Published Oct 01, 2005George Clinton knows how to hold together contradictions. From the Parliaments to Parliament, from Funkadelic to P-Funk, his career over the last 50 years has remodelled African-American music after his own ambitions. Yet few have been so self-consciously aware - for so long - of their place within the current of their culture. To the public, he presented an image of the wild eccentric, forever the centre of an extravagant travelling party. But those who knew him professionally tell of an ambitious careerist, a workhorse who ran his bands like a funk army, with musicians pouring in and out like recruits. The questionable business practices upon which he built his funk empire were ultimately the very reason it crumbled. He may have burned many along the way, but there's little doubt that the bridges still standing - between Motown and hip-hip, between soul and disco - belong the original funkateer.
1941 to 1961
George Clinton is born on July 22, 1941 in Kannapolis, North Carolina, a planned company town then known for its household linens and textiles industries. He is the oldest of nine children. The Clinton family moves several times in the next decade, living in Washington DC and Virginia before they finally settle in Newark, New Jersey, in 1952. Like many African-American families of the 1950s, they live in poverty.
Soon after moving to Newark, the young Clinton lands his first job, sweeping floors at a hair salon called the Uptown Tonsorial Parlor. There, he discovers doo-wop music. As the months pass, he also discovers his natural talent for processing African-American hair. His specialty is the finger wave.
In 1955, at age 14, Clinton forms his first doo-wop group, the Parliaments, named after a brand of cigarettes. The group's members are all in grade school. They play school dances and YMCA hops, modelling themselves after New York's boy-wonder group, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. The Parliaments line-up changes frequently. The Uptown Tonsorial Parlor serves as the meeting place for many of Clinton's early musical collaborators. Several early Parliaments - including principal members Grady Thomas, Raymond Davis and Calvin Simon - are initially drawn to Clinton's reputation as a one-of-a-kind hair manipulator.
The Parliaments' first known recording surfaces in 1956, an independently released single called "Sunday Kind of Love." Two years later a second single, "Poor Willie," sees release on the much bigger APT records, which is a sub-label of ABC-Paramount. Although the group builds a regional reputation for their live performances, radio does not pick up their records, dooming the songs to failure.
Shortly after the release of "Poor Willie" in 1958, Clinton drops out of high school to pursue music and hairstyling fulltime. He gets a second hair gig at a ghetto salon called the Silk Palace some 17 miles away in Plainfield, New Jersey. The Silk Palace delivers another batch of musical talents who soon become Parliaments: Clarence "Fuzzy" Haskins, who becomes a lead singer and future Funkadelic bassist Billy Nelson, who at the time is a scrappy seven-year-old living in the projects across the street.
By 1959, the Parliaments release a third single, "Lonely Island," this time on Flipp Records. It meets a similar fate. Stifled by the lack of success, Clinton convinces the Newark Parliaments to move to Plainfield so they can be more productive. By 1960, Clinton has saved up enough money through hair processing to buy a 50 percent share of the Silk Palace, which allows him to not work on weekends. For the next several years the young, ambitious doo-wop singer travels up to New York City every weekend, hunting down opportunities that will take his Parliaments to the next level.
1962 to 1966
A major opportunity lines up two years later, when the Parliaments score an audition with Berry Gordy's young Motown Records. Huge fans of the record company, the group travels to Detroit for what they hope will be their big break. They are ultimately turned down for sounding too much like the Temptations.
Things are not as lost as they seem, though. A year later, in 1963, Berry Gordy and his wife, Raynoma (Ray), separate. Their crumbling marriage lays the foundation for a messy business partnership to follow. Part of that messiness involves Ray moving from Detroit to New York City, where she starts up a Motown publishing arm called Jobete. On the recommendations of professional songwriter/producers Sidney Barnes and George Kerr, both early admirers of the Parliaments, Ray signs the young Clinton as one of her principal songwriters. He accepts the offer, thinking that if he can get the Parliaments signed to Jobete, Motown would only be a calculated jump away.
