When you hear MC Hammer's "Turn This Mutha Out," Tone Loc's "Funky Cold Medina" or Heavy D's "The Overweight Lover's In The House," you are actually listening to hit tunes that were heavily dependent on samples (from "Give Up The Funk," "Knee Deep," and "Pass The Peas," respectively) of songs of music pioneer George Clinton. And as you go through a litany of hits from the 1980's until today, many dance classics have the unmistakable mark of Clinton to credit for their success, or - at the very least - their listenability. The credit due to Clinton comes from his 50 years as a music innovator who has redefined one of the tenets of soul music: funk.
"Funk is a basic soul with a lot of rhythm, and it's the structure of that rhythm that makes it funk," music expert Fred Sutton told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "It's just soul music with a heavy rhythm that involves drums and bass. You listen to jazz in its pure form, you know its jazz, but if you blend in another type of rhythm, it's called fusion. Therefore, you have jazz/fusion, and you have soul/funk."
In the beginning, Clinton (born in 1940 in Kannapolis, North Carolina) was influenced like many of the youth of his era by the melodic sounds of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. After founding the Parliaments as a doo-wop group in the 1950's, the group finally hit pay dirt with their Number One R&B hit "(I Just Wanna) Testify" in 1967.
For some time in the '60s, Clinton served on the songwriting staff at Motown Records, and in 1968, Clinton formed Funkadelic, a visionary band that combined acid rock with primal funk. By 1972, Clinton renamed the band Parliament and signed them to Casablanca Records, while Funkadelic signed with Warner Brothers in 1976. The brilliance behind the move was that the same personnel housed both powerhouse bands.
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"Parliament was more orchestrated with horns and complicated vocal arrangements," explained Clinton on his website, "while Funkadelic was more a straight-up rock band with a heavy rhythm section."
"The interesting thing about George Clinton is the evolution from his initial roots from the Funkadelic to going into the whole Funkadelic-Parliament transition," said Sutton. "They started out on more of a soul kind of thing and went into a soul/rock type of thing which eventually metamophasized into a whole funk situation. Basically, that separated him from a lot of groups in that his music was a lot more syncopated and, of course, the way that they combined the story telling. The lyrical content separated George from other acts as well."
Clinton and his crew got on a roll, as his bands each had successive chart-busting jams like "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)" in 1976; and "Flashlight" and "Bop Gun" in 1977. They also hit hard with anthemic funk jams like 1978's "One Nation Under A Groove" and "(Not Just) Knee Deep" and "Aqua Boogie" a year later.
Clinton also employed The P-Funk mythology in a series of concept albums and live shows. One of Clinton's more popular characters was set in a lyrical story that spun the tale of Sir Nose, Devoid of Funk, an alien creature who would initially not engage in the funk rhythms he was encountering and, by song's end, would reluctantly admit to feeling the rhythms. Parliament-Funkadelic concerts would follow the Sir Nose tale, while additionally staging some of the most outrageous concert stunts - from futuristic costumes and on-stage spacehips to grown men beating out tunes in cloth diapers while Clinton and his trademark colorful braids spurred the band on to funkier rhythmic heights.
"He had a major coup in getting Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker, Bootsy Collins," noted Sutton. "Many of the rhythm aspects of the group at that point where former musicians who'd played for James Brown. It was just a fabulous, rhythmically, syncopated soul-oriented type of group that at that point was playing strictly funk. The musicianship was outrageous because most of these players had actually worked with James Brown for many, many years."
By 1981, Clinton had dissolved both bands (but held on to the members) and reemerged as a solo act and leader of the P-Funk All-Stars with his biggest solo hit, "Atomic Dog," in 1983. From 1986 to 1989, Clinton became embroiled in legal difficulties that stemmed from the litany of royalty problems from the '70s with recordings of over 40 musicians for four labels under three names. However, a generation of rappers who had been reared on Clinton's music began to sample his tunes, thus making him the most second most sampled artist after James Brown. As always, Clinton retooled himself, and in 1989 signed on with Prince's Paisley Park label for the release of his fifth solo project, "The Cinderella Theory." Clinton next signed with Sony 550 for his 1996 release, "T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M."("the awesome power of a fully operational mothership"), which reunited the funk pioneer with several of his Parliament/Funkadelic comrades from the '70s.
Today, Clinton is head of his own label, The C Kunspyruhzy, that will release his first studio album in 10 years, followed by solo recordings by individual members of the P-Funk empire.
"We got four generations of fans out there who keep bugging me to get these live shows out there, and now's the time," says Clinton. "I've seen what the Grateful Dead have been doing with their archives, as well as bands like Pearl Jam, and I figured it was time to show the world what the funk is all about." Clinton also plans to release a collection of Parliament-Funkadelic and P-Funk All Stars live recordings gleaned from board tapes. Called the "Uncut Funk Series," the live CDs will incorporate some of the best shows over the past 30 years and will be augmented with superior graphics and extensive liner notes.
"George Clinton always made the transition from the beginning all the way up until today with film and television score," notes Sutton. "His ability to write and bridge each segment of each decade has been there from the beginning. Although there is a comparison between George and James Brown, they distinctly have carved out their own niche in music. James Brown has a larger and broader legacy because he started it. From James Brown, you got the best, and George Clinton is one of the best that came from that legacy."