Updated: Apr 3, 2019
Blasting off into the world of P-Funk, and taking a look at what made this funky sensation a force to be reckoned with. George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic pushed boundaries, created controversy, and gave zero fucks. They believed in what they did, and delivered their sound with more than just music.
Formed 1968 in Plainfield, New Jersey (1968 - 2019) Genre: R&B Styles: Funk, Psychedelic Soul, Soul, Psychedelic/Garage, Hard Rock
The P-Funk All-Stars: George Clinton Bernie Worrell Bootsy Collins Eddie Hazel Ramon Tiki Fulwood Billy "Bass" Nelson Garry Shider Prakash John Tyrone Lampkin Clarence "Fuzzy" Haskins Cordell "Boogie" Mosson Grady Thomas Raymond Davis Calvin Simon Glen Goins Harold Beane Lucius Tawl Ross Michael Hampton Ron Bykowski Tawl Ross Walter "Junie" Morrison Jerome Brailey Mickey Atkins Dawn Silva Frankie "Kash" Waddy Fred Wesley Lawrence Fratangelo Lynn Mabry Maceo Parker Mallia Franklin Phelps "Catfish" Collins Rodney Curtis
The Birth of P-Funk
George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic is a musical force to be reckoned with. It’s a funk music collective with rotating members, primarily consisted of two bands, Parliament, and Funkadelic, all headed by American singer-songwriter, bandleader, and record producer, Dr Funkenstein himself, George Clinton.
This collective of funky individuals influenced the development of an eclectic form of music in the 70s, which drew it’s unorthodox satire from science-fiction, outlandish fashion, surreal humour, and the famous psychedelic culture that sparked towards the end of the chaotic era in the 1960s (read more on the chaotic era here). Their distinctive style of funk would later have an influential effect on subsequent funk, post-punk, hip-hop, and post-disco artists of the 1980s and 1990s, while their collective mythology would help pioneer Afro-futurism.
En.m.wikipedia.org. (2019). Parliament-Funkadelic. [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliament-Funkadelic [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
Originating from 15 year old Clinton’s first doo-wop act, The Parliaments, George and his band took on the musical realm in 1950s Plainfield, New Jersey. Later, influenced by many of the psych-world’s most prominent musicians (Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, Frank Zappa), Clinton relocated to Detroit, Michigan, where he began the brother-sister groups Parliament and Funkadelic. Parliament being the more eclectic, vocal, and more commercial form of funk, whereas Funkadelic incorporated psychedelic-rock stylings. As a whole, this super-funk collective achieved thirteen top ten hits in the American R&B music charts between 1967 and 1983, including six number one hits. A huge achievement for not only the mastermind behind it all, George Clinton, but also for the struggling black community at the time. Clinton helped give a new voice to the black community and undoubtedly drove the funk culture forward for many years.
The name, Parliament Funkadelic, became the warrant for dozens of musicians who were recording and touring under the funk super-group. Majority of these projects orbited Clinton himself. Clinton’s P-Funk empire quickly became a larger musical force, which he then broke off into small groups, pitched each to different labels, where most of which were later signed as side projects. Side projects including Bootsy's Rubber Band (Bootsy Collins, former bass guitarist from James Brown's Band), Parlet (the sensational P-Funk background vocalists; Mallia Franklin, Jeanette Washington and Debbie Wright), and The Brides of Funkenstein (Sly Stone and P-Funk singers Dawn Silva and Lynn Mabry), while longtime members like Eddie Hazel (P-Funk’s lead guitarist) recorded solo albums with songwriting and studio help from the collective.
“Put a glide in your stride, a dip in yo' hip and come on up to the mothership” - George Clinton
Each album released by P-Funk became concept albums. Each themed science-fiction, afro-futurism, elaborate political and sociological themes, evolving into story driven narratives with each of the members playing their own recurring fictional characters.
The P-Funk stage shows became high-end productions. Expanding into it’s own DIY mythology, the P-Funk experience consisted of psychedelic lighting, costumes, hairstyles, character motifs, and science fiction stage props, including the infamous Mothership Landing in the 1976 Earth Tour.
