George Clinton's Still Campaigning For One Nation Under a Groove

George Clinton
George Clinton Photo by William Thoren, courtesy of Giant Noise

George Clinton is aware these are trying times in America. The legendary overlord of the Parliament-Funkadelic collective began his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career in the Civil Rights era and the music he and P-Funk created espoused unity through the funk. Talking with Clinton by phone ahead of his return to Houston for his last planned live show here this weekend, we asked if he believed music could bridge the divide between Americans in 2019.

“I still believe that, that one nation under a groove is the answer, that we’ve got to get together as one,” he said. “In the meantime, you try to dance your way out of your constrictions. You can get pretty pissed at things people do, but you can’t shoot everybody that you get pissed at, so you’ve got to get a bop gun. You don’t have to kill ‘em, but you can make ‘em dance, at least.”

He expects plenty of dancing and a lot of love when he and Parliament-Funkadelic touch down at Revention Music Center on August 25 with their One Nation Under a Groove tour. The event will feature music from both bands as well as a support bill of acts which learned to be funky from the master himself. Galactic, Fishbone, Dumpstaphunk and Miss Velvet and the Blue Wolf are all on board and promise the funk, the whole funk and nothin’ but the funk.

The tour is also Clinton’s farewell to live performances. He plans to retire from the road at the end of the year to focus on other creative projects. Knowing this is his last trip to Houston as a performer, we asked for his assessment of the audiences here over the years.

“We’ve been coming there for years. You know, we landed the Mothership at The Summit back in the day. I guess that’s one of your big churches now. We were having church back then with the Mothership in the ‘70s. It’s been a great place for us,” he said and added the endorsement that any funk fan lives for: “They definitely get what the funk is about in Houston.”

That’s coming right from the genre’s mastermind, folks. In the 1970s, he and the otherworldly talents which staffed both bands took the music to new heights, literally, with their space-themed sets and surrealist humor, all delivered with musical precision and a blend of Clinton’s rock influences. The result was a career which garnered Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic a 2019 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The bands built massive crossover appeal, one nation under a groove, if you will. Hits like “Flash Light,” “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” and Clinton’s solo smash “Atomic Dog” cemented the empire's place in music history and influenced acts to follow, like Prince, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and every act on the current tour.

click to enlarge Clinton has thrilled audiences for six decades but is bringing his touring days to an end this year. - PHOTO BY WILLIAM THOREN, COURTESY OF GIANT NOISE
Clinton has thrilled audiences for six decades but is bringing his touring days to an end this year.
Photo by William Thoren, courtesy of Giant Noise
Which musicians influenced Clinton?

“In the very beginning, Frankie Lymon and the doo-wop music of the ‘50s,” he said. “Rock and roll had just got started so everybody was into Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis – everybody loved that. But when Frankie Lymon came out it just swept me off my feet and I ended up thinking, I have to do this. And that got me off into the group Parliament.

“The music of the day was Latin music. Tito Puente, so that had me swept. And then of course, ‘60s Motown came out and that would govern pretty much everything I did from then on,” said Clinton, describing his architectural blueprint for funk. “Between Motown, The Beatles – everything I did I pretty much based it around that music, even if it came out Funkadelic or P-Funk. The stuff I learned at Motown, from the way they produced records, the vibe of the bass being the funkiest instrument, all that came from work at Motown or love for that music and, like I said, The Beatles.”

His stature in music has meant he’s often received calls to lend his talents as a producer to projects. His music has been sampled by countless hip-hop acts over the years, so it ultimately made sense to work with some of those artists, like Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar. He said there have been projects which initially puzzled him, though.

“Well, the Chili Peppers, you know, when I worked with them. Matter of fact, I just had dinner with Flea the other night, I’m gonna be in his wedding next month,” Clinton said.

Clinton produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1985 album Freaky Styley. It was just the second album for Anthony Kiedis, Flea and company but it helped establish their own considerable legacy.

click to enlarge Houston fans have a chance to wish Clinton a fond farewell to touring Sunday, August 25 - PHOTO BY WILLIAM THOREN, COURTESY OF GIANT NOISE
Houston fans have a chance to wish Clinton a fond farewell to touring Sunday, August 25
Photo by William Thoren, courtesy of Giant Noise

“Them, when they first showed up, it was like that. You know, it was like, wow, this is weird, this is a new one,” Clinton recalled with a laugh. “They said, ‘Would you produce our record? We wanna be funky.’”

Take a listen to Kiedis deliver Sly and the Family Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay” on that album (or practically anything he’s sung since) and you’ll see he and the band learned well.

“That’s the funny thing, teaching Anthony to sing that, which I couldn’t even sing at the time. Rehearsing it with him actually taught me the song. I’m still proud of that because whenever I hear his songs now, he still has what I told him, the diction of overemphasizing each word. It helped him because he’s a rapper, it helped him retain melody and it gave him a new style.”

Once his touring days are done, Clinton expects to focus on other creative work which interests him, including acting. He plays a troll in the approaching sequel to Trolls. He’s working on a P-Funk fashion line and teamed with shoe designer John Fluevog recently. And, music will never be far from his reach. He said the misconception many had about Parliament-Funkadelic was it was all about George Clinton.

“It’s always been about a bunch of bad musicians that I came up with, from Plainfield (New Jersey), New York, and then Detroit and Cincinnati and Maryland. I mean, you know you got the Eddie Hazels, Bernie Worrell, Garry Shider,” he begins and then lists a litany of incredible P-Funk musicians like Bootsy Collins, Michael Hampton, Maceo Parker, Junie Morrison, Blackbyrd McKnight. The Wiki page for members of Parliament-Funkadelic features a significant list of musicians who ensured the music would last and Clinton said a new generation will take the funk into a new era. He knows it’s needed now more than ever.

“Now I’ve got all of the grandkids and the kids of the other members of the band in the band now. It’s a family thing and these kids grew up in it, doing their own version of funk, you know, the music of today. They put me in touch with Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus. Those are the people doing the new versions of what we were doing back in those days.”

“The things, like putting humor into the music has always been something – you know, I don’t know no answers, our thing was to make people think, that was our mission,” he said of the legacy the newest band members have assumed. “I’m not preaching that I know the answers, but I do know the only way we’re going to figure our way out of this is to use our heads.”

George Clinton with Parliament-Funkadelic, Sunday, August 25, at Revention Music Center, 520 Texas. With Galactic, Fishbone, Dumpstaphunk and Miss Velvet and The Blue Wolf. Doors at 6 p.m., $22 and up.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.