Thursday, September 30, 2010

Who Says A Funk Band Can't Play Rock Music: Profile of Parliament / Funkadelic

            Multicolored dreads combined with an infectious grin surrounded by a peppered beard, it is pretty easy to recognize funk superstar George Clinton. With over thirty albums and a group of about fifty artists joining him in his Parliament/ Funkadelic enterprise on paper he certainly fits the bill as a successful artist. However, the complex journey of Parliament / Funkadelic is like a bizarre rollercoaster ride filled with alter egos and a dichotomy between Parliament and Funkadelic.
            George Clinton was born on July 22, 1941 in a small town called Kannapolis, NC.  However, his stay in North Carolina was brief and he moved to Plainfield, New Jersey where the music of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers entered into Clinton’s life. In 1955, when the doo wop scene was in full swing, Clinton formed a doo-wop group called the Parliaments in the back room of the barbershop where he was employed. Starting out as just a couple of kids practicing in back rooms, the Parliaments eventually included the musical talents of Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins, Grady Thomas, Randy Davis and Calvin Simon.
The Parliaments had fairly decent regional success but only spawned two singles in a decade of work. However, they had a good enterprise going in which they would sell weed out of the back of the barbershop, drink a little wine, smoke a little weed, and practice doo-wop into the night. All in all it sounded like a good time, but the influence of Motown drove them literally to Detroit, where Clinton and company camped out in front of the Motown offices hoping to score an audition.
So Fresh, So Clean
The Parliaments left the basement studio of Motown with a successful audition and Clinton left with a songwriting contract. Embracing the sounds of the Temptations, the Parliaments where clean-shaven, slickly dressed, and produced the typical Motown sound. Starting a little late in the game, the Parliaments met their first commercial success with their single “(I Wanna) Testify” in 1967 off of Revilot Records. Of course looking back on this single it is easy to start to see the protozoic mingling of the soon to be Funkadelic sound.
            The Parliaments had a few more marginally successful hits including “All Your Goodies Are Gone” and “Don’t Be Sore At Me”, however they were always standing deep in the shadow of the Temptations in a time where the traditional Motown sound was already dynamically changing. George Clinton reflecting on the Parliaments later said, “We didn’t make it…because basically we were like all the other groups, like the Temptations, et cetera. Our problem was that we were too late.”
            After Revilot Records went out of business, trouble came to the Parliaments. A dispute about the name “Parliaments” led Clinton to come up with an alternative name for his group. Funkadelic was born but Parliament never died. George Clinton comments, “when the name Parliament wasn’t useable, I knew we would have two names from now on. So I signed up Funkadelic as Funkadelic and when we got the name Parliament back I signed them to a different company.” However, with the name change came a whole new persona that would define the group.
            The sound of Funkadelic rose out of the soul and jazz scene as much as it did the psychedelic scene. By 1967 the sounds and feelings of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper opened up the doors of perception and this inevitably expanded the consciousness of psychedelia to groups like Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix.  Even in the jazz world, Miles Davis broke through with his pivotal experimental opus that was Bitches Brew. Funkadelic drew from all of these facets and started to provide the world with a bizarre outlook on urban life.
            The drug scene of the 1960s and early seventies also had their impact on the type of music that was filling out the backbone of Funkadelic. Clinton stated that
“the sixties were a crazy, cool period. It let us know that we could have an infinite number of alternate realities. Acid busted that shit wide open. But at the time we tried too fast, so we got scared and jumped back. But now that we know what it is, we can sort of sneak up on it slowly.”
With this approach Funkadelic certainly did creep up on the scene and the persona that was being formed through Funkadelic was brought to reality through their stage presence. Added members to Funkadelic like Eddie Hazel brought ripping guitar licks over funky back beats that seemed to make Funkadelic seem like an incredibly tight jazz band that was as unstable and volatile as the time period in which they were living. Other band members included bassist Billy Nelson, Ramon “Tiki” Fullwood on drums, and organist Mickey Atkins, but in reality Funkadelic was the Parliaments plus these four new members.
            Funkadelic’s first album Funkadelic enabled the group to loosen up and really get into their signature sound that was more prevalent in their second album Free Your Mind …And Your Ass Will Follow. On this second album keyboard player Bernie Worrell helped create the jazz-fusion atmosphere with his background as an intensive student at Julliard. His Juilliard training also helped the group come up with the funky, intricate horn sections as well as defining the keyboard into funk. Shortly after, Funkadelic came out with one of its crowning successes, their third album: Maggot Brain.
            Maggot Brain was a screaming success in Funkadelic’s career. Filled with passion and political commentary, Maggot Brain was both a musically and politically important staple to the early 1970s.  In the 1970s, George Clinton said his music was “the black rhythm of the streets…Black is what’s happening, so anything black will get a real good eye and a real good ear. So it’s time for us to really rap now in the language and rhythm we rap in…In this society they teach you that you can’t think. If you know you can, and that it’s even okay to think a little different, then you cool”. All of this can be seen in the opening track where the band calls for people to rise “above it all or drown in your own shit”, as well as in the freedom chants and mass hysteria that occur in “Wars of Armageddon”.  In a time where racial tensions and political affairs ran rampant in America, Funkadelic promotes the feelings and responses of the time.
Musically speaking, the entire album opens up in a Jimi Hendrix like opus that could even be considered to be as good as having Jimi himself perform. Some tracks sound like a funk infused gospel while others sound as if one is bathing in a distorted electric guitar soup. All in all, Maggot Brain was the quintessential turning point in Funkadelic’s career.
For Parliament, It's Halloween everyday!
Shortly after Maggot Brain the group was introduced to another pivotal member of the Funkadelic team. After George Clinton saw Bootsy Collins play he immediately hired the longstanding member of James Browns backing band the J.B.s. With a line up that only one could dream of, Funkadelic grew its stage persona and alternative egos where starting to make there presence on stage, like that of Dr. Funkenstein. In 1974, Parliament was reactivated and was considered “Funkadelic’s more accessible alter ego.” Blending unique black sci-fi and funk Parliament destroyed minds with their album Mothership Connection. More and more elaborate stage presences made each show more unique and experimental than the last all while perfecting their funk. Dr. Funkenstein led his army of followers of funk into the charts.
 Although band members would come and go, usually due to jail time or drug overdoses, Funkadelic produced a series of amazing records like Hardcore Jollies, Tales of Kidd Funkadelic, and one of their greatest accomplishments: One Nation Under a Groove. One Nation Under a Groove spent six weeks at number one on the R&B charts and was soon joined by Parliament’s  Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome. George Clinton’s two bands were spitting out hits like it was nobody’s business.
            Parliament/ Funkadelic’s (P-Funk’s) main competition during this period was Earth, Wind, and Fire. Earth, Wind, and Fire were a nice safe bet for the white community and it was not as abrasive and raw as the sounds that were emerging from P-Funk. Even at one point George Clinton called Earth, Wind, and Fire : “Earth, Hot Air, and No Fire”.
            Competition aside, the only thing that was really driving P-Funk’s careers was creative freedom. Always willing to try new things and perfect the feelings they created, George Clinton and his groups continued to have hits even after his original Parliaments disbanded in 1977. Funkadelic disbanded in 1981, but George Clinton has continued creating groups and is still producing albums under various titles.
Influencing the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. Dre, and the hardcore funk revival of the 90s, George Clinton recently put out an album called George Clinton and his Gangsters of Love which can be seen as a chronicling of all who have been directly influenced by the presence of the his funk and the funk that came before him. George Clinton still tours and is known to tour 200 days out of the year in four different continents. Not too shabby for a 69 year old. 
 Take a load off and listen to the funk!!!!
The Parliaments - (I Wanna) Testify 1967
buy the Parliaments

