent and aggressive quality to it, while also comical, and while also somehow warm and kind-hearted, like I had never heard before. It gave me a vision of a choir performing in a church somewhere way out in space. Kool and the Gang made funk music. Slave made funk music. But “Tear the Roof” sounded like funk on steroids.

Then a year or two later, “Flashlight” came out, and my soul recognized that same feeling that “Tear the Roof Off” gave me. That’s when I bought my first Parliament album: Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome.

Later that same year I was enjoying another song on the radio, “One Nation Under a Groove,” when my best friend Cush said, “You know that’s your boy George from ‘Flashlight.’ ”  I said “Nah, the DJ said this is a different group called Funkadelic.” He said “Yeah, that’s them, Parliament, it’s the same group.”

I was blown away. From that moment on, they became my favorite band and still are to this day. I began clicking up with other Funkateers, back-learning their catalog and discovering Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Brides of Funkenstein, and so on. I soon discovered that in order to get that particular great feeling, it had to be P-Funk.

What’s your favorite Clinton record?

Probably “(Not Just) Knee Deep” or “Aqua Boogie.” What’s your favorite P-Funk song? You like George and them?

My favorite Parliament song? It would be “(You’re a Fish and I’m a) Water Sign.” I love that song.

[Sings] “Can we go down…” I like the lyrics where he says, “Let’s go mating, the water’s fine.” That was the B-side to the single “Aqua Boogie” on 45. That’s your favorite? See, I like the dance music. [plays and sings to “(Not Just) Knee Deep” melody] “Feeling so serious, she was on her period, when she tried to freak with meeeeeee.” That’s my Humpty version.

I love it. Can you play “Sons of the P” on piano?

Hmm. I can’t remember it! [sings] “The things we bring, will scatter sunshine in those times of rain. When we’re near, have no fear…we’ll set free…the pain.”

My favorite line in that song is “…pulling down the pants to your mind.” 

Working with George and doing that song was so fun. That was a great time because it was our first time really being around him for more than just a few backstage handshakes. We did about two songs for him, and he did that one for us. Then we played each other’s albums. I think he was working on [1993's] Hey Man, Smell My Finger. We played him “Kiss You Back” and “Heartbeat Props,” and he liked them. Then we rhymed over [“Rhythm and Rhyme”] with him. That was an amazing time.

How was it working in the studio with him?

George is one of those people, when you meet him and he’s exactly who you knew he was. Because of his music and he feels a certain way. You meet him and, “Yup.”

Wooo! He puts the threshold so low as far as what’s acceptable. He takes the bar down to level everybody, and just loosens everybody up. He’s real comfortable in his skin; not embarrassed or ashamed about one thing about his life. It transforms the room.

When you spend time with George, it’s not like you’re on a regular in the United States; you’re in P-Funk land. It just has that air to it. None of the usual laws and social norms apply. It’s just total freedom. He was a little bit rough around the edges back then, but he was the anchor, and you forgot about that. The conversation takes over and it’s always so enlightening, brilliant, fun, and rich. You don’t see yourself or anyone else. You see the fantasy of the vision of the things you talk about. That’s all you see.

When people are like, “What color was his shirt?” or “Where did he get all the coke from?” I don’t remember. It just seemed like every time he ran out, he’d pull another sack magically out. There wasn’t even a pocket; he would just pull at his leg.

I remember he listened to “Sons of the P” once. We sent him a tape with some of it on there, but most of the vocals we laid while waiting for him to show up. We sent him a tape with the music, with no extra keyboards on it, and a basic chorus. The “yes we are the…” and all of that other stuff wasn’t on there. So we put that on there and then he shows up and listens to all of that once, and was like, “Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah, all right.” He went in the booth and he did what he did in one take. All his adlib stuff he did from just listening to it once. He was amazing. He nailed what we were doing with the third, fourth, fifth harmony. He was going up and down, shorts, stops, breaks, breath, speak again, breath, speak again—and he captured all that “and the doctor said you don’t need a thing…” He was amazing to work with.

It was funny too. He walked in with a big crumpled piece of like postal wrapping paper; it was just something from around the house you could tell. And on top of that he had the lyrics he wanted to sing scribbled on sideways, in colored ink. He’s just organic. From the moment I spent those hours with George, life got better for me in all fashions. I was just like, “What is everybody tripping about? Why does the notebook have to be neat? Why does my hair have to be fixed to record? Why does…blah blah blah?”

Did that stay with you?

Oh yeah, because I was already that kind of person. People teach you “First impressions are everlasting” and “If you don’t look like you want to get paid, you won’t get paid.” So I still had some of that. And hip-hop was different to funk. Part of the funk code was the lovechild hippy thing. But hip-hop had a code, and being funky and un-groomed wasn’t part of the code.

“Want It All” is one of the Digital Underground songs I relate to most. What inspired the song for you? Do you still relate to it?

I absolutely do still relate. I struggle with those types of choices even more now that I’m older and have more self-discipline and awareness. Only slightly more though. [laughs] But “Want It All” was always about the feeling of course, not the action. Everyone knows that nobody has it all, it’s not possible. If you’re rich or famous, you’re also locked in a cage and drenched in responsibility.

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