(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – March 2022.)
If I were to say to you Make my funk the p-funk, I wants to get funked up, would you a) nod with a slight wry smile that says I dig or b) seek a restraining order.
If it’s a) then you have some idea of the George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic story. If b) you’re confused by the connection between mostly old white men in suits gesticulating in chambers and something you might hear in Austin Powers movies.
Let me take you back to 1956 New Jersey where young George Edward Clinton worked in the barbershop were all the cool kids hung out. Young George and his friends straightened and slicked back their hair, got sharp suits and matching ties and sang doo-wop.
Rejected by Motown for being too similar to The Four Tops or The Stylistics, The Parliaments finally got a record deal in 1967 with Revilot records in Detroit and recorded (I Wanna) Testify. Clinton added5 more musicians to accompany the singers and after touring for a while, the band realised they couldn’t keep up the image. Their hair was dishevelled, their suits grubby and ties mismatching. They were on the crest of the hippy wave so decided to dress (or undress) accordingly and let the music (with the help of a few stimulants) become more free.
Due to contractual difficulties with Revilot, the band were temporarily unable to use the name Parliament and so became Funkadelic, the latter being more rock guitar influenced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge and Sly and the Family Stone. If you listen to the track Maggot Brain (what becomes of your mind after too much LSD apparently) you’d be convinced you were listening to Hendrix or Led Zeppelin.
Parliament took the slightly more commercial route and with the help of Bootsy Collins (brother of Catfish of course) and the Horny Horns from James Brown’s backing band moving toward a more funk, rhythm and blues sound.
Two names, two record companies but basically the same core of about 10 musicians which combined to create the P-funk.
Live shows with a cast of up to 20 characters (singers, dancers, narrators and musicians) all dressed up somewhere between a Star Trek convention, Mardi Gras and a voodoo sacrifice. Space ships descending from the heavens were lapped up by the stoner fans as more of a tribal ritual than a rock concert.
Mothership Connection was the stand out album for Parliament in 1975 with it’s tight grooves, quirky horn riffs and it’s call and response chanting.
One Nation Under A Groove by Funkadelic in 1978 another highlight of the enterprise.
Album covers became cartoons with characters coming to life in live shows, the more exuberant, bizarre and over the top the better.
Eventually Clinton’s empire came crashing down in the late 70s after a series of bad management decisions and continual feuds with record companies. The circus was over.
George reinvented himself to a lesser degree with the P-funk All Stars in the 1990s and 2000s with a bit less razzmatazz and (illegal stimulants)
The P-funk influence is widespread. Just look at Prince and Earth,Wind and Fire for example.
Parliament/Funkadelic are the most sampled group used in Hip Hop today. Every Dr Poop Doggie Doo Showaddywaddy and his motherf#*cker stanky hoe has looped some P-funk in their time. To his credit, Clinton released several P-funk riffs for the sole purpose of being sampled so he wasn’t such a bad businessman after all.
I remember being introduced to this seductive sound in fellow musician Robin’s Hillhead flat one wintry afternoon in the mid 70s. With no more than a strong coffee, we skinny middle class white boys were bopping around his kitchen with gay abandon as if there was no tomorrow.
But there was .
Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Of The Sucker)