Over the next two years Clinton writes songs for Motown that were later recorded by the Jackson 5 and Diana Ross and the Supremes. He even produces several Jobete acts. Ray Gordy, Barnes and Kerr can plainly see Clinton's innate songwriting and production talents, but as time passes prospective singers increasingly find his songs too strange. Instead of letting him go, they allow him to develop his own material, with an eye on getting the Parliaments signed. But relations between Berry Gordy and Ray go sour; he tries to crush any prospect she endorses. As Jobete bleeds dry, Clinton is let go and another opportunity for the Parliaments fetters away.
The Parliaments do eventually sign with Motown in 1964, but little comes of the arrangement other than a series of demos that never see release. It seems that Berry Gordy is mining Clinton for material he can then deliver to his more prominent Detroit-based acts.
Whereas his Motown dreams are fading away, Clinton's strengths as a songwriter and producer are gaining steam. He earns the admiration and respect of many Detroit studio musicians who enjoy his odd but energetic compositions to the standard fare they're expected to play. After Jobete lets him go, Clinton signs an independent production deal with Motown-competitor Ed Wingate, owner of the Detroit-based Golden World and Ric-Tic labels. As a result, the Parliaments issue the "Heart Trouble/(That Was) My Girl" single on Golden World to more middling reception. By 1966, the Vietnam War is underway; group member Calvin Simon gets drafted, and two other Parliaments join the army out of solidarity.
By his mid-20s Clinton may not yet be the big star he wants to be, but at least he has regular work in the music business. The industry, he finds, poses a lot of hurdles for those playing by its rules. His mandate is to keep as busy as possible, working on as many records as time allows, in the hope that sooner or later one of them sticks. His plan works, sooner than later.
The song that finally breaks it for the Parliaments is called "(I Wanna) Testify." Clinton actually records the song alone, with Golden World artists the Holidays backing him up, because the rest of the Parliaments are too broke to afford the trip to Detroit for the sessions. The single is released on Revilot, a small Detroit label owned by LeBaron Taylor that is loosely affiliated with Wingate's Golden World. Because of its light and commercial sound, the recording is not a favourite of all the Parliaments, but no one objects to the idea of having a hit single. Across the east coast, "Testify" tops many radio play lists. Nationally, the song reaches no. 3 on the R&B charts and no. 20 on the pop charts.
A second hit follows in the fall of that year in the form of "All Your Goodies Are Gone." In need of touring, Clinton assembles a rhythm section for the Parliaments, including Billy Nelson on guitar, the 17-year-old who grew up working in the hair salon and watching the group develop. Billy soon brings good friend and superior guitarist Eddie Hazel into the group so that he can switch to bass. Soon after that, drummer Tiki Fulwood joins. This rhythm section will eventually comprise the core of Funkadelic. The group tours incessantly, sporting a generational gap between its key members and backing band that spans a decade.
1967 proves to be a tumultuous year. Apart from the Vietnam War - already two years old - the civil-rights movement has taken a singular hold upon the black conscience, under the diametrically ideological leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Panthers. A number of race-related riots take place on the east coast, from Detroit to Boston on down, several of which intersect with the Parliaments busy touring schedule. In this time of social upheaval, the doo-wop sound of Motown and the early '60s grows increasingly irrelevant to Clinton, the Parliaments, and a number of other black musicians.
1968 to 1969
Whereas 1967 is a pinnacle year for the Parliaments, the year that follows sets them on an altogether different course. Now that success has brought with it money, Clinton not only leads the group, but also acts as its de facto manager and accountant - all business affairs go through him. After six singles with Revilot, George Clinton and LeBaron Taylor have a drawn-out argument over money and poor distribution that leads to the Parliaments refusing to record for the label, even though they're under contractual obligation.
With the Parliaments name caught in complex legal tangles at the height of their success, Clinton comes up with the idea of signing his Funkadelic rhythm section of Billy Nelson, Eddie Hazel, and Tiki Fulwood and having the members of the Parliaments guest on their album. Clinton signs Funkadelic to Armen Boladian's Westbound Records. Revilot, despite the disagreement, continues issuing their batch of remaining Parliaments singles well into 1969. When Revilot folds, the Parliaments catalogue is purchased by Atlantic, and the group name officially becomes a lost cause for retrieval.
