We Got That Doo Doo:
The Return of FUNKADELIC
An EXCLUSIVE interview
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
George Clinton is a legend. He changed the course of R&B and Rock music with a string of mind-boggling, rump-shaking albums by his bands Funkadelic and Parliament – amongst others – between 1970 and 1981. His musical vision, which became known as P-Funk, introduced the world to numerous talents including Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Eddie Hazel and dozens more. Though his career reaches as far back as 1955 when he formed a Doo-Wop group called The Parliaments, George didn’t really make his mark until 1970 when the first Funkadelic album was released. For anyone who followed his career, Clinton may be Funk maestro #1, but he never stuck to a formula and he always allowed his music to go places nobody else ever considered. James Brown is often cited as the originator of the Funk sound but George Clinton took the musical template into outer space. Imagine a glorious mix of Sly Stone, Sun Ra, Jimi Hendrix, and the Cantina Band from Star Wars and then add lyrics that addressed all issues – love, race, and war – and throw it all into a Looney Tunes blender and push the ‘stun’ button. While other artists chose to move from genre to genre slowly and gracefully, Clinton did it all at once. Who else would release a mostly instrumental 10+ minute track called “Maggot Brain” – from the album of the same name – that features one of the most haunting, sad and strangely joyful guitar solos in Rock/Soul music history? Prince may have tried to replicate what Clinton did, but he was never ‘weird’ enough to go full-throttle strange. George Clinton, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate to push everything to its limits.
When the Funkadelic/Parliament bubble burst in ’81, George took many of his P-Funk cohorts along with him on his solo career. His 1982 solo album Computer Games was a huge success, garnering more interest than anything his old bands had released towards the end of the original P-Funk era. The album featured the hugely influential single “Atomic Dog,” and laid out a new set of R&B/Funk rules for the ‘80s. Over the next three decades, Rock, R&B, and Hip Hop artists would use Clinton’s musical template, carrying his legacy to generations of new fans. Despite legal and personal issues, George was still creating new music – much of it misunderstood or under-appreciated. His influence continued to reverberate through the years, handed down and shaped into new, exciting sounds by artists who weren’t even born when Funkadelic first made their mark.
Just when you thought George Clinton had taken a backseat to the new breed of Funk/R&B kids, out comes First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate, the first Funkadelic album in thirty three years! This sprawling three CD set contains 33 previously unreleased tracks – one for each year since their last album – that brings the Funkadelic sound up to date while still sounding both classic and futuristic. Many of the tracks are recordings that George has been sitting on over the last three decades, just waiting for the right time to release them. Over the years, Clinton has retooled these recordings, always keeping them sounding fresh and contemporary. The tracks feature Funkadelic members old and new (plus guest appearances from the likes of Sly Stone, Del The Funky Homosapien and others) and are comprised of performances spanning decades. Because of this, the album celebrates the past in the present but forges ahead towards the future. Songs like “Snot ‘n’ Booger,” “The Naz,” “Jolene,” “Fucked Up,” “If I Didn’t Love You,” and the title track are quite stunning, proving that George has not lost his touch. Not in the slightest.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with George Clinton about the album, his new autobiography (Brothas Be Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kind Of Hard On You?) and other funky-delic things…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate has just been released. How are you feeling about the album?
GEORGE CLINTON: Well, you want it to be successful, but it’s not a situation where we try to put records on the Top 40 on the radio because we’re not of that generation that’s happening. If it’s happening, you’re lucky, you know what I’m saying? I don’t look for success. When I’m finished with it, I don’t look back. Almost every record we put out were not hits, but over the years, people understood them more. “Oh yeah, this is the shit!” Our records are like the Jazz records. I just make ‘em cause I like the music. What keeps me excited is making the next one. You’ll have something else to look forward to in another three, four, five months. I’m gonna go in the studio now. There are some good friends of mine, Fred Wesley from the JBs... him and Pee Wee Ellis are in town and I’m doing a Parliament album now. I have to track Maceo down. We’re having a ball.
SPAZ: On the new Funkadelic album, there are some amazing moments where my jaw dropped.
GEORGE: I had a lot of good people to choose from over the years and playing songs I’ve loved a long time, but I couldn’t put ‘em out. I didn’t feel like there was enough concept around a Funkadelic record so I just saved ‘em all up ‘til I got to this point and said I’ll give ‘em a shot. I’ve got the book and I’ll give ‘em 33 songs. I’ll make it all worth the concept. The whole thing is a concept.
