In the court of popular culture, funk music impresario George Clinton reigns as the most celebrated jester, his rainbow-colored locks, whimsical costumes, and crowd-pleasing antics embraced by fun-loving musicians worldwide and portrayed as characters in cartoons, cult films, and even best-selling video games. But make no mistake-though oftentimes silly and always entertaining, court jesters aren’t feeble-minded nitwits, and Clinton’s continuing commercial success and enduring legacy is a living testament to that.
Even today, at the age of 67, Clinton remains sharp, thoughtful, and committed to creating music-including two soon-to-be-released CDs-that makes the masses shake their booties. And that’s great for us, because he’ll be landing his Parliament-Funkadelic mothership on the Santa Barbara sand this Sunday to close out the second annual West Beach Music Festival.
Last week, less than an hour before taking the stage in Tilburg, Holland, Clinton chatted about his life, the music, and American politics from his hotel room in the medieval Dutch city. He clearly was pleased with the way his rollercoaster life has played out, and excited to bring the funk to Santa Barbara. The New Jersey native-a onetime barber who played in doo-wop bands during the 1950s-has witnessed funk go in and out and back in style; the genre’s largest resurgence being in the past few years, as bands from all over the globe have come to embrace its deep bass lines, rhythmic drums, and emphasis on danceable grooves. “I was resting and waiting for that to happen again. I really was,” Clinton explained in his signature gruff drawl. “It took quite a while, but that gave me enough time to prepare a little more.”
That doesn’t mean the wait was easy, though-Clinton even tried to retire from the stage and strictly produce his comrades (such as Bootsy Collins) back in the early 1980s. “We were knowing that people didn’t have enough funk, and radio was controlling shit at that time,” he explained. But he had numerous eye-opening experiences in the ’60s and ’70s that told him to keep hope alive. “After taking acid, I realized cool is relative, it’s how cool you feel about what you’re doing and you’re conviction. : We held onto the funk even when it wasn’t cool for a minute, then the white folks started saying it was cool again.”
He would never have guessed, however, that everyone-white people and all-would find funk again thanks to a new music called hip-hop, which sampled many Parliament-Funkadelic songs when it began back in the late 1980s. “Funk is the DNA for hip-hop and techno and all that,” said Clinton, explaining that all of those samples got people hungry for longer funk songs, sparking the current rebirth.
Also aiding in the revival were bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, who called on Clinton to produce their 1985 album Freaky Styley. He credits them and other contemporary musicians with “giving me something to have fun with.” And the timing couldn’t have been better. “If it had happened any earlier,” said Clinton, “then I might have hurt myself with that much fun.”
The fun this time around is powered, in part, by the Internet, which grants many artists a greater degree of ease in fan finding. “Record companies don’t have control over your life now. Radio stations don’t have control of your life now,” explained Clinton, who’s always encouraged the recording and dissemination of his live shows, la the Grateful Dead and Phish. “You get more fans that way, and honest fans,” he explained, positing that those who don’t allow live recordings might just be trying to hide their true image.
Next up on the sharing list is Clinton’s two upcoming releases: one is a yet-to-be-titled cover album of Motown hits and the other is George Clinton and His Gangsters of Love, a collaborative cover album of doo-wop and more featuring Carlos Santana, Sly Stone, Red Hot Chili Peppers, RZA, and others. “You don’t know how good I felt, because I’ve been trying to get [the album] to take place for the last 10 years,” he explained. “I thought I was just doing some doo-wop songs, but then I realized that this is that masterpiece.” And the record stores are reacting, Clinton said, as the pre-release orders keep coming in. “All the sudden, damn, this shit is blowing right up in our face.”
As for the Parliament-Funkadelic-the band of a dozen-plus players and singers that’s backed up Clinton for four decades-it’s still very much a family affair. Clinton’s son and granddaughter are in the band, as are the offspring of other members, he said, explaining, “We’ve got all kind of kinfolks.” He considers the Parliament-Funkadelic a “whole lifestyle,” agreeing that it is a job, but realizing that “you need a job anyway.”
And don’t expect the funk to die anytime soon. “They got cloning now,” joked Clinton. “Shit, I may clone myself and start all over. You never know the possibilities nowadays.”
Clinton is also looking forward to his return to Santa Barbara, which he learned about on the old soap opera before coming to town to fish and do some club shows back in the day. “There are some serious funkadelics there,” he said. “We have to get a petition signed that says we’re not responsible for what happens. They use us as an excuse to go crazy.” Clinton advised that everyone should bring two booties, “because one booty ain’t enough for our show. We’re gonna get one of ’em, and the other one they need to dance with.”
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic will close out this weekend’s three-day-long West Beach Music Festival on Sunday, September 14. Additional headliners include Natasha Bedingfield, Jason Mraz, and Ziggy Marley. Visit westbeachfestival.com for a complete lineup and ticket info.