The switch to Funkadelic aptly parallels Clinton's move away from doo-wop into more adventurous territory. Clinton and the group (which now includes the classically trained musical prodigy Bernie Worrell on keys) officially move to Detroit. A combination of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band album and the rise of black rock artists like Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix figure as prominent influences during this period. Their musical revelations toward rock and experimentation are abetted by the fact that they begin to experiment with LSD.
On the strength of "Testify," Clinton uses the Parliaments name to secure concert bookings across the country, only to have Funkadelic perform instead. Funkadelic is more visceral than the Parliaments, fusing the funkier elements of R&B rhythms into the psychedelic rock of the time. Because of its creative properties, Clinton keeps feeding the band to LSD, which results in long and hedonistic gigs.
They tour constantly, playing to surprised, but nevertheless fervent, crowds who are expecting to watch dapper men in suits singing in harmony. Soon their shows become notorious for manic stage antics, with an acid-tripping Clinton pissing into crowds and jumping tables to slap audience members with his penis. The band embraces the outlandishness of the decade's-end "tune in/drop out" ethos, which for socially oppressed African-Americans takes on a meaning much larger than Vietnam.
Part of this ethos is the very outlandishness of their elaborate space costumes. By the end of the '60s, black artists as divergent as Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Band and Lee "Scratch" Perry begin to drop their cleansed, acceptable exteriors in favour of an unwieldy image of space as a fantastical realm where the all-pervasive oppressions of American society don't exist. Space becomes the utopian realm, where all is enveloped naturally into blackness.
On Clinton's advice, the group works all its dealings through a single holding company called The Parliafunkadelicment Thang, which is jointly owned by the older Parliaments - George Clinton, Grady Thomas, Calvin Simon, Calvin Haskins, and Ray Davis - though Clinton acts as the sole manager of the company and its effects. The idea is to pay a salary to musicians, such as Funkadelic, who are part of the group. This arrangement is important to understanding the hierarchy of the P-Funk as they come into greater success, and why soon the unit begins to operate like a funk army recruiting soldiers, with Clinton as its general.
Under these conditions, in 1970, the first self-titled Funkadelic album emerges on Westbound. The album is swampy and sinister, filled with long psychedelic jams that harp on the low end of rhythm and blues. It doesn't break any sales records for Westbound, but it becomes a consistent, if modest, seller: a good start.
Meanwhile, Clinton regains the rights to the Parliaments name. He signs the group (without the prefix and the 's') to the Invictus label. They release an album called Osmium. An inconsistent outing, Osmium constitutes the group's most straightforward soul-rock album and dabbles with country music. It enthuses very few people at the record company. Even though it produces one R&B Top 30 hit, the album soon fades out of the public eye as interest in Funkadelic is on the rise.
Again Funkadelic tours incessantly, throwing down rabid live shows of legendary intensity. By going on the road with other Detroit rock acts like the Stooges, MC5, Ted Nugent, and the Amboy Dukes, they build up a cult following of mostly white university students and rock aficionados. But by now they are decidedly too off-the-wall for many black music listeners of the time. Radio also finds the Funkadelic album too dark, druggy, and malicious for the tense undercurrents of a racially divided mainstream America.
On the strength of touring, late in 1970 Funkadelic jump back in the studio and spend exactly one drug-binging day recording their follow-up. Looser and dirtier than their debut, Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow delivers a loose mantra of an album title for the future funk generation.
1971 to 1973
Funkadelic's third album in 18 months, 1971's Maggot Brain, is considered their most emotionally vested experimental soul-rock album to date. It proves to be the critical high point of their early career. But after several years of drug binging - from acid to cocaine, from cocaine to heroin - all is not well within the band. By the early '70s drugs have drained much of the band of their initial euphoric energy and left them frazzled and paranoid. Whereas the elder members ease back, the younger contingent of Funkadelic find it much harder to cope.
