Star Child: The George Clinton Q&A
Catching up with George Clinton on the West Coast
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 Connection, One 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.
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.
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
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