SPAZ: The question obviously on people’s minds: how come it took 33 years for a new Funkadelic album?
GEORGE: You know, you can split your time up between the business and being fucked up. So if you’re fucked up, you’re fucking up everything you’re doing. And that’s what was happening. That’s why you get a record like “Fucked Up,” you know? Ain’t no sense in me crying now. I was fucked up, but I can straighten it out by cleaning up, and so that’s what I made the mission to be. It took 33 years to figure that shit out. Maybe it’s because I’m just 73-years-old and none of that shit ain’t gonna work anyway. I get high off of making the music and that won’t let me down.
SPAZ: I think the three CD concept is great - it works as a full piece of art. But why did you choose the three CD set as opposed to three separate individual albums?
GEORGE: I had to make a statement along with the book and the history when I was telling the story - that’s why they’re tied so close together. It didn’t start out to be 33 songs. I tried to stop at 22. As I started looking at it, I knew people would question the fact that there are so many songs. They wanted me to break it up into two records. I said no. I’m 73-years-old so I ain’t gonna be making a whole lot more records, but I’m gonna make ‘em as long as I can, and I’ve got a ton of stuff that’s been waiting around to be released. All they have to do is mix it in with some new stuff from today. Then, of course I’ve got my kids and grandkids there… all very talented. So, I had to figure a way for them to get a shot out there. We’ve got all of the family here involved. I got old blood and new blood. I got some of the older members like Belita, Gary, Jessica, and Sly Stone. All of these are just my favorite people.
SPAZ: Are the album tracks things that you recorded and finished over the years and then sat on, or have you tooled with these tracks over time?
GEORGE: I tooled with them. I never would finish ‘em because if it wasn’t coming out for that era, I didn’t want to finish it… then it’d be obsolete. “Roller Rink” is over 20 years old, but knowing that I was getting ready to put it out, I went back in and put backgrounds on again and put the keyboards on them with Danny Bedrosian. You got the sounds of the 21st century on a record that is 20 years old so all it sounds like it’s a modern Hip Hop as opposed to a sample from the 70s. So, a lot of this stuff in there – you feel like you felt it or heard it. They are stems from demos and stuff when we first started “Flash Light” or something – I still got those demo tracks, I can take a guitar off of it before it was never a song. So we call those stem cells (chuckles).
SPAZ: What I’ve noticed in your music - the foundation is Rhythm and Blues, but there doesn’t seem to be any musical boundaries on anything that you’ve ever done. Do you enjoy starting with a fresh canvas with every album or is it a fresh canvas with every song?
GEORGE: It’s every song with me. Each song for me is an album. I like the song for the song and very seldom I get in my own way when it comes to trying to get hit records. I leave that now up to remixes and the way they do the shit today ‘cause I’m old school. I don’t have a clue as to what they’re doing, but I got good taste and so when I hear somebody doing something, even if it ain’t my genre, I know when it’s good. I start with the song being important and so sometimes, I have to cut ‘em down - they’ll be too long. I get overindulgent. Like the Grateful Dead would do Rock ‘n’ Roll - they’d just have jams. I do that with the artsy fartsy R&B. Almost Jazz, almost Classical, but it’s still basically R&B. I figure if Emerson, Lake & Palmer could do Classical in Rock ‘n’ Roll, I could do Classical in Rhythm & Blues. To me, I got a lot of that from Cream, Jeff Beck, and all those groups in the ‘60s; they did Jazz and Classical music in Rock ‘n’ Roll. I said, we could do the same thing with the JBs, with Mothership Connection – that was nothing but Jazz and Motown.
SPAZ: So, the songwriting process is based out of jams and grooves as opposed to you sitting down and writing them using the typical verse-verse-chorus formula?
GEORGE: Oh yeah. On one or two songs I might do that just to throw it in there but even they are gonna be a little off-centered. I still can do songs like that, and I have to remind myself and do it every now and then because all today’s music is the ‘80s music done with an 808 drum machine. Beyoncé can do a whole opera like that and you can’t say that it ain’t the shit, because it’s totally the shit. She done perfected it so good that it’s like a Jimi Hendrix with feedback and shit and people saying that’s not music, when it became the epitome of the music. She’s doing that right now with Hip Hop or whatever they’re gonna call that music’s name. To me it’s still Rhythm & Blues.