Dope P-Funk Mothership Landin'! Live!!. (2011). [video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQFGkGk4PSc [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
The Rise, Fall... and Rise again of P-Funk:
George Clinton recorded a bunch of Parliament’s hits during 1967, but after some diplomatic trouble with the Revilot label, and Clinton was forced to rethink his approach. He tossed up the idea of replacing the Parliaments name and recording the backing vocalists as part of a “new” project, Funkadelic. Billy Nelson suggested the new name, which was an obvious inspiration from the psychedelic movement that was happening at the time. 1970 saw the release of Funkadelic’s self-titled debut album, produced by Clinton and performed by a mixture of the P-Funk members, including several Motown session men.
En.m.wikipedia.org. (2019). Funkadelic (album). [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funkadelic_(album) [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
1970 also saw the release of Funkadelic’s second album, Free Your Mind... and Your Ass Will Follow. Credits to keyboard player Bernie Worrell, long-time friend of Clinton’s, who became one of the most valuable cogs in the P-Funk machine, working on arrangements and productions for most of the later Parliament Funkadelic releases. Worrell’s classical training, mixed with a rise on synthesised technology, allowed him the tools to create horn sections, and jazz infused synth runs that really trademarked the P-Funk sound.
En.m.wikipedia.org. (2019). Free Your Mind... and Your Ass Will Follow. [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Your_Mind..._and_Your_Ass_Will_Follow [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
Maggot Brain... a brother crying his soul out. Maggot brain is a state of mind. It gets you out of the heroin mood. - Garry Shider (Guitarist and Lead Vocals)
Album three was critically-acclaimed to be Funkadelic’s most incendiary freak-out ever. Maggot Brain was released in 1971 with notably one of the greatest guitar performances of all time. The title track was the child of Eddie Hazel’s sorrowing mood. On the day of tracking, Clinton noted that Hazel was down in the dumps, so he set up a circle of Marshall stacks, plonked Hazel in the middle, plugged him in, and told him to play like his mother had just died. The result was Maggot Brain.
En.m.wikipedia.org. (2019). Maggot Brain. [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maggot_Brain [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
Just after the release of their third album, Maggot Brain, P-Funk added yet another big contributor, Bootsy Collins. Bootsy’s bass line throbs were featured for a longtime in James Brown's backing band, along with his brother, guitarist Catfish Collins. Bootsy and Catfish were playing in a Detroit band in 1972 when Clinton heard the two and immediately hired them. 1972's America Eats Its Young saw the Clinton, Worrell, Collins combination shine, though, moments after its release, several P-Funk members unfortunately left the group. Eddie Hazel spent a year in jail after a drug possession/assault charge. Tawl Ross left the band after an overdose, and Bill Nelson quit after more financial altercations with Clinton. Funkadelic hired teenaged guitar prodigy Michael Hampton as a temporary replacement, but both Hazel and Nelson would return for later P-Funk releases.
En.m.wikipedia.org. (2019). America Eats Its Young. [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/America_Eats_Its_Young [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
Funkadelic then signed to Warner Bros. in 1975 and delivered its major-label debut, Hardcore Jollies, one year later resulting in mundane sales and reviews. In the same year, Westbound Records dug deep into its vaults and uncovered the album Tales of Kidd Funkadelic. Ironically, the album by far, trumped Hardcore Jollies and included a single called Undisco Kidd that featured in the R&B Top 30 charts. In 1977, Westbound Records released The Best of the Early Years, while Funkadelic recorded arguably their most tangible masterpiece to date, 1978's One Nation Under a Groove.
En.m.wikipedia.org. (2019). Hardcore Jollies. [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardcore_Jollies [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
During the most successful year in P-Funk history, Parliament hit the charts with their first release, Flash Light, P-Funk's first R&B number one. Aqua Boogie would reach number one as well late that year, but Funkadelic's title track to One Nation Under a Groove spent six weeks at the top spot on the R&B charts during the summer. The album, which reflected a growing consistency in styles between Parliament and Funkadelic, became the first Funkadelic LP to reach platinum (the same year that Parliament's Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome did the same). In 1979, Funkadelic's (Not Just) Knee Deep hit number one as well, and its album Uncle Jam Wants You reached gold status.
