Seven minutes of funk with Mr. George Clinton

by Brian Clarey

Do I want to interview George Clinton? Do I want to interview George Clinton?

You damn right I want to interview George Clinton, the godfather of funk, the Atomic Dog, the Supreme Commander of the Mothership. I want to talk to that guy as long as I can keep him on the phone.

I came relatively late to the P-Funk party – indeed, I didn’t make my funk a P-Funk until 1988 or ’89, when I fell into the funk canon by discovering the Neville Brothers, the Meters, Chocolate Milk, Sly Stone and that really tight James Brown stuff all in a matter of weeks when I was a college freshman who was beginning to tire of classic rock and the Grateful Dead.

This was just after the granddaddy of the groove was championed by the Red Hot Chili Peppers for their Freakey Styley but before the gangsta rappers began sampling his stuff for their ghetto anthems. Clinton moved between the two worlds as if they were one – which in his mind they were.

“I learned a long time ago style wasn’t all that there was,” he told me by phone from a hotel room in Providence, RI. “Wasn’t anything hipper than nothing else. It was all a face.”

I’m kind of just assuming that this quote backs up my assertion. Because there’s something you need to know about George Clinton: The dude is way out there. Way out there. And his mind works on levels that my own has yet to achieve.

Plus, I have a hard time understanding what he’s saying. And I don’t mean that in a metaphysical sense. Guy talks like he’s got a mouthful of marshmallows. Funky, funky marshmallows.

“Yeah, yeah, bawerzibop,” he says to me. “Great show last night. Great. Got some brand new fans upanatee. We get a new crop every year.”

Okay, I can do this.

Clinton was born in Kannapolis, NC and lived in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC before settling down in Newark, NJ to play music and open a barbershop. The music was of its time: Motown-influenced doo-wop. The group was named the Parliaments. After the cigarette. But it was the barbershop, the Silk Palace, that enabled him to make real inroads in the music business.

“We was processin’ heads,” he says, “zemmafugee. We makin’ folks cool. Make a man lamanabe a pimp. And so did the preacher! Ha!

“In Newark, most of the pimps and players and musicians came in to get their hair done. Jackie Wilson, the Temptations. Yammamono. The Playboys jaimee from New York, too. Zattaboogafee.

“Rammatta,” he continued. “Oh yeah, you hear a lot of the bullshit in the barbershop. You know, lyin’ and signifying and talkin’ shit. Manassas. You got a lot of the music stuff, and a lot of subject matters camangeree. Everybody was always talkin’ shit in the barbershop.”

Clinton himself has always been something of a hustler, working the music business by “creating” different bands, with different names and sounds, to play on different labels – though most of the bands were comprised of the core members of Parliament, the spaced-out groove machine that came to embody Clinton’s philosophy in life as well as music.

Clinton has always let fans record his performances, which always seem packed with jam-band kids.

“Yabame,” he says. “It’s more like a grassroots type of thing. They tape and basically trade those things. It don’t hurt sales or nothing.”

The convoluted path led to royalty and copyright issues at times in his career, but Clinton does pack houses even now, in his 67th year. Go to Winston-Salem’s Millennium Center on Sunday night to see for yourself as he tours in support of his new album, George Clinton and Some Gangsters of Love, a slate of covers with guests that include RZA, Carlos Santana, his old friends the Chili Peppers and Sly Stone himself, who also has something of an enunciation problem as of late.

“Zhagadda,” he says. “I got some of the obscure songs, barax I don’t want wadunda. We kicked the ones that was mostly in the ‘hood or in the affanama. Oveggane of the songs you might never have heard unless you were black in the ghetto.”

Gangsters includes “Gypsy Woman” by the Impressions, Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” and “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up” by Barry White.

“Yeah,” he says, “this whole album is full of that. That old dadamada. That big sound.”

I want to know more about his band, his music his life, and I’m starting, I believe, to speak the language of funk just a bit more fluently. But Clinton cuts the interview short.

“Homone,” he says. “I got amajanee on the other line.”

George Clinton clicks off. I guess I’ll have to wait for Sunday night like everybody else.

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