Funkadelic - Maggot Brain 1971

Funkadelic - Who Say's A Funk Band Can't Play Rock?! 1978
buy Funkadelic

Parliament - Flashlight 1977
buy Parliament

Collected Discography:
The Parliaments-  I Wanna Testify (Revilot, 1967)
Funkadelic - Funkadelic (Westbound, 1970)
 Funkadelic - Free Your Mind...And Your Ass Will Follow (Westbound, 1970)
Parliament – Osmium (Invictus, 1970)   
Funkadelic - Maggot Brain (Westbound, 1971, #14 R&B)
Funkadelic - America Eats Its Young (Westbound, 1972) 
Funkadelic - Cosmic Slop (Westbound, 1973)
Funkadelic - Standing on the Verge of Getting It On (Westbound, 1974, #13 R&B)
Parliament - Up for the Down Stroke (Casablanca, 1974) 
Funkadelic - Let's Take It to the Stage (Westbound, 1975, #14 R&B)
Parliament - Chocolate City (Casablanca, 1975)   
Funkadelic - Hardcore Jollies (Warner Bros, 1976, #96, #12 R&B) 
Funkadelic - Tales of Kidd Funkadelic (Westbound, 1976, #14 R&B)
Parliament - Clones of Dr. Funkenstein (Casablanca ,1976, # 3 R&B)
Parliament - Mothership Connection (Casablanca, 1976, #13, #4 R&B) 
Parliament - Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome (Casablanca, 1977, #13, #2 R&B)   
Funkadelic - One Nation Under a Groove (Warner Bros, 1978, #16, #1 R&B)
Parliament - Motor Booty Affair (Casablanca, 1978, #2 R&B)  
Funkadelic - Uncle Jam Wants You (Warner Bros, 1979, #18, #2, Gold)
Parliament - Gloryhallastoopid (Casablanca, 1979, #3 R&B)
Parliament – Trombipulation (Casablanca, 1980, #6 R&B)   
Funkadelic - The Electric Spanking of War Babies (Warner Bros, 1981)
Electronic Resources:
Book Sources:
McEwen, Joe. "Funk." Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock and Roll. New York:
Random House, 1992. Print.
Stern, Chip. “Father Funkadelic.” The Rock Musician: 15 years of the Interviews.
Macmillan, 1994. Print

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