En.m.wikipedia.org. (2019). Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome. [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funkentelechy_vs._the_Placebo_Syndrome [Accessed 27 Mar. 2019].
Just when the P-Funk all stars hit their peak, the band began to implode. Expectedly, sometimes commercial success can dissolve old friendships and P-Funk began to unravel member by member. In 1977, original Parliaments members Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, and Grady Thomas had left the group to focus on their own solo projects. In early 1981, they hit the R&B charts with a single called Connections and Disconnections, recorded as Funkadelic. To confuse matters more, the original Funkadelic appeared on the charts at the same time, with the title track to The Electric Spanking of War Babies.
En.m.wikipedia.org. (2019). The Electric Spanking of War Babies. [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Electric_Spanking_of_War_Babies [Accessed 27 Mar. 2019].
During 1980, Clinton began to get bombarded by legal issues arising from Polygram's attainment of Parliament's label, Casablanca. Relinquishing both the Parliament and Funkadelic names (but not the musicians), Clinton began his solo career with 1982's Computer Games. He and many former P-Funk members continued to tour and record throughout the '80s as the P-Funk All Stars, but the decade's indifferences of everything the group confronted in the '70s resulted in critical and commercial neglect for the world's biggest funk band, especially one that, in part, had spawned the sound of disco. During the early '90s, the rise of funk-inspired rap (courtesy of Digital Underground, Dr. Dre, and Warren G.) and funk rock (Primus and Red Hot Chili Peppers) reestablished the status of Clinton and company, one of the most important forces in the recent history of black music. While they continued to perform in permutations, there were occasional archival releases, such as By Way of the Drum (a shelved 1989 recording; 2007) and Toys (previously unissued Westbound-era sessions; 2008). In 2014, they released the all-new First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate, which clocked in at a whopping 200 minutes -- roughly the same length as the sum of the band's first five albums.
En.m.wikipedia.org. (2019). Computer Games (album). [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_Games_(album) [Accessed 27 Mar. 2019].
The Funky Attitude of George Clinton
One thing that has held true is how George Clinton works with his artists in the studio. He created the funk attitude and held onto its broader and more mystical concept; it’s an essential component of life…
“The funk has no limits or bounds and you can never have too much. It can't be stopped and it will never die.” — George Clinton
As for the music, Clinton flourishes in the live setting. Ever show is a Felliniesque party with the all stars dressed outrageous costumes, some sexy, and some just plain hilarious. The audiences become hypnotised by the onslaught of danceable mayhem of noise, melody, and rhythm emanating from the huge conglomerate of musicians filling the stage. Clinton himself is a walking cacophony of tossed hair, clashing colours and outlandish outfits, adored by both his players and fans.
Walker, C. (2011). George Clinton. [online] Mixonline. Available at: https://www.mixonline.com/recording/george-clinton-365574 [Accessed 27 Mar. 2019].
Clinton’s 50 year career has been filled with this anarchic funk, inspired by psychedelic guitar lines and long jams. The group was more of an underground cult sensation then a mainstream attraction, creating a freedom driven voice for the black community. He inspired them to think and feel their art, resulting in a mass of up-and-comers. He not only layered technical elements, but also mixed and matched genres, accenting their famous first beat.
George Clinton was somewhat of a special character in the studio. He would force the worst singers into the mix, freestyle lyrics, encourage improv, and immortalised bass lines that have inspired new forms of Disco, Funk, Soul, R&B, and Hip hop. He pushed the envelope, being the first group to use a synth as a bass. He would encourage artistic flare, allowing his band members the freedom to expose their alter egos on and off stage. His bass was heavy, and his philosophy was even heavier. He wrote gospel like lyrics and affirmed his funky propositions.
However politically incorrect his notions were, he still created a lot of work for his musical friends. George had different bands on different labels. He figured out a way to sign all his musician’s solo projects to different labels to keep them working, and to drive multiple revenue streams. His DIY ethic and addictive charisma helped sell what he was preaching, and the result is black freedom, a new frame of mind, and inspiration for the younger generations to think outside of the box. P-Funk was the result, and it has been immortalised in many ways.
