Power Of Funk

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

The Mothership lands in Santa Cruz this Thursday as George Clinton, arguably the single most influential figure in the development of funk, plays at the Catalyst Club.  With a personality as colorful as his hair extensions, Clinton was the mastermind behind Parliament and Funkadelic, two bands that redefined funk music in the 1970s.  These days he is regarded as a major influence on hip-hop, rap, R&B and all other urban styles of music, and in 1997 Clinton and Parliament / Funkadelic were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Clinton began his career as a musician while still at school.  He founded a barbershop doo-wop band called The Parliaments and has a hit single in 1967 with “I Wanna Testify.”  At around this time, however, the psychedelic movement was in full swing, with bands performing extended musical jams on stage, and Clinton began to be influenced by this musical style.  As the 60s turned into the 70s, so The Parliaments morphed into Parliament, combining jam-band style experimentation with tight, funky rhythms.  Almost simultaneously, Clinton also launched Funkadelic, a band which took Parliament’s sound a step further, adding wailing, distorted guitars, sound effects and bizarre musical concepts to the mix.

Between his two bands, Clinton dominated the 1970s music scene, releasing over 20 albums and scoring 40 hit singles including four Number Ones, “One Nation Under a Groove,” “Flashlight,” “Aqua Boogie” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep.”  Parliament / Funkadelic’s live shows were also legendary, featuring way-out costumes and elaborate staging including a full-sized mothership. 

Clinton morphed again in the 1980s, this time becoming both a successful solo artist (his solo single “Atomic Dog” reached Number One) and a record producer.  His protégés the Red Hot Chili Peppers became one of the most popular funk-rock bands of the late 80s and early 90s.  Additionally, samples and loops from Clinton’s songs were beginning to appear in the music of artists such as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Fishbone.  He also worked on recordings with rap artists Coolio and Ice Cube among others.  Clinton is often cited as saying that “Funk is the DNA of hip-hop and rap.”

In 1996, Clinton released another solo album “The Awesome Power of a Fully Operational Mothership,” which reunited him with several founding Parliament / Funkadelic members.  He continues to tour with various incarnations of his bands, and in 2002 completed a lengthy world tour which took in the US, Europe, Australia and Japan.  The same year, readers of SPIN magazine voted Parliament / Funkadelic the sixth greatest band of all time.  Even after more than three decades, the power of George Clinton’s P-Funk is showing no signs of fading. 

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, November 11, 2004

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