George Clinton, the elder funkster

William Collins, the bassist, once told an interviewer about the time he arrived at George Clinton’s house to audition for Parliament Funkadelic. He described a situation more suited to the Addams Family. The front room was dark with the exception of a black light under which Clinton himself was standing, wearing a white sheet and big yellow rubber chicken feet. It was 1972. Collins, fresh out of a gig with James Brown that he described as being more like boot camp, remained with Clinton for the next several years. Under the band leader’s guidance, Collins’s ostentatious alter ego, Bootsy, one that William still inhabits to this day, came to full psychedelic bloom.

But the same could be said for any of the musicians that worked for Clinton throughout the decades: that they were seriously gifted players and that they were willing to role-play to an extreme. Observing the elder funkster today (Clinton is 73), it is not so easy to connect the dots that extend back to his modest beginnings as a doo-wop singer. But in the middle 1950s, in New Jersey, that’s how he got started. He was a barber with a nice voice.

Past Event

George Clinton & P-Funk

  • Thursday, May 1, 2014, 8 p.m.
  • House of Blues, 1055 Fifth Avenue, San Diego
  • Not available

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The late ’70s witnessed a crumbling of the Parliament Funkadelic empire due to the twin poisons of too little money and too many drugs. But the early ’80s may have been Clinton’s biggest years, at least commercially. He scored a number-one radio hit with “Atomic Dog.” That’s right around the time the P-Funk All Stars were formed, sort of as a “best of the best” of the weirdness he’d been offering all along. When the All Stars brought their man-diapered stage-humping concert to San Diego then, I had to see them and their stoned leader, after which my date said: “If my dad finds out you brought me here tonight, he’ll totally kick your ass.”

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