Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 22 July 1940, Kannapolis NC) Vocalist and bandleader who took a left turn from Motown towards psychedelic rock and became a legend.
      Making a good living as a barber in Plainfield NJ at age 18, he had formed a vocal quintet, the Parliaments, in 1955; they signed with Motown '64 but flunked charm school ('we couldn't even get our socks to match'); finally had hits on Revilot including '(I Wanna) Testify' '67 (no. 3 R&B, top 20 pop); recorded Osmium '70 for Holland/Dozier/Holland's Invictus label before Motown demanded to keep the rights to the name Parliaments. Clinton then shifted into high gear, renamed himself Dr Funkenstein (aka Maggot Overlord), recorded with the group later called Funkadelic: influenced by '60s rock bands, Sly and the Family Stone, etc, he created black dance music with a black wit (in both senses) at a time when the word funk still meant something, before it was subsumed in the high-tech of disco: Funkadelic '70 on Detroit's Westbound label reached the top 200 pop albums and a long string of hits continued with one of the best titles ever: Free Your Ass And Your Mind Will Follow '70 reached the top 100.

Like KC and the Sunshine Band, Clinton's was a large group, making a big danceable sound without too much help from sterile studio technology. It variously included Eddie Hazel (d 23 December 1992, age 42 of liver failure), Lucius Ross, Garry Shider (b 24 July 1953, Plainfield NJ; d of cancer 16 June 2010, Upper Marlboro MD), Mike Hampton on guitars; Walter 'Junie' Morrison (b 1954, Dayton OH; d 21 January 2017) or Bernard 'Woo' Worrell (b 14 April 1944; d of lung cancer 24 June 2016, Everson WA) on keyboards; Ramon Fullwood on drums, vocalist Ray Davis (d 5 July 2005 aged 65 of respiratory problems), later bassist William 'Bootsy' Collins with Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley on horns, the last three from James Brown's backing group. Clinton knew that a lot of people were angry in America, but was old enough to know that intense dance music with social commentary was better than violence: Maggot Brain '71 was about 'the fact that we enjoy certain things without knowing the chain of events that leads to our comfort. Protest that and eat yourself fat, ain't you deep in your semi-first-class seat. You can't take the bow without taking the blame. The whole point of Funkadelic was not to tell people what to think, just tell them what they could think.' He was a black Bob Dylan with a superbly zany stage act promoting two-disc America Eats Its Young '72, Cosmic Slop '73, Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On '74, Let's Take It To The Stage '75, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic '76; he switched to WB with Hardcore Jollies '76, One Nation Under A Groove '78, Uncle Jam Wants You '79 (the last two top 20 LPs), The Electric Spanking Of War Babies '81 (with Sly Stone guesting) and Hydraulic Funk '83.

Meanwhile he recovered the rights to the name of his own group from Berry Gordy, dropped the 's' and recorded as Parliament on Casablanca with Funkadelic as a backing group, albums including Up For The Down Stroke '74, Chocolate City '75 (surrounded by 'vanilla suburbs'), Mothership Connection '76 incl. top 15 single 'Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk)' followed by The Clones Of Dr Funkenstein '76, Parliament Live/P. Funk Earth Tour '77, Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome '77, Motor-Booty Affair '78 (the last five top 30 LPs), Gloryhallastoopid (Or Pin The Tail On The Funky) '79, Trombipulation '81. He had obtained an unusual degree of control, forming his own Uncle Jam label to license the output; meanwhile spinoffs began: Parker/Wesley had recorded as Maceo and the King's Men (Doin' Their Own Thing '71 on House), as Maceo and the Macks and as the JBs on People (six albums '72-5), later as Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns on Atlantic (A Blow For Me, A Toot For You '77); Hazel issued Games, Dames And Guitar Thangs '77 on WB, Worrell All The Woo In The World '79 on Arista, Morrison three LPs on Westbound '75-6 and two on Columbia '80-1. Bootsy's Rubber Band released Stretchin' Out '76, Ahh ... The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! '77, Bootsy? Player Of The Year '78, This Boot Is Made For Funkin' '79 on WB (later Ultra Wave on WB, What's Bootsy Doin'? on Columbia '88; Blasters Of The Universe and Keepin' Dah Funk Alive were later two-CD sets on Rykodisc); Bootsy came back with Fresh Outta 'P' University '97 on WEA. The band's vocal chorus split into Parlet for three LPs on Casablanca, Brides of Funkenstein for Funk Or Walk '78 and Never Buy Texas From A Cowboy '80 on Atlantic.

As the empire got too big it began to fray around the edges, the multiplicity of labels and contracts leading to tangles; there was trouble with WB over issue of War Babies, which Clinton intended to be a two-disc set; latter-day drummer Jerome Brailey formed Mutiny, which made an album criticizing the Mamaship; ex-members made Connections And Disconnections '81 on Lax with a sleeve sticker declaring that Clinton was not involved; Zapp '80 on WB was fronted by Collins; Rubber Band members made The Sweat Band '80 on Uncle Jam. Clinton's long-time associate Roger Troutman (leader of Zapp) made The Many Facets Of Roger with Uncle Jam paying the bills, but decided it was all taking too long and sold it to WB for $150,000; it sold a million, Clinton sued and ended up with no contract but the rights to the back catalogue and an undisclosed amount of cash. (Roger went on to make chart albums The Saga Continues '84 and Unlimited! '87.) Clinton made singles on a Hump label, switched to Capitol with P-Funk sidemen under his own name for Computer Games '82 including hit 'Atomic Dog': he had been hitting the coke pipe but the hit snapped him out of it, followed by You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish '84, Some Of My Best Jokes Are Friends '85, R&B Skeletons In The Closet and mini-LP The Mothership Connection Live From Houston Texas '86. He produced an album of his brother's band, Jimmy G And The Tackheads, the P-Funk Allstars did Urban Dancefloor Guerillas with Sly and Bobby Womack; Clinton released two chart albums on Prince's Paisley Park label: for The Cinderella Theory '89 the Funkateer left his 179-acre farm 80 miles from Detroit for his first European tour in ten years, followed by Hey Man, Smell My Finger '93.

Tax problems and changing tastes began to catch up, but rappers kept the flavour alive: Clinton's music had inspired them and they helped keep him going while he refused to endorse their apparent misogyny ('I don't like that bitch thing'). Meanwhile people who had forged his signature and stolen his song royalties made the mistake of suing each other ('The judge said, ''Too bad this George Clinton isn't still alive because he could straighten this out.'' ... So I got into court without having to pay three or four hundred thousand dollars') and he started getting his property back. The classic Funkadelic albums are now on Westbound CDs (two-CD set Music For Your Mother compiles singles, from Motown surrogates to acd hipsters), Parliament albums on Casablanca CDs, and Clinton was back in Central Park on the 4th of July '96 with Bootsy and the rest of the P-Funk Allstars, wearing a King Lion bedsheet with a hole cut for his head, five guitarists and two bassists in a flying-V formation promoting the new album T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. ('The Awesome Power Of A Fully Operational Mother Ship') on 550 Music, with De La Soul on the bill. (Quotes from an interview with Lloyd Bradley in Mojo.)