Amidst multiple projects and recording R&B, hip-hop, funk and rock, George Clinton stands tall as the godfather of modern urban music. On September 28th, he will bring his revered Parliament Funkadelic band to Wilmington’s Ziggy’s by the Sea, offering his groundbreaking sound. They consist of intoxicating guitar riffs, stellar vocals and groovy beats—a peculiarity only the multifaceted Clinton can hone.
Hailing from Kannapolis, North Carolina, and growing up in a family of musicians, Clinton moved to Plainfield, New Jersey, as a teenager. There, he formed a doo-wop group dubbed The Parliaments, and scored one hit single, “I Wanna Testify,” in 1967. The song only found commercial success after Clinton abandoned the overdone Motown genre and found his own niche.
“Do the best you can, and then funk it!” It’s the advice he bestows on musicians trying to make it today. He takes it from a page out of his own book.
Once he strayed from the commercial pop sound of the ‘50s and ‘60s, he experimented with harmonies, melody and rhythms from the psychedelic era. By the early 1970s, The Parliaments dropped the “s,” and Clinton spawned Funkadelic, a rock group juxtaposing the sugary sounds of Motown.
In 1982, Clinton released “Computer Games,” with a number-one hit single “Atomic Dog.” He also produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Freaky Styley,” and signed with Prince’s Paisley Park label. In 1997, Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Guitar Center’s Hollywood Rock Walk, and earned a Lifetime Achievement Award at the NAACP Image Awards. Carrying on into 2002, Spin voted Parliament Funkadelic number six of the “50 Greatest Bands of All Time.”
Accustomed to the overwhelming yet infectious climate of collaborative musicians, 25 to 27 people will be performing on Saturday night alongside Clinton. His entourage makes up the two separate entities of Parliament and Funkadelic. They will bring an amalgamation of sound and funk they’ve cultivated collectively in songs like “Flashlight,” “One Nation Under a Groove,” “Aqua Boogie” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” Folks will hear and see the collaborators who helped catapult their fame, including keyboardist Bernie Worrell, guitarist Eddie Hazel, bassist Bootsy Collins, saxophonist Maceo Parker and trombonist Fred Wesley. The performance will not stray from the fables and tales which have become known of a Parliament Funkadelic show: gargantuan motherships, crazy costumes and lengthy beats and raps.
The only thing which may look astray is the 72-year-old’s cleaned-up look. Gone are his multi-colored dreads. Regardless, he remains an expert on the outrageous—a thing he has found success with and that which is easily observed in today’s music.
“It’s always strange to me to find a new era come about,” Clinton tells. “I’ve watched hip-hop change through all its incarnations, R&B and pop music.”
Clinton’s evolution testifies to those eras, too, as he has appeared on albums with artists such as Snoop Lion (formerly known as Snoop Dogg), Dr. Dre, Busta Rhymes, Outkast and De La Soul. Rappers Chief Keef and Drake have caught Clinton’s ears and eyes as of late.
“YouTube is taking over as far as [finding] the freshest music today,” he says. “That’s the best place to hear new music.”
Though, long gone are the days of record labels as a main advertiser for musicians, Clinton sees the use of social media as the best way to spread a brand—especially now that the recording industry can stifle creativity of artists with particular idiosyncrasies. “If it’s good enough, it will go viral and stick out,” Clinton advises. “It’s the new way of getting stuff out there.”
An advocate for artists’ rights, Clinton fights for raising awareness on copyright issues, especially since undergoing numerous lawsuits to win back rights of his ‘70s and ‘80s catalog. Though Bridgeport Music Inc. says the musician signed over the rights in ‘82 or ‘83, Clinton claims his signature was forged, according to National Public Radio. On IndieGoGo, Clinton launched a campaign to raise $50,000 to help digitize and preserve P-Funk’s catalog of master analog tapes. Currently, he is compiling new and old songs for exclusive release online, and even had a bill, the P-Funk Initiative, drafted by Congressman John Conyers Jr. to protect against copyright and royalty theft. Clinton blogs about the issues at FunkProbosci.com.
“It always changes or straightens itself out,” he says of the ever-evolving industry.
Though record companies only produce music with the quickest and cheapest methods, Clinton urges artists to always seek an alternative. That includes overcoming the poor quality of sound cheapened by the digital era. “It’s a little overbearing at times,” he says. He and his fellow musicians just bought a regular phonograph for his home studio in Tallahassee. “It sounds so fucking good,” he quips. “To hear that warm sound of the record … I almost forgot what it was like. And that’s why [artists] like to sample [our] songs, because they get a little piece of that in the music.”
Clinton would know, being one of the most sampled musicians of all time (aside from James Brown). “I’m down with it,” he admits—as long as royalty theft doesn’t surround it.
Even with a rigorous touring schedule that led Clinton and P-Funk to jazz festivals in the United Kingdom and France earlier in the summer, they took time to perform at the National Mall as headliners for the concert “Bring Back the Funk,” also featuring Ivan Neville and Meshell Ndegeocello. The concert coincided with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum acquired P-Funk’s The Mothership, an iconic stage prop the band made famous in the 1970s. Donated by Clinton, the piece will help showcase a permanent music exhibition when the museum opens in 2015.
Today, Clinton currently spends time working on a book and an album to supplement it. He expects to release it at the beginning of next year. “Be good to yourself,” he advises, a philosophy that audibly sounds true as he talks over the phone, while feeding geese at his Florida home. “And the one thing is not to blow your mind, because you can lose your sanity in this business. But if you can do that, then you can make it.”
George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic
Ziggy’s By the Sea • 208 Market St.
Sunday, September 29th • 9 p.m.
$30/adv. $35/day of or $50 gold circle