SPAZ: While it is not a concept album, is there actually a concept behind the album?
GEORGE: The concept is the overall promotion of the whole thing – the book, the album. I was talking about a reality show for a while ‘cause all I was thinking of doing was something important enough for me to be in the media because hit records are hard unless you get a trending YouTube thing. A hit is pretty hard to do because you don’t get that kind of radio exposure. They just don’t play old folks records like that. I don’t care who you are… unless you accidentally get one of those YouTubes, and that’s the best way. I like that because that reminds me so much of the radio stations from the ‘50s. Put a record on and try to get it going on. And you can do it on those YouTubes. You can’t do it on the big stations. There’s no place for new records.
SPAZ: Yeah, it’s really strange how talent sometimes is dictated by a viral video.
GEORGE: That’s where most of it – the good shit – is. No way in the hell no label would’ve let me put out no 33 songs. To me, (the album) is more of a historical movement as opposed to trying to get a hit record. I wouldn’t have put ‘em that long if I thought I was going to be on the radio. But now we’re getting DJs who are remixing our tracks. “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” was remixed by Louie Vega. Believe you me, it’s gonna be one of the biggest records in the clubs. He did such a helluva job on it. Ordinarily, you would call it House, but since it’s so R&B, and he put all the vocals in it, it don’t sound like a House record – more like a fast Rhythm & Blues, P-Funk record. It is the bomb.
SPAZ: The new album is kind of a middle finger to the music industry because George Clinton is still doing what he wants to do.
GEORGE: Oh yeah. That’s how it’s turning out. I do the best I can then Funk it… I did it the way I wanted to do it and I feel good about it.
SPAZ: I feel that despite its title, “Snot n’ Booger” is an enormously powerful song.
GEORGE: That’s one of my favorites that I saved the longest. That one goes all the way back to like ’87, ’88. That one and “Yesterdéjàvu.” I had those forever, but they were so Funkadelic, I didn’t want to put them on the compilation records that I put out before because I found that they were really Funkadelic records. They don’t get old. They’ll be around like the Blues of Muddy Waters and shit like that. I wasn’t worried about those two getting old.
SPAZ: “Jolene” is a great song that only shares a title with Dolly Parton.
GEORGE: (Chuckles) Yeah, “Jolene” is like Funkadelic jam for me. We’re doing the “We Are The World” type of background vocals. Picture a hundred people like “We Are The World” singing a Funkadelic jam. That’s the kind of vibe, you know. We do this. This is that doo doo. Back in the ‘70s we said, “Make my Funk the P-Funk.” This year we say “We got that doo doo”…’cause this is the shit!
SPAZ: “Fucked Up” is another great song.
GEORGE: That one was me scolding myself. You know, you can’t be wishing you hadn’t of done it… you did… you fucked up. You paid a lot of money to be fucked up so you might as well go and enjoy it and don’t do it again.
SPAZ: The core of Funkadelic is Rhythm & Blues but why do you think that you have garnered so much attention from the Rock community that other Funk bands have basically been unable to do?
GEORGE: Because the guitar is loud. I let ‘em drown us out sometimes on the stage – just like Rock & Roll. But it is still R&B. To me, Rock & Roll wasn’t but Blues loud, you know? So it’s just the same. We play R&B loud. We played Motown loud, and we were able to get away with it. Our fan base are like the Deadheads. They stay with you forever. They grow old with you, and their kids grow old with you. So, we’re able to do pretty much anything we want. I said I’d never let myself get put in a bag where I have to be chasing a single every time I put a record out. So I did songs that are so far out of the norm, like “Let Me Be” on Chocolate City or “I Just Got Back” on Up for the Downstroke. I did songs with bagpipes and things. You couldn’t guess what Funkadelic might do next. So when we do those things, people have accepted that Funkadelic, they might do any fuckin’ thing.
SPAZ: Does it amaze you just how influential your music has been over the last four decades? Even if someone can’t name a Funkadelic or Parliament song or a George Clinton song, they know who you are and they know what you’ve done.
GEORGE: Yeah. I mean, that amazes me and that’s really why I got this second wind. I got to make people respect all of the hard work everybody went through to do this, and not just let the vultures just take it ‘cause I was too high. So, I’m on that mission, you know.
Thanks to George Clinton
Special thanks to Barry Epperson, Cory Vick, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky
FIRST YA GOTTA SHAKE THE GATE