The Summer of 1976 was a stellar moment in time for the development of my musical tastes. That summer I discovered KISS’ Destroyer, Daryl Hall and John Oates’ “Silver Album” & Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy. It was also the summer that some of the high school distance runners began to take me under their wings and took an in-coming seventh grader out with them on runs. Our school’s high school runners were encouraged to take the “good” middle school runners out on runs with them to get the youngsters acclimated to the training required to become good high school runners. But, perhaps the discovery that had the most lasting affect on me was I discovered funk that summer.
Now, when you grow up in a rural area in Indiana, you never say you discovered funk music to others, since 98% of the people around are country music lovers. So, I kept this love under wraps until I got to college. Now, I had loved the funk music by War, the Ohio Players and Earth, Wind & Fire, but what caught me attention that summer was funk in the form of”Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” by Parliament. When I first heard that song, I knew I wanted the funk, that I wanted the funk, that I had to have the funk! Seriously, I was hooked.
So, I looked for Parliament’s album Mothership Connection. First, of course, I was taken by the cover. On it was some flying saucer with some space-age funkateer sitting in the open door of the space ship, snapping his fingers to some obviously funky music. Now, that was a visual that was right up with anything KISS was throwing on their albums. As I flipped the album to read the back, I noticed that these space-garbed African-Americans were dressed every bit as crazy as KISS. Cool! They are carrying the visual all the way! Then, of all things, I noticed that the band’s label was Casablanca, the same as KISS AND Donna Summer. Wait a second! Am I holding an album of funk freaks or what? All I knew is I had to buy it.
Man, was I NOT ready for this! HAHAHAHA!!!! This was almost a Richard Pryor album set to Ohio Players music being played by Frank Zappa. This was the real thing! Finally, I was hearing what a bass guitar was made to do. Oh, wait! They had guitarists who could play better than Hendrix. I could not believe what I was hearing. But, I was into the single, “Give Up the Funk” the most. Began to listen to funk before I ran or I played basketball or I played baseball that summer. It seemed as though listening to the funk helped to get in touch with a life force that was perfect for sports.
After that album, I began to see Parliament in the pages of Creem and Circus magazines. Then, I learned that this group of genius musicians performed and recorded as a horn-based funk band called Parliament, but also recorded for another label as a guitar-heavy funk band called Funkadelic. Oh, I needed to get me some of that, but I waited three years until, in 1978, when I was out in Fort Collins, Colorado, for some national “Olympics” event. While at the disco, I not only got to dance to Parliament’s latest dance ditty “Flash Light”, I also danced to what became Funkadelic’s biggest selling single on the R&B Chart, “One Nation Under a Groove”. Oh my! I needed that one too! So, when I got home, I went out to purchase Funkadelic’s new album One Nation Under a Groove. Now, I was into the whole P-Funk Thang. The problem was that by this time, there was little difference in the sounds of the two bands. I had to go back to the older Funkadelic albums to hear the difference, which by the way is mind-blowing in and of itself. Guitarist Eddie Hazel may be the greatest guitarist that few have heard.
Now, by the time I got to college, the whole P-Funk empire was crumbling under musician fighting, drugs, and all the rest of the rock life cliches. So, while in college, I tried to go a little back-catalog diving in order to learn more about leader George Clinton’s vision. By 1978, the empire not only included the two aforementioned groups, but also released albums by guitarist Eddie Hazel, bassist Bootsy Collins (Bootsy’s Rubber Band), trombonist Fred Wesley & the Horny Horns, two all-female trios (like a funky Supremes on acid) called The Brides of Funkenstein and Parlet. And, those are just a few of the artists under George Clinton’s umbrella. But, by 1980, things were crumbling.
So, in 1983, Clinton released his first “solo” album called Computer Games. Once again, Clinton was using many of the same musicians from his bands in the Seventies, but he was sly enough to read the tea leaves to hear that funk music in the Eighties was going to be more electronically sounding, in addition to being more minimal in its sound. He took Prince as his jumping off point, all the while anticipating the sound of hip hop that was currently bubbling underground as he created his last society-changing hit song, “Atomic Dog”. Clinton had done it and brought the funk back! Long live Funkateer Supreme George Clinton!
Well, as we know now, next to James Brown, George Clinton’s bands have influenced more hip hop songs than any other artist. Thanks to Dr. Dre, both while in N.W.A and solo, sampled P-Funk songs for his hit songs, most famously using “Atomic Dog” as the basis of Snoop Dogg’s “What’s My Name”. And to his credit, Clinton was totally good with sampling, since he found a new method for income. And, now, his music lives in different forms in the songs of Tupac, Digital Underground, and so many others that I would be listing rap artists for what would seem like a month. By the way, George Clinton also influence artists like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as he produced the band’s 1985 album Freaky Styley.
In addition to Clinton’s influences, we all know that Bootsy had been everywhere, especially when he guested on Deee-Lite’s 1990 hit “Groove Is in the Heart”. Also, keyboardist Bernie Worrell and percussionist Steve Scales recorded and toured with Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club. So, their fingerprints are all over rock music. I’m just thankful I discovered the funk 41 years ago. Music would be very bland without George Clinton in my life. “Gotta keep the funk!”