Fitzroy speaks with George Clinton
You’ve been making music since the 1950s when you were part of the Doo Wop act The Parliments. How would you describe your journey from being a Doo Wop act to becoming part of Motown’s writing staff, not recording anything and then evolving in the late 1960s to become Funkadelic in the 1970s?
From The Parliments, Motown was the next evolution of Doo Wop. It was all about the Doo Wop groups like Anthony & The Imperials and The Heartbeats before Motown came with Smokey Robinson and ‘Shop Around’ in 1959. So we gravitated towards Motown and it was really hard to get into that because we were not from Detroit. However I ended up writing songs for Jobete, which was Berry Gordy’s wife’s label in New York. In the meantime I got a deal with a label in Detroit called Golden World. They were one of Motown’s competitors and put out a single out called ‘I Wanna Testify’ on their Revilot label, which was our first single. This was around 1967-1968 when the England and Europe invasion started to influence rock and roll in America. Motown was waining so we had to change again.
What the English and European groups were doing was blues and rock and roll, which was what I heard around my Mother in my early childhood. The funky part of that hadn’t been explored, which was basically what New Orleans was doing and what Motown was doing without the violins. We decided to turn the volume up on the Motown sound by turning the guitars up on the Marshall amp and made our version of psychedelic and called it Funkadelic. The bass was predominant and treated funk the way rock and roll had been previously treated. That was the beginning of psychedelic Motown and they used to call us The Temptations or James Brown on acid. Bootsy then came along and added to that which became what you now know as P Funk. We added the horns and that James Brown sound so it was another evolution and that’s when we become the Mothership Connection. Hip-hop came along and it was popular with the hip-hop culture and here we are now.
Absolutely. What’s interesting is that I was born in 1964 and as a teenager in the 1970s I saw the whole evolution of Parliament becoming Funkadelic more so toward the end of the 1970s. Being a black Afro Caribbean child and seeing you guys up there being innovative philosophical and outrageous using all the elements of black music that had come before was inspiring. We are talking rock, funk jazz, gospel, psychedelia and I loved the creativity. In your own way you were doing an ideology slightly more left field and psychedelic of what Earth Wind & Fire were doing. (George: “Right.”) How do you explain mixing all those different genres with gospel church organ melodies with melancholy story telling and profound meaning on those ‘Mothership Connection’ to ‘Gloryhalistupid’ Casablanca albums, and getting away with it especially at a time when music was being pigeon holed into certain areas?
Basically we made that possible when we did Funkadelic ‘Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow’. We did that not to be put in a bag again, and do whatever we wanted to do. By doing it in an album format we were not worried about getting hit singles as we always went for concept albums. By the time we get to ‘Chocolate City’ and ‘Mothership Connection’ we made the whole albums as a story. It was easy to do what the King Crimson or The Beatles did, as all those groups used pop, folk, classical, funk and all those different sounds without being put into a bag. So that’s what I did with mixing the blues, gospel and jazz but it was all really black, extremely black. We were not preaching but we asked questions about what people would be thinking, but nobody would ask. Our ethos was “Thinking ain’t illegal yet!” In our songs all we asked was for those to think instead of being preached to.
Definitely there were so many subliminal messages, in particular for black people, in those albums. You mentioned James Brown earlier on, I cannot recollect if you two ever worked together and if not why not?
During a particular period of time I had half of his band as the horn players came from James Brown and Bootsy came from him too.
Yeah I know Maceo and Fred Wesley etc played with you but because you were both distinctive individual funk generals, I can only imagine what you two, as a combination would produce.
We did one song called ‘Go For Your Funk.’
In 1978 I was fourteen years old at high school when Funkadelic ‘One Nation Under A Groove’ came out. (George: “That was big for us and we came to London on the day it came out.”) That record blew me away as it really solidified for me how deep you guys were. That song was deeper than the earth’s core and I understood everything stated in the lyrics of that song. It reminded me of what Gamble & Huff where doing with Philadelphia International Records with concepts and a message in the music. “Getting down just for the funk of it, we‘re on the move nothing can stop us now, here’s our chance to dance our way out of our constrictions”. It was as you describe very black and such a massive uplifting record for us, so I’m guessing that is what you aimed it to be?
That is exactly what I wanted it to be and I’m glad you said that because that is one of the songs that as a copyright I now own, alongside ‘Knee Deep’. Funkadelic got its first big hit with ‘One Nation Under A Groove’. (I loved on the import 12 that it has the predominately instrumental version with the rock guitar). Yeah I’m getting ready to release that again right now both versions.
I also remember buying ‘Knee Deep’ from Lullaby’s in West Ealing during my lunch break at school in 1980. I cannot explain what that record does to me with all the Funkadelic trademarks including operatic style that reminded me of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. (George: “Right I know what you mean and I intended elements of that song to be like the waltz with that classical inspiration.”)
So around the late 1970s early 80s you created this empire of P Funk with The Parlets, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy with his two personas Bootzilla and Bootsy and all these different acts kind of creating you own Motown. How did it feel as a consummate black artist having so much control over your artists and musicians?
Well it was great but as we got to that point we started getting a back lash. The very thing that you said about it being another Motown was what the industry didn’t want particularly as they dominated the charts every week. We were aspiring to do that with all the different concepts on different labels. We were getting too much power and it became our obstacle to getting the Uncle Jam label. Roger from Zapp was supposed to be the first artist on Uncle Jam but he got stolen from us and ended up on Warner Brothers. (Fitzroy: “Ok I didn’t know that.”) That was 1980 and that virtually ended our relationships with all the labels at the same time. Our new album Medicated Broad Dog is the first one we’ve had out since 1980 and this picks up where we left off in 1980.
P Funk impacted on a lot of bands including The Gap Band and George Duke who had what I call G Funk and that whole sound was being adapted by so many different outfits. There were times if you didn’t know who the artists were you’d ask yourself if it was Funkadelic or Parliament. So how did you feel about so many emulating your style?
I felt good as that is what happened in the 50’s with rock and roll. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and anyone that did what they did in 1955 started out that way. Although you got soft rock, light rock and easy rock all those came from the rock and roll source. So making funk legitimate using jazz or blues and all the other elements, I’m proud of that. They still haven’t given us a Grammy for the Funk platform, which they will because it’s getting ready to be pop now with Bruno Mars and all that is pop music.
I’m going to be really respectful and end this because my time is up. Thanks for agreeing to continue this interview another time.
You can get tickets to catch George Clinton live at The Innervision Festival at The Round House July 8th 2018 via this link https://www.innervisionsfestival.com