Shortly after Maggot Brain is released, George fires Tiki Fulwood for a heroin addiction that keeps him from making gigs. The rest of the original Funkadelic - Eddie Hazel, Billy Nelson and Tawl Ross - also have serious heroin problems. In summer, Tawl Ross overdoses on a sickly amount of acid and speed. He suffers irreparable brain damage. Drug addiction brings out raw animosity in Billy Nelson. He argues that since the younger Funkadelic members are bringing in many of the fans, then the rhythm section should strike out on their own, so as not to work under Clinton's salaries. Nelson also confronts Clinton for the copious back pay Funkadelic is owed. Getting nowhere, he finally leaves in October. Eddie Hazel leaves with him for a brief time, only to rejoin, and then finally lands in prison on a conviction of smoking angel dust on an airplane.
With practically all the members of the original Funkadelic (save for Bernie Worrell) gone, Clinton decides that the band has spent too long on the fringes of the underground. 1972's overtly political America Eats Its Young is the first Funkadelic album to rely heavily on song structure instead of jammy improvisation. The album lacks much of the rock spiritualism of the early work, instead building toward the deep groove funk that slowly draws in more mainstream audiences. Among the ten or so different musicians who join its recording sessions is bass impresario Bootsy Collins, who has just finished a stint with James Brown.
A much smaller crew records 1973's Cosmic Slop, another openly political soul-funk album that is miles away in mood and intention from Maggot Brain. Cosmic Slop is the first Funkadelic album to get serious radio time. Cartoonist Pedro Bell does the cover art, and develops the intricate blaxploitation imagery that will evolve into the band's image.
The liner notes contain several quotes from the teachings of the Process Church, an inclusion that draws Clinton draws some negative press. Meanwhile, throughout the early '70s Parliament keeps issuing singles. The increased activity makes the collective tighter as musicians.
With the counter-culture '60s officially over, with the psychedelic days of Funkadelic losing their immediacy, Clinton decides the time has come to break mainstream America once again. He wants to revitalise Parliament, without slowing down Funkadelic. Clinton's decision will make them some of the busiest musicians of the decade, with many members barely seeing private life in between touring and the studio. But it also turns them into some of the most commercially successful artists of their time.
"You could feel it was coming," Clinton remarks, in 1992, of his mid-'70s period. "It was being more and more accepted. We knew just about how funky to be to get on black radio. And we was getting on a lot of white radio at that time, too. Before that, it didn't matter 'cause we weren't gonna get on nobody's radio, so it was better to be crazier and do it extreme."
1974 starts off with Funkadelic releasing Standing On The Verge of Getting It On, an album that sees the band swelling in size back to the intimidating proportions of the America Eats Its Young sessions; more than 15 musicians contribute. But the album is an after-thought for a band on a tight regiment.
Released just a few months later, Up The Down Stroke, Parliament's first album in four years, is nothing less than inspired. It ushers in an era of pleasure and excess. Whereas Funkadelic prioritises guitars, Parliament highlights horns. Parliament signs to the fledgling Casablanca, a move that will pay off in huge dividends as the label becomes one of the musical hotbeds of the mid- to late-'70s, with a roster that includes Kiss, Donna Summer, and Giorgio Moroder.
If Parliament overshadowed Funkadelic in 1974, then 1975 tries to reverse that. With Parliament now on Casablanca, Clinton moves Funkadelic from Westbound to Warner. Let's Take It To The Stage, one of their final Westbound recordings, is a good-humoured and hook-filled album - a heavy funk workout. For its striking balance of comedy, danceability, and range, it's considered one of Funkadelic's best releases.
Let's Take It To The Stage surpasses the decidedly safe Parliament album of 1975, Chocolate City, but both albums prove popular. By this point, the roster for both bands is moving like an assembly line, with Clinton behind the mixing board calling all the shots. His method is to keep the energy levels high by replacing session players who grow exhausted during the long studio runs with substitutes ready to fill their gap while they sleep. With at least two albums to record a year, and the touring, time is at an absurd premium. Musicians live in the studio for days, and eat from vending machines and convenient stores. Although money is now being made, the P-Funk membership is getting so large that it makes no difference to anyone's pocketbook. Clinton is not in the business of handing out money without being hassled for it first.
