This year, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic will be definitively putting the funk into the newly-renamed Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival. Who wants to get funked up?
Born in Kannapolis, North Carolina, and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey, George Clinton is the mastermind of the Parliament-Funkadelic collective and the architect of the sound known as P-Funk. Alongside James Brown, he is one of the most sampled artists in the history of music – and for good reason. The Godfather of P-Funk, Clinton has been responsible for some of the most memorable hits in the history of funk, with singles such as Loopzilla, Atomic Dog, Bring that Funk, Maggot Brain, One Nation Under a Groove, Chocolate City, and Flash Light all topping RnB charts and making headway into pop charts where funk was otherwise seldom seen.
Clinton, however, did not start off in funk. Back in late-50s America, during his late-teens, ‘doo-wop’ had swept the nation and, duly, Clinton formed his own close-harmony group, The Parliaments with Ray Davis, Fuzzy Davis, Calvin Simon and Gary Thomas. Named after a brand of cigarettes, the group developed their sound in the backroom of a barbershop that Clinton owned, at which they would entertain the customers. In 1962, The Parliaments received their first record label audition, yet unfortunately, and ironically, the group that later would go on to form the basis of P-Funk, were told by the label execs that they sounded too much like The Temptations and The Four Tops.
Eventually, The Parliaments did get a deal with a small Detroit label called Revilot Records and, in 1967, after five years waiting and wishing, they landed their first hit record, (I Wanna) Testify. The song raced up the charts and propelled The Parliaments to headline slots around the country. However, they weren’t quite prepared. The singers were backed by a collective of five musicians who later became known as Funkadelic, and speaking about one of their biggest shows together at New York’s Apollo Theater, where they performed above the O’Jays, bassist Billy Nelson has admitted “I wouldn’t say we were totally unprepared, but we were nowhere near as professional as we thought we were”. Clinton himself has said that the performance “sounded like an amateur show, that they almost got away with on the human side, because the audience thought they were goofy”.
The world of doo-wop was a competitive and commercial one – always about who had the most tightly-choreographed steps, the most commercially-engineered harmonies, the best hair styles, and the sharpest suits. Looking back, it’s amazing that George Clinton ever thought he could fit in, especially as he admits he couldn’t keep his own suit clean. Thankfully, soon he found his true calling: Funk.
For a while, legal problems at Revilot prevented them using the name ‘The Parliaments’, so Clinton found his group of singers and musicians another record company and a new deal, this time under the new moniker ‘Funkadelic’. During this period of transition, Nelson (who had once swept the floor of Clinton’s barbershop) and the other backing musicians were thrust to the forefront of the collective’s new, much rawer sound influenced by heavy psychedelic rock. Funkadelic’s eponymous debut, released in 1970, made an immediate impact and displayed the strong bass and lengthy jam sessions that would become the band’s trademarks for years to come.
Numerous songs from 1970’s Funkadelic have been influential across the years, with the single I Bet You being covered by the Jackson 5 on their album ABC and sampled by the Beastie Boys on their song Car Thief. Hip-hop artists have been particularly enamoured by the sound of George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Samples from I BetYou have used by Common, 2Pac, and Nas, and Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic? was sampled by De La Soul. In more recent years, Clinton has also worked alongside many leading hip-hop artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan and OutKast, and lent his skills to rock artists such as Primal Scream, with whom he worked on 1994’s Give Out, But Don’t Give Up, and Red Hot Chilli Peppers, for whom he produced the early album Freaky Style.
Clinton has featured in numerous movies and TV shows, such as House Party and How I Met Your Mother, yet his legacy will always be the sound of Parliament Funkadelic. Their P-Funk is characterised by the synthesizer melodies and washes of keyboardist Bernie Worrel, squelching bass lines performed and now inspired by one-time Funkadelic member Bootsy Collins, the horn sections’ insouciant arrangements, the free glee-club style of the vocalists, the steady, restrained drums, and the humour and open-mindedness of George Clinton himself who defines P-Funk as “a fun, state-of-mind”.
In Moseley, on July 1st, if anybody gets funked up, it’s going to be you.