Born George Edward Clinton on July 22, 1941, in Kannapolis, NC; son of Julia Keaton; children: Tracey, Shawn (sons). Addresses: Record company--Island Records, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019. Website--George Clinton Official Website:

The evolution of funk--the hard-edged, syncopated dance music that derived from soul in the early 1960s and paved the way for the emergence of hip hop in the late 1970s--owes a profound debt to George Clinton. With the barnstorming P-Funk family of musicians, including but not limited to Parliament, Funkadelic, and the P-Funk All-Stars, Clinton fashioned a celebratory fusion of soul, psychedelic rock, performance art absurdity, and revolutionary politics without which most of the rap and m uch of the alternative rock that followed are virtually unimaginable.

After ruling the R&B charts in the 1970s, Clinton weathered legal difficulties and changing tastes to re-emerge in the 1990s as one of rap's deities and funk-rock's king. And though his own 1993 solo album sold modestly, his music--albeit i n sampled form--could be found all over the charts, on songs by rappers Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Warren G., and others. Aside from its obvious appeal to the "booty," funk--particularly the ecstatic workouts of the P-Funk gang--presents an optimis tic, communal spirit for which the gangsta-rap-saturated nineties hungered desperately. As Clinton defined it to Rolling Stone, funk is "anything it [needs] to be to save your life."

Born in Kannapolis, North Carolina, the eldest of nine children, Clinton had made his way to Newark, New Jersey, by his early teens. He worked in the Uptown Tonsorial Parlor barber shop and formed a vocal group, the Parliaments, which plied the stre et corner harmony style known as doo-wop. "I mean, I would go downtown on Sundays and go onto the back streets and just say the name out loud, just to hear myself say it," he told Pulse! of the days before the group's formation. In a Down Beat interview Clinton attributed his ambition to his astrological sign, noting, "I was a little Leo. If I couldn't have a baseball team, I wanted a singing group. You know, that was our only [way] ... out of the ghet to ... if you could sing, dance, or some s**t." Soon the group arranged gigs at dances and made its first recording at a coin-operated recording booth.

Birth of the P-Funk

After several record company and personnel changes--during which time Clinton worked as a staff songwriter for Jobete Music and Motown Records--the Parliaments achieved a hit with their 1966 single "I Wanna Testify." By then Clinton had in cluded in his musical lineup a number of musicians who would figure prominently in subsequent P-Funk operations, among them guitarist Eddie Hazel and bassist Billy Nelson. Clinton briefly lost legal rights to the Parliaments name in the late 1960s, so he came up with a new name--and a new sound.

With the explosion of hard blues and psychedelic rock in the late 1960s, Clinton decided to move with the times. The Parliaments' first tour, he averred in Rolling Stone, necessitated sharing not only the bill, but amplifi ers with rockers the Vanilla Fudge. The "extremely loud" gear gave him an idea; he introduced his bandmates to cutting-edge records by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and the psychedelic soul troupe Sly and the Family Stone's debut. "I said 'Let me st op this Motown, stop this doo-wop and pretty s**t and let me get something else,'" he recollected to Pulse! writer Carter Harris. "If the blues is working, then the speeded-up blues will work, the funky blues, the one with the l ittle light groove to it, that would work."

Hallucinogenic drugs and the general atmosphere of political and social foment added to this heady musical brew, his new purveyors of which Clinton dubbed Funkadelic. With the addition of keyboardist Bernie Worrell--who would prove to be one of P-Funk's musical architects--the group's distinctive sound was complete. They signed with Westbound Records and released their eponymous debut in 1969. The following year, having regained the rights to his old group's name, Clinton signed the stream lined Parliament to Invictus Records.

Though the two projects at first shared a hard blues-funk sound and sociological concerns, they formed distinct identities over the next few years. Funkadelic refined its acid-drenched proto-heavy metal on albums like Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow, the seminal Maggot Brain, and Cosmic Slop, relying on lengthy guitar jams and spooky keyboards to accommodate its often despairing reports of injustice at home and abroad. After moving to Warner Bros. in the mid-1970s, the band lightened up somewhat but retained its mighty guitar attack.

Parliament, meanwhile, added horns and charismatic bassist William "Bootsy" Collins--inherited from funk forebear James Brown's band--and became the quintessential party-funkers of the 1970s. "Getting down on the one," the first beat of a measure and the rhythmic jumping-off point for funk's subversive syncopations, became one of its many compelling slogans. The "P" in the "P-Funk" moniker stood for pure, undiluted--like the drugs that fueled their frenetic pace of recording and touri ng.