Not that anyone associated with Clinton has time to spend any money. A giant spaceship - soon to be the symbol of the band's excesses - graces the cover of Mothership Connection, arguably the finest Parliament record ever released and one of the standout releases of the decade. The album is a massive success. It produces four hit singles, the biggest of which, "Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)," rivals the Parliaments' "(I Wanna) Testify" by climbing all the way to no. 15 on the national pop charts. Funkadelic's Tales of Kidd Funkadelic, is a Westbound-issued album recorded the previous year. George's work regiment is wearing people down. Session bass guitarist Cordell "Boogie" Mosson recalls, "With Mothership Connection, all through Dr. Funkenstein and all that, it was like they was pressing us. We had to have at least two albums out every year. Parliament was on one label; Funkadelic was on another. Sometimes it took more than what we could give. It was just phenomenal to go in the studio and work from, say, 12 in the afternoon, and you look around and it's two days later."
On top of exhaustion, Clinton begins encountering creative control struggles from his partners in The Parliafunkadelicment Thang holding company. Not to be deterred from meeting his personal deadlines, Clinton substitutes their contributions with those of younger, more impressionable session players who are willing to take his command without complaint.
Parliament-Funkadelic prepare to embark on their largest headlining tour ever, making them one of the few black artists of the decade to headline stadiums capable of holding 15,000 to 20,000 people. Casablanca Records head Neil Bogart fronts the cash for a very elaborate Broadway-style stage set-up, a spending spree that includes a giant spaceship that descends from the ceiling at the beginning of every show. The cost of the one-of-kind spaceship is a whopping $275,000. The show also includes a huge Rolls Royce that rolls out onto the stage, and a pyramid from which the band makes its entrance. The massive tour involves over 40 musicians and 35-member crew. Even with many of the venues selling out, there is no way it can make a profit. Clinton is more interested in posterity than profit, but his band does not take well to being undercut on their paycheques again.
1977 to 1978
Parliament releases The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, a one-dimensional concept comedy album, while Funkadelic drops Hardcore Jollies, their first major label recording. In sound, Jollies brings them closer to Parliament. But for the most part, 1977 is pure Parliament. Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome picks up where Mothership Connection leaves off, furthering the trail of amazing funk coming out the studio, only now more electronic components (such as vocoders) find their way into the mix. The year rounds out for the group with a live album, Live: P-Funk Earth Tour.
1978 adds two more stellar releases to the growing catalogue. Funkadelic, which has been on hold for two years, returns in massive style with their biggest commercial success ever, a landmark album called One Nation Under a Groove that lays the groundwork for Afrika Bambaataa's electro experiments and inspires Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang's early rap exploits. Parliament also issues a good late-career album in Motor Booty Affair. Both these albums demonstrate the P-Funk's mastery of song creation, and although they may not push the boundaries of the talent as much as earlier work, they do satiate the fans' appetite for more high-quality variations on the same template.
During these two years, the detriment of money grows within the funk army. In an effort to keep ahead of the bills, Clinton signs a number of side projects in order to produce some cash flow to keep the operation going under the burden of massive overhead. He convinces his female backup singers, along with some extras, to record their own disco-fied projects as Brides of Funkenstein and, later, Parlet. The touring schedule reflects that growth, with live shows extending over four hours as Bootsy, Parlet, and the Brides fill the opening slots.
The involvement of more women on the touring circuit leads to personal clashes between male band members, as romantic surges and break-ups ensue. The group is now practically the size of a small village, and follows a hierarchy of respect that leaves many people feeling short-changed. Bootsy leaves to pursue his own career, and the entire horn section leaves with him. Late in '78, members of the band stage a messy mutiny in protest of the large sums of overdue paycheques they are owed.
