From doo-wop dude to freaky funkster, George Clinton has done it all.
George Clinton and the Parliament/Funkadelic's March 29 performance at New Mexico's Isleta Casino and Resort truly brought one nation under a groove as a diverse crowd of admirers danced the night away. ***image1***
Wearing a white hoodie, designer jeans threaded with gold and his signature multi-colored dreads, Clinton confidently orchestrated his 13-member funk collective the way only he can.
According to George Clinton, the chief architect of funk, the definition of funk is "to do the best you can in life and after that, funk it." Considering his reputation, it's ironic that Clinton's first band was a doo-wop-style group modeled after Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
"The whole doo-wop thing was to make it to Motown Records," Clinton tells SFR. "By the time we got a hit record with 'I Wanna Testify,' it was 1967. That style was peaking and the British invasion was happening and all that. We had to make sure we didn't look like the ink spots. We had to turn around midstream, throw our suits away and start wearing flags."
That transition in music birthed Parliament, which was quickly followed by the Funkadelic. A melding of rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel and psychedelic rock, the music was extremely innovative at the time. Each group had a distinct identity and alternated releases into the late '70s on a variety of labels, with Clinton dividing his time between the two. Parliament was essentially a horn-based soul group and Funkadelic was a guitar-driven rock group, but both were built on the foundation of funk.
Parliament and Funkadelic were A and B sides of the same LP, and these overlapping entities' respective outputs were referred to in stylistic shorthand as "P-Funk."
Armed with five guitarists, one bassist, two keyboardists, a saxophonist, a trombonist and three backup singers, Clinton's stage show was nothing short of spectacular. The funk began promptly at 8 pm and kept the audience in awe until just after 10 pm with classics such as "Flashlight," "Give Up The Funk," "P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)" and "Mothership Connection (Star Child)."
The wild performance culminated with an extended version of "Atomic Dog" that tore the roof off the place. The audience transformed into an endless sea of dancing, screaming and singing while it celebrated every second of the P-Funk experience.
While Clinton's backing band was undoubtedly on fire, it was Clinton's participation that raised some eyebrows. For the majority of the two-hour set, he stood off to the side nodding his head to the rhythm of drummer Frank "Kash" Waddie's beats. Clinton was either under the weather, extremely high or his 66 years of toxic living had finally caught up to him (or perhaps a combination of the three). His voice sounded raspier than in the past and it seemed as if it was a challenge to get too funky with the dance moves.
The crowd barely noticed Clinton's disappearing act when Garry "Star Child" Shider sauntered onstage wearing his ubiquitous diaper, proudly portraying his rotund gut and the most incredible outie in belly button history. As a singer/songwriter/guitarist and Clinton's right-hand man, Shider has been P-Funk's secret for decades.
Absent, of course, was William "Bootsy" Collins, the original bassist who many still associate with the band, but who hasn't played with it since the late 1970s. Known for his star-shaped sunglasses, glittery "space bass" and cartoonish demeanor, Collins became a funk icon and solo star in his own right. Even without "Bootsy," the colorful characters that littered the stage provided an eclectic evening full of satisfying funk. The music never ceased and Clinton had a ridiculous grin on his face for most of the night.
Clinton and company currently encompass a musical empire that has spawned an entire movement in pop culture. The pioneering work of Parliament/Funkadelic in the '70s-driven by Clinton's conceptually imaginative mind and the band members' tight ensemble-prefigured everything from rap and hip-hop to techno and alternative rock. Rap artists such as Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Souls of Mischief, Snoop Dogg, Outkast, 2Pac and, most recently, Wu-Tang Clan, have repeatedly sampled Clinton's work and credit him as being one of their main influences. In fact, Clinton is second only to James Brown as the most heavily sampled artist.
"Funk is the DNA in hip-hop," Clinton says. "Without funk, there would be no hip-hop."
Like the aforementioned Brown, the mark Clinton has left on the world is immeasurable and will continue to inspire generations to come.
As "Atomic Dog" came to an end, the band, including Clinton, busted into synchronized dance steps that yielded shouts of encouragement from the audience. Clinton politely thanked New Mexico for showing so much adoration as he exited the stage and collapsed onto his shuttle bus.
Clinton affirmed he was "expected on a flight to LA in the morning to continue recording with Sly." He certainly deserved a rest. But for 66, the kid is alright.