The Liberation of Funk

At the same time, Clinton harbored ambitions beyond the marriage of hard rock and funk; "concept" albums like the Beatles' landmark Sgt. Pepper and The Who's rock opera Tommy had laid the groundw ork for long-format works in the pop idiom. Clinton engineered the first known R&B concept records, in which the all-powerful Funk conquers evil and indifference in outer space, under the ocean, and even in Washington, D.C. In fact, both Funkadelic an d Parliament were vitally concerned with liberation: of the head, the heart, and, most of all, the "booty." And however comical and outrageous the process, the importance of P-Funk's redemptive message and communal vibe can scarcely be overestimated.

After moving to the Casablanca label, Parliament proceeded to dominate the R&B charts with jams like "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)," "Do That Stuff," and "Flash Light." With their cast of imaginary characters--StarChild, Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk, Dr. Funkenstein--science fiction regalia, and raunchy, playful patter, Parliament dispensed with the well-groomed and hyper-stylized conventions of black performance, introducing soul music to the concept of anarchy.

Funkadelic's biggest recording was 1978's "One Nation Under a Groove," which Harris of Pulse! described as "a fiercely funky utopian dream that became the rallying call" for P-Funk's acolytes. By this time Clinton had real ized that he could not only get more work done, but get more music out by creating new groups under the Parliament-Funkadelic umbrella. Projects such as Bootsy's Rubber Band, the Brides of Funkenstein, Parlet, and many others--mostly comprised of P-F unk's regular musicians and singers in various combinations--released an avalanche of output in the late 1970s and early 1980s. By 1980, however, a series of legal entanglements had begun to hamper Clinton; meanwhile, Parliament and Funkadelic starte d to lose steam as electronically produced techno-funk, disco, and hip hop loomed large on the R&B horizon.

Clinton signed as a solo artist with Capitol Records and in 1982 scored a huge hit with the kinetic single "Atomic Dog." Various other solo recordings and gatherings of the "P-Funk All-Stars" followed, as well as a collaboration with British synthes izer whiz Thomas Dolby and work as a producer, notably for P-Funk lovers the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Yet Clinton was still mired in legal difficulties, particularly over the Funkadelic catalog, which went out of print as compact discs overtook vinyl; by 19 85 he was forced to declare bankruptcy.

Signed with Prince's Paisley Park

Signing with the Paisley Park label of longtime admirer and 1980s R&B superhero Prince, Clinton released 1989's ill-fated The Cinderella Theory. Later he lamented to Request's Bill Forman, "I f I could have put that album out the way I first did it--before we remixed it and remixed it and buffed it to shinyism--my first mixes were closer to what people know us to sound and feel like. But the whole industry got into a remix situation. They remix the record before they put the record out."

By the early 1990s, however, P-Funk had re-emerged as a kind of stylistic Holy Grail for young musicians of widely divergent stripes. Hip-hoppers De La Soul sampled a Funkadelic hit for one of their early smashes, funk-rappers Digital Underground lo oped "Flash Light" and other Parliament hits on their debut and then persuaded Clinton to appear on their sophomore effort and pronounce them Sons of the P, and Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Public Enemy, and countless other rh ymesmiths leaned on both the sound and lore of P-Funk. At the same time, funk-rockers like the Chili Peppers, Living Colour, Faith No More, Primus, and Big Chief extolled the energy and inventiveness of Parliament-Funkadelic. As the Peppers' influential b assist Flea told Guitar Player, "Funkadelic is my favorite band. Rock, funk whatever you want to call it, they were one of the greatest."

The prodigious output of Clinton's clan rapidly made him the era's most sampled artist--surpassing even Godfather of Soul James Brown. Rather than begrudge rappers access to the P-Funk catalog, however, he facilitated it by releasing Sample Some of Disc--Sample Some of D.A.T., intended as the first in a series of CDs providing sample-ready slices from the vaults, along with simple permission request forms. "Everybody else is making money off us now," he reasoned in Request, "so we just say, 'forget that, we'll make a record with all those typical grooves in it, and they can sample them.'" More than profits were at stake, though; Clinton sensed early on that rap was the future of the P. "Hip hop has the same energy, the same kind of rowdy vibe as funk," he insisted in Pulse!

Priority Records at last managed to secure the rights to the discontinued Warner Bros. Funkadelic catalog, issuing long-awaited CDs of One Nation and other classics. Clinton and the P-Funk mob joined the Chili Peppers for a riotous performance at the Grammy Awards presentation; meanwhile, Clinton's next solo project, Hey Man ... Smell My Finger, appeared after a long delay.

