Taken from Roanoke Times (June 30, 2016)
George Clinton bringing generations of P-Funk to Elmwood on Saturday
by Tad Dickens
Courtesy of William Thoren
“Funk has always been good-time music, no matter what era, generation or nationality," George Clinton said.
When word dropped that George Clinton was bringing his musical collective, Parliament Funkadelic, to Elmwood Park, the response on social media was strong and immediate. People in the Roanoke Valley were excited that an act that has been around for about 55 years was headed this way.
That’s right. Fifty-five years. But the enthusiastic reception was no surprise to Clinton, who has led the ensemble in one form or another since it began.
“It’s the funk, you know,” Clinton said in a phone call this month. “Funk has always been good-time music, no matter what era, generation or nationality. Everyone can relate to that wanna-have-a-good-time spirit. Funk is having its best reception in these days.”
Clinton, who will turn 75 next month, remains busy. P-Funk’s latest album, “first ya gotta Shake The Gate,” is the centerpiece of the band’s extensive international touring, he said. Clinton has a memoir on the market, “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?” And his tour stops are consistently selling out, he said.
“Funk is what time it is,” he said.
But a lot has changed. The act that brought the world “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow,” “Hit It and Quit It,” “Loose Booty,” “Flashlight,” “Atomic Dog,” “Up for the Down Stroke,” “Chocolate City,” “Mothership Connection” and “Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” is not touring with most of the 15 core players who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
Several of those performers have died, with keyboardist and “Wizard of Woo” Bernie Worrell passing on June 24, after our interview with Clinton. (Responding in published reports to Worrell’s death, Clinton said, “The world is a little bit darker and a little less funky” without him.)
Bandleader Blackbyrd McKnight, on board most of 35 years, is still wailing on guitar. Elsewhere on the packed stage are funky scions, including Clinton’s son Tracey Clinton and grandson Tra’zae Lewis-Clinton, and his daughter, Brandi Scott. The late Garry “Diaper Man” Shider’s son, Garrett, plays guitar. Horn man Bennie Cowan’s son, Benzel Cowan, is on drums, Clinton said.
“And they killin,’ too!” he said.
They’re part of a musical lineage that includes guitarist Eddie Hazel, bassist Bootsy Collins, horn players (and former James Brown sidemen) Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, drummers Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey and Dennis Chambers and a cast of dozens.
From his late 1950s beginnings with the Parliaments doo-wop group, which sprang from New Jersey barbershop harmonies, Clinton had his eyes on musical and visual concepts.
“Motown and the Beatles was at the height of the barbershop,” in the 1960s, he said. “You had to go around the world to even get near one of those two. We were shooting at that, and it kept our inspiration alive, even now.
“I still think that ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ is the epitome of records. They mix classic cool with rock ’n’ roll. George Martin and the Beatles, that’s still something to be looked at.”
His own band’s influence was essential to hip-hop music, with NWA and its offshoots, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, Public Enemy, Rakim and more sampling beats and melodies.
“We don’t get paid for none of that,” said Clinton, who lamented the web of lawsuits, countersuits and appeals he is involved in over copyrights. See his website, flashlight2013.com, for more on his thoughts about the issue.
P-Funk’s commercial heyday was a time of disorganization and constant partying, and Clinton’s own issues with drug addiction were no help. He is clean these days, he said, and he prefers it that way.
“Oh, [expletive], this is much more fun,” he said of sobriety. “I ain’t trying to pee on nobody’s parade who’s trying to go for that, but [the buzz] don’t happen after the first couple of tries. … I hate to be trying to tell people that, because usually ‘no’ is the aphrodisiac that keeps people doing this. But I can tell you for me, I have so much more fun. In hindsight, I wish I had done this a lot sooner.”
He recently hurt his back, and has been using a rolling chair for performances. But he still feels like he is just getting started, he said.
“I can barely stand up, but I still can get the enthusiasm to get the band going,” he said. “And that’s my job in the band, is to keep them hype, keep the people hype, because we hype each other. And that’s what makes for a good party.”