Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.
George Clinton – songwriter, impresario, music producer. I’ve seen him referred to as the “Count Basie of Funk.” The first thing I noticed about Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t that Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?, Clinton’s memoir (written with Ben Greenman), was that it was very readable and compelling. It is fun to see the stories behind the songs, and get to know George Clinton’s thoughtfulness, sincerity and intelligence. And his love of a good pun.
We want the funk.
He starts out by talking about the culture of his old neighborhood and what it meant to be black in the 50s when Motown dominated the scene. George Clinton took the paradigm of how R&B songs were created and recorded and funked it up. He gradually put together a collective of over 50 musicians who worked with him in two separate bands, Parliament and Funkadelic. The sheer volume of records that came out in the ’70s and ’80s speaks to the creative power of Clinton and his collaboration with Bootsy Collins, Eddie Hazel and the rest.
Funkadelic had funky psychedelic rock jams. The white groups from British Invasion days were playing the blues developed by black Americans. Black musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone turned around and started incorporating what was thought of as white rock. Clinton cites the influences of Hendrix, Sly, Bob Dylan, Cream and others for helping to gel the sounds and flavors of Funkadelic. They used no costumes or stage props. They played smaller venues, and the focus was on the hooks and jams.
Ow, we need the funk.
Parliament presented the “pop” side of funk, with freaky costumes, multi-layered instrumentals, driving and intense rhythms, its own mythology, and it was closer musically to James Brown. Parliament albums were put out on a second record label and aimed at a wider radio audience. The lyrics contained critiques of American culture wrapped in humor. Parliament performed long, wild concerts and used elaborate stage props. The Mothership would land on the stage with the band members inside. Its presence on stage meant that they had to treat the show like a well-rehearsed play. The size of the stage and touring crew, and the transportation needed to go from city to city, was the equivalent of a touring Broadway show.
Both bands featured the same cast of musicians. Clinton coalesced the separate entities in the 80s and toured as “George Clinton,” The P-Funk All-Stars, and a few splinter and side-groups. Legal troubles abounded with different factions vying for the rights, royalties, and residuals of the songs. Clinton places some of the blame over this tangle on his own drug use and the befuddlement it caused in him in his business dealings. He now has a much clearer outlook and is trying to regain the intellectual property rights to songs that he wrote. His good friend Sly Stone just won a similar lawsuit.
The legacy of P-Funk lives on in part with the thousands of sampled grooves by hip-hop artists. One of the appendices in the book has a “selected sampleography” of popular hip-hop songs and the P-Funk songs they came from.
Hey, look out! The Mothership has landed. This cultural icon is now permanently housed at the Smithsonian.
Here is a little factoid of special interest to us Pittsburghers: While trying to find a shortcut through Pennsylvania on an early tour, Clinton and his band freaked out when they ran into zombies! It was in fact the movie set of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.