Tag Archives: George Clinton

We Want the Funk

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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.

bookcoverHe 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.

Give up the funk.

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.

We gotta have that funk.

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.

Check out Parliament and Funkadelic on CD, on DVD or on Hoopla, and prepare to boogie.

-Joelle

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Happy Birthday, George Clinton!

A good friend once said to me “You’d better like George Clinton, all of the music you like exists because of him.”  She was right.  Clinton’s impressive catalog, bombastic stage presence, wild creativity, legendary influence and downright funkiness command a certain respect. Respect that–especially on his birthday–is best paid with lots of dancing.

While our resident music expert, Tim, could probably fill you in on the facts better than I, you only need ears to appreciate George Clinton.  Over four decades, he has recorded about 50 albums that defied and defined genres and earned dozens of hits on Pop and R&B charts.  The mastermind behind a list of bands with confoundingly similar names, Clinton headed ParliamentFunkadelicP-Funk All Stars, and a web of offshoot bands, all comprised of phenomenally talented musicians (some of whom originally played with James Brown). In 1997, Parliament-Funkadelic was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, an achievement emblematic of their crusade to legitimize funk and elevate its reputation to the same level as jazz and rock. 

It only takes a glance at the impressive list of collaborators and inspirations to discover what an impact George Clinton has made on the world (that’s Earth and beyond) of music.  In addition to the musicians who lifted off from Parliament’s Mothership into their own stardom, like Bootsy Collins, Clinton has made music with Tupac Shakur, Wu Tang Clan, Red Hot Chili Peppers and other artists, and recorded albums on Prince‘s record label.  He has also lent his talents to films and even a video game.  His influence is powerfully evident in hip hop: artists like Dr. Dre have made him the second most heavily sampled artist.  (James Brown is the first.)

If you need further evidence of Clinton’s genius, get acquainted with the universe of P-Funk mythology via what must be the crown jewel of all Wikipedia articles. Here, you can trace the imaginative characters and story lines that thread the out-of-this-world concept albums heavy with social allegory and pure fun.

In June of 2001, George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars blew my teenage mind live and in person when they played at one of Hartwood Amphitheatre’s free outdoor concerts. (Scroll down for this year’s schedule.) What could be better than funk in the summertime? Free funk in the summertime! Check some out today and get your groove on in honor of the architecht of funk.

–Renée

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