P-Funk trombonist Greg Boyer recalls the Clinton's convoluted dealings at the time. "People were getting paid with narcotics. Some people were getting paid with equipment. Sometimes they got paid with money, and sometimes they got promised a gig, 'cause maybe they weren't on tour [with us] at the time. There were all kinds of ways to barter your way around a session, and it didn't always involve money."
1979 to 1981
Things begin to go downhill. Although the live show still sells out stadiums on a regular basis, the strains within the band leave their mark on the albums.
Parliament is the first to show signs of suffering. 1979's Gloryhallastoopid retreads all the mistakes of Motor Booty Affair, but picks up very few of its strengths along the way. However, Funkadelic's 1979 effort, Uncle Jam Wants You, fares better by pulling away from the commercialism of One Nation Under A Groove, toward the politics and experimentation that served the band so well early on. Though, it too is by no means a stellar album.
Much of the demise in quality has to do with several of the long-time arrangers - Bernie Worrell, Maceo Parker, Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley - leaving the group or only working sporadically. Many other mainstays have finally walked out over money problems. Clinton, who himself is no longer as enthused by the exhaustive cycle, is left to work with a group of much younger musicians who require more guidance and don't gel nearly as well. The spaced-out live show soon devolves into parody.
The Clinton empire crumbles in the most convoluted way. In 1980, CBS offers Clinton his own label, Uncle Jam Records, which he envisions as another Motown. Meanwhile Funkadelic, Clinton's signing to Warner, is having problems with its label. Claiming it's too expensive, Warner refuses to release a proposed P-Funk double-album. But the reality is they are suspicious of Clinton's mischievous business practices. To complicate matters, Clinton has a third deal under way. He is trying to sign a young singer named Roger Troutman (of the funk group Zapp) who already has a deal with Warner for an album. Clinton convinces Troutman that he can pull the old Parliament-Funkadelic trick: sign one project to Warner and then a second, under a different name, to his CBS sub-label. Clinton and CBS go on to pay Troutman for a proposed album but Troutman instead turns around and sells the same album to Warner. So Troutman has sold the same album to two record companies, one that belongs to CBS and another that handles Funkadelic. As a result, in one fell swoop, Clinton loses his deals with both CBS and Warner, and loses the rights to the Funkadelic name. Soon after, in 1981, he also loses the rights to the Parliament name when Polygram purchases Casablanca. After a decade, Clinton's business practices provide the downfall of his empire.
1982 to 1986
Of course, it doesn't end there. Early '80s funk presents a synth and electro-heavy counterpart to its blood, sweat and tears incarnation of the '70s, and Clinton recreates himself in this mould. Signing to Capitol, an unburdened Clinton emerges as a solo artist in November of 1982 with the aptly titled Computer Games, which has contributions from several of the old P-Funk mainstays. The album is welcomed as a return to form, and even produces a hit with "Atomic Dog." But the successful streak doesn't last. After a well-received 1983 album as the P-Funk Allstars called Urban Dancefloor Guerillas (featuring Sly Stone, Bootsy Collins, Eddie Hazel, and others), Clinton's subsequent solo efforts such as 1983's You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish and 1985's Some of my Best Jokes are Friends fail to make the grade and, without tour support from Capitol, the albums quickly disappear. In retrospect, the biggest impact Clinton makes in 1985 comes from producing Freaky Styley, the second album for a young Red Hot Chili Peppers. A friendship begins between the punk-funk rockers and the original funkateer.
1986's R&B Skeletons In The Closet is not as bad as its predecessors, but by then very few people are still paying attention to what George Clinton is doing. Furthermore, his legal and financial problems from the preceding decade still need to be resolved. Unable to drum up public interest the way he once did, his Capitol years quietly draw to a close.