All the Colours of the P-Funk Rainbow
"Oh yes – music itself has that healing thing. And groove music specifically. You find it in church, all kinds of things, and that is the essence of funk. When you pick up a tambourine and jam. You can do basic, do the best you can and funk it – that’s where funk starts." — George Clinton
George Clinton preached funk music as if he was its very own psychedelic minister. Expanding on its R&B sounds, the P-Funk charisma brought a blend of soulful and spiritual psychedelia to the mix. Right around the time Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and the Detroit Proto-Punk scene were well in flight. For this crew, however, their sounds was never limited to these concepts. They were encouraged to blend unorthodox styles with a sonically gospel-like voice, which preached love, the power of funk, and created a whole new benchmark for black musicians.
Their key musicalities consisted of clockwork drumming, looping slap bass lines, and state-of-the-art audio guitar and synthesiser technologies. Some of the musical stylings that have built the P-Funk sound are better known to be broken down into who plays what, or better put, who are the major contributors to the P-Funk sound. According to Reverb.com, Here are some of the funky flavours that have built this sound as we know it.
Early to the P-Funk mix, Bernie Worrell’s keyboard style created huge washes of wildly sonic textures and synthesised colours across the bands seamlessly funky grooves. Since the beginning of Funkadelic, Worrell has been crafting some of their most infectious riffs, influencing many post-funk genres. Worrell also heavily contributed as a music director and songwriter to many of Clinton’s productions, including the prominence of his synthesised sounds across the P-Funk galaxy.
Worrell mastered several traditional keyboards and synths, and more recently, worked alongside Moog Synthesisers to imitate some of his more memorable performances and sounds. Worrell was well known for his challenging ways of taking the funk into unknown sonic territory.
Clavinet - The electronic clavichord – a small-scale keyboard that’s strung like a harp, played with mallets and then amplified – forms the rhythmic backbone to a multitude of P-funk songs and influencing the R&B, funk and soul genres. The P-Funk’s unmistakable Clavinet sound was near always treated with Worrell's wah pedal, envelope filter, and other effects to make his Clavinet performances unique.
Minimoog - Simplifying the unwieldy and ever-expanding modular synthesisers produced by Moog and others, the Minimoog allowed Worrell to easily adapt from its thick and spacey sounds to the pulsing rhythmic underbelly of P-Funks rhythm section.
Hammond B3 - A classic organ. This brought some soulful rumbling and melodic riffing to Funkadelic's earlier tunes. Its namely, whirling tones added a melodic voice to the band’s psychedelic groove.
ARP String Ensemble - The ARP string ensemble is that ringing, padded string tone you hear over P-Funk hits like "Flash Light." Its higher pitches and unnatural orchestral wobble served as a counterpoint to Bernie Worrell's rumbling low-end riffs on his Minimoog.
Yamaha CS80 - An early polyphonic synthesiser with a wild spectrum of tones, Bernie Worrell would use the CS80 to colour songs with sounds different from his go-to Minimoog and Clavinet. The CS80 would be featured more regularly later in the P-Funk’s sound.
RMI Electra Piano - An early electric piano, this was Worrell’s main electric keyboard for songs that needed synth sounds or acoustic piano-type sounds. He would take these sounds and inevitably blend them through a variety of effects and processors.
“Loose cannon” Hazel is best known for his multi-dimensional guitar performance on Maggot Brain. Bring the funky world his Hendrix and Sly Stone influences, Hazel’s contribution to the P-Funk legacy would go onto inspire generations guitar players, bridging the gap between aggressive, psychedelic rock and roll and funk.
Hazel stands as one for the greatest, and has been inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame for P-Funk’s landmark song Maggot Brain. His emotional rendition not only allowed him to dive into the psych-rock realm, but it has also shined a light on P-Funk’s diverse musical skill. This has single-handedly influenced many axmen looking to tap into the sonic abyss.
While Hazel could frequently be seen playing a number of different Gibson guitars - Firebirds, Les Paul Standards and Customs, and a couple different semi-hollows - Eddie is probably best known for playing Fender Stratocasters, ranging from a late-'50s Sunburst Strat to a small hoard of 3-bolt '70s models.