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George Clinton's still got the funk -- now and forever

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2016

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George Clinton's still got the funk, even as he approaches his 75th birthday.

And more than 60 years after forming the Parliaments in New Jersey, Clinton -- a longtime Detroit and Michigan resident who also led the group Funkadelic and other offshoots, doesn't plan to give it up any time soon.

"I knew the music was gonna be around for a long time," Clinton says from his current home in Tallahassee, Fla. "Not at first, maybe, but once we had success with (Funkadelic`s 1970 album) 'Free Your Mind...and Your Ass Will Follow,' it was like Jimi Hendrix's 'Are You Experienced?' I knew this stuff was gonna be here.

"Sly (Stone) called it long-tail music, which is what classical music is, too. It's got a long tail; people make songs from those songs that came before them. And that's what funk is."

Clinton's life of funk was forged in Detroit, where he moved during the mid-60s to be a short-lived staff writer at Motown Records. The Parliaments scored a hit with "(I Wanna) Testify" in 1967 before Clinton changed the group's name to Parliament, creating a collective of musicians who split time between that group and Funkadelic (inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997), as well as Parlet and bassist Bootsy Collins' later spin-off Bootsy's Rubber Band. As producer, composer and arranger, Clinton fused elements of James Brown, R&B, soul, gospel and even heavy rock (courtesy of guitarists Eddie Hazel, Garry "Diaperman" Shider and Michael "Kidd Funkadelic" Hampton) into a slinky, sinewy and muscular sound that become the aural definition of funk.

The groups, and Clinton as a solo act, influenced contemporaries such as Earth, Wind & Fire and the Commodores and proteges like Prince and a slew of rappers who have sampled their work. The P-Funk axis scored hits such as "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)," "One Nation Under a Groove," "Flash Light," "Up The Down Stroke," "Chocolate City" and "Atomic Dog" and established a legacy of showmanship that mixed science fiction with stoned-out psychedelia.

And over the years Clinton has refined his definition of what funk actually is.

"It's just another metaphor for what we call 'Do the best you can,'" he explains. "It's another metaphor for just turn it loose and let it go, do the best you can, and then say 'F*** it,' leave it alone. It just works and you don't have to know everything about it.

"And funk becomes easy when I look at it like that. Whether I'm in space or on the dance floor, it becomes easy to talk about. I know I'm doing the best I can and I'm making the music I like, and it becomes second-nature after awhile."

The path hasn't always been easy, of course. Clinton has dealt with his share of substance abuse issues -- his own and within the bands -- as well as legal problems. He's still in protracted litigation with the Southfield-based Westbound Records and founder Armen Boladian over copyrights, royalties and other matters; most recently Boladian sued Clinton for defamation over Clinton's 2014 memoir "Brothers Be, Yo Like George..."

That hasn't stopped Clinton's continuing forward progress, however. He's actively touring with the latest lineup of Parliament-Funkadelic -- which includes one of his sons and several grandchildren -- and won a Grammy Award this year for his collaboration with rapper Kendrick Lamar's collaborators on the song "Wesley's theory" from Lamar's album "To imp a Butterfly." Lamar, along with Ice Cube, returned the favor for "Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You," a single from Clinton's latest album, 2015's "Shake The Gate." His artwork was recently displayed at Jackson State University in Mississippi, and Clinton also established the Flashlight 2013 Project to bring awareness to artists' rights.

This year will see a new Parliament album, titled "Medicaid Fraud Dawgs," a documentary based on Clinton's book and the installation of the famed Parliament-Funkadelic Mothership stage prop in the Smithsonian Institution.

"It's all about keeping (the music) going," Clinton says. "I'm not hip-hop.' I can't come out and curse the personalities the way Ice Cube and (others) did in the 80s, or the way Kendrick Lamar is doing now. I'm too old to do that. But I can still hang with 'em and inspire them, and they can inspire me and it just keeps going. This is built to last, baby."

George Clinton

8 p.m. Thursday, May 5.

SoundBoard in the MotorCity Casino Hotel, 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit.

Tickets are $30-$45.

Call 866-782-0622 or visit soundboarddetroit.com.


Even more than a week later, George Clinton is still taking time to come to terms with the sudden death of good friend Prince on April 21.

"This is so hard to process on my brain right now," says Clinton, 74. "That was just so left field. I was not ready for anything like that. It's just hard to speak of, man."

Clinton met Prince in 1977, when the fledgling artist and funk protege was just signed to Warner Bros. Records and shared management with Earth, Wind & Fire. Clinton later championed Prince's music to The Electrifying Mojo at WGPR-FM, whose support helped Detroit become a launchpad for Prince's career and made the city his first strong market outside of his native Minneapolis.

"When you come to the concept of a rock star, he is that. He's the epitome of that," Clinton says." As an artist, I think it's becoming more clear to everybody now just how much volume of work and stuff he's done, all the stuff and how fast he was doing stuff and all the stuff that I know has never come out. People are just now beginning to see what that was all about."

Clinton, who's still embroiled in legal issues dating back decades, also admired Prince for his acumen when dealing with the business side of the music industry -- including his own record label, Paisley Park, that released Clinton's album "The Cinderella Theory" in 1989.

"He took care of business in a way that I admired more than anything in the world, 'cause it took me late to get to that point to where I started paying attention like that," says Clinton, who also appeared in Prince's 1990 movie "Graffiti Bridge" and on its companion album. "He did that from the moment he started. he took care of business so good, I was looking at him back then going, 'Damn, I wish I could've done that.' I mean, he got rid of you if you weren't doing it right.

"I was about him the same way I'm about Kendrick Lamar now. You could see it coming. You could see he was Sly (Stone) for the new generation."

Web Site: www.soundboarddetroit.com

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