1987 to 1999
George Clinton spends much of the mid-to late '80s touring to smaller crowds in search of nostalgia. Otherwise, the situation looks unsalvageable. Many in his touring band begin to try their luck at jobs in other industries. In 1988, Clinton receives an encouraging phone call from Prince, who is interested in reviving Clinton's career on his fledgling Paisley Park label. But initial high hopes are dashed when it becomes obvious that Prince wants to control the songwriting process and treat the '70s superstar like a novelty act. Under contract, in 1989, he releases his first of two albums for Paisley Park, the hip-hop influenced Cinderella Theory, which featured guest appearances by Public Enemy's Chuck D and Flavor Flav. But in the mechanical world of hip-hop, Clinton is out of his element and his inconsistencies show through on the album's songs. Four years pass before Clinton fulfils his contract with Paisley by recording the badly titled Hey Man, Smell My Finger.
By the early '90s, a whole new generation of listeners begins to discover the old Parliament and Funkadelic records. Much of the resurgence in interest initially comes from young hip-hoppers trolling the used-vinyl bins in search of breaks they can sample. As a result, Parliament becomes one of the most sampled bands in history. In true form, the opportunist in Clinton tries to cash in on his sampled work by offering a CD series of ready-made snippets of his catalogue. The plan doesn't quite work.
In the booming alternative circles of the era, a newfound respect develops for Clinton's abstract funk and Funkadelic-related work. Unlike the '70s, where much of the mainstream audiences for his music were black, these crowds are predominantly white college kids. Never the winner of a Grammy, in 1993 Clinton nevertheless finds himself on stage at the awards ceremony some two full decades after his prime, performing with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He's even invited by Bill Clinton to play at his inaugural ball. In Europe, an entire music population discovers the P-Funk for the first time as the internet helps make their music available once again. In 1994, at the height of the P-Funk revival, George Clinton & the P-Funk Allstars find themselves once again playing to crowded arenas, albeit this time they are part of the Lollapalooza roster. In 1997, 42 years after his start in music, George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars are officially inducted into the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame.
A revitalised George Clinton continues touring through to the decade's end, on the strength of a five-hour live show that attracts Grateful Dead fans who are looking for a jam band to latch onto.
2000 to 2005
Much like the Grateful Dead, much of the P-Funk material to see release in the last five years - and there has been plenty - has come in the form of bootlegs and official live recordings. Apart from pleading no-contest to two drug paraphernalia charges (instead of one felony count of cocaine possession) and lending his voice to the Vice City: San Andreas video game, the 21st century has been a rather sedate touring circuit for George Clinton.
No longer chasing down success, Clinton has come to terms with his accomplishments. Surely he has done enough. He has even put together a new solo album called How Late Do U have 2 B B 4 U R Absent, released on his own C Kunspyruhzy label and featuring, of all people, his grand-daughter alongside old friends like Bernie Worrell who have come back because P-Funk is what they love to do.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of George Clinton's musical career. In celebration, Universal is releasing a two-disc Parliament retrospective called Gold. Its 24 tracks covers the '70s heyday of the band. And some catalogue it is that they've built. Fifty years is a lifetime. For Clinton, it has been a lifetime well spent.
The Essential George Clinton
Maggot Brain (1971)
The undisputed highlight of George Clinton's early psychedelic soul-rock days. The last Funkadelic album to feature original members Eddies Hazel, Billy "Bass" Nelson, and Tiki Fulwood, Maggot Brain was recorded in one drug-rampant day. The group would eventually veer in the direction of funk, but here they do nothing less than redefine the boundaries of where African-American music can go. Dark, twisted, tortured psychedelia.
Let's Take It To The Stage (1975)
Let's Take It To The Stage presents the P-Funk in a particularly eclectic mood, but the checks and balances all seem to work in the favour. They don't go overboard on the humour, as they will on later efforts. They don't forsake mainstream accessibility, as they do on earlier ones. Yet none of it sounds middle of the road. This album demonstrates the range that Funkadelic had mastered by the mid-'70s, which at its peak was unparalleled.
Mothership Connection (1976)
Hands down the essential George Clinton album. Captured at the height of the P-Funk's powers, before they began fading to exhaustion and repetition. Whereas many other Parliament albums can sound too busy with ideas and cast members, this 1976 classic delivers the band through a refined, clear-headed, and downright funky batch of songs. See how many snippets you recognise from modern hip-hop breaks.