Featuring a bevy of rap's leading lights on the single "Paint the White House Black" and several P-Funk alumni and guest production by Prince--who told Vibe, "They should be giving that man a government grant for bein g that funky"--the album was hailed by critics as a strong return to form. Still, Hey Man sold modestly; as numerous commentators reflected, radio was largely disinclined to support artists associated with past glories, no matter how influential. As if to add insult to injury, Prince's Paisley Park folded shortly after the album's release. Clinton subsequently signed to NPG/Bellmark, which rose from the ashes of Paisley Park.

The Funk Plays On

Clinton--who planned a doo-wop reunion with the original Parliaments--continued to tour with the P-Funk All-Stars, appearing at the traveling alternative music fest Lollapalooza '94, and in concert throughout the United States. Celebrated filmmakers the Hudlin brothers announced plans for a Mothership Connection feature film. And the sounds of P-Funk, if not the new work of their inventor, continued to rule the airwaves via samples on rap records.

Indeed, the gangsta rappers who outran the competition in the 1990s consistently turned to Clinton. In Dr. Dre's video "Let Me Ride," the rapper's posse--grooving to a Mothership Connection sample--gathers, like a dutiful congregation, at a P-Funk concert, while Clinton himself guested along with Bootsy Collins on Ice Cube's Parliament tribute "Bop Gun." In a cultural era beset by despair, Clinton's vision remained an oasis of hope and renewal. Perhaps, as he not ed in Pulse!, we could still unite as one nation under a groove: "I'm gonna believe that even when it ain't happening. 'Cause I know it's possible to happen, and to me, reality is a belief, and if you give energy to the things t hat you believe, that's what makes 'em possible."

Clinton and his All Stars showed no signs of slowing down as the new millennium dawned. High off the boost following his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, Clinton presided over concerts all over the United States and the world , including a 2004 performance at the 46th annual Grammy Awards show.

With rallying cries like that heard at a concert in Alaska in late 2003, "Welcome to the world of the Funkadelic, ya'all.... Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1979," Clinton and the crew of the Mothership have tapped into a resurgence of their pop ularity, attracting crowds of the faithful to their shows and inspiring a new generation of pop stars like Macy Gray, along with the by-now familiar lineup of sampling rappers and DJs.

In 2002, Spin magazine anointed Clinton and the various incarnations of P-Funk as one of the Greatest Bands of All Time. And as far as Clinton, heading into his sixties, is concerned, the party never has to end. "We've got the same vibe going on as we always did," he told Ray Routhier in the Portland Press Herald in 2003. "We get people kickin' and dancin'. I'll be doing this as long as I can; it beats any other job I've had."

by Simon Glickman and Michael Belfiore

George Clinton's Career

Hairdresser at Uptown Tonsorial Parlor, Plainfield, NJ, c. 1955-67. Formed vocal group the Parliaments, Newark, NJ, 1955; signed to Hull Records and released "Poor Willie" and "Party Boys," 1958; signed to Flipp label and recorded "Lone ly Island" and "Cry," 1959; worked as staff songwriter for Jobete Music and Motown, 1962-63; cofounded Geo-Si-Mik production team, 1963; signed to Revilot label and released single "I Wanna Testify," 1966; formed group Funkadelic, 1968; signed to Westboun d label and released debut, Funkadelic, 1969; formed Parliament; signed to Invictus label and released debut, Osmium, 1970; Parliament signed to Casablanca label and released Up for the Down Stroke, 1974; Funkadelic signed to Warner Bros. and released Hardcore Jollies, 1976; oversaw/produced Bootsy's Rubber Band, the Brides of Funkenstein, Parlet, Zapp, the Horny Horns, and others, 1970s; recorded f or Capitol Records as solo artist, 1982-87; formed P-Funk All-Stars, 1983; signed to Paisley Park Records as solo artist and released The Cinderella Theory, 1989; produced artists Red Hot Chili Peppers and others, 1980s-; appeared on recordings by William "Bootsy" Collins, Bernie Worrell, Eddie Hazel, Dolby's Cube, Prince, Digital Underground, Ice Cube, and many others, 1970s-; appeared with Red Hot Chili Peppers and P-Funk All-Stars on Grammy Awards presentation, 19 93; appeared in films House Party, 1989, and Graffiti Bridge, 1990; inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, 1997; P-Funk named by Spin magazine one of the Greatest Ba nds of All Time; performed at 46th annual Grammy Awards ceremony, 2004.

George Clinton's Awards

Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, 1997; P-Funk named One of the Greatest Bands of All Time by Spin magazine, 2002.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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