Taken from Democrat and Chronicle (June 07, 2017)
George Clinton brings the funk to Funk ’n Waffles
The Mothership may be in a museum, but the funk icon is looking to the future
by Jeff Spevak
George Clinton plays the grand opening of Funk 'n Waffles.
(Photo: Steve Parke, Paisley Park Studio, Steve Parke, Paisley Park Studio)
The Mothership no longer drops from the rafters during George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic concerts. It’s now on permanent display at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
“It looks good there, too,” Clinton says. “That’s a good place for it.”
In the vast history of history of black music in America, Clinton looks good alongside James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone. They are funk. Clinton songs such as “One Nation Under a Groove” and “Atomic Dog” were at the top of the R&B charts for four weeks in 1982. He built a mythology that survives to this day, and will be very much in evidence here on Friday, when Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic is the grand opening for the improbably named, but properly named, Funk ’n Waffles, the former Water Street Music Hall.
In a career that is nearing six decades, the 75-year-old icon has also explored doo-wop, psychedelic rock and hip-hop. He treasures his memories of starting out as a Motown songwriter, and The Brill Building in New York City, “seeing people like Don Kirshner and Carole King, I was a party to all that.”
Musically, and socially, Clinton insists he was a party to no one era, no particular moment. “Once you start to think about it, all times have been pretty fun,” he says. “We were always abstract to that particular time, and stuck out like a sore thumb.”
They evolved into a wild road show of costumes, guitarists in diapers and dropping acid as The P-Funk Mothership dropped out of a cloud of dope smoke. The drugs? “That took its toll,” Clinton admits. “More than anything, it took your time. I never went to rehab, but I avoided all the new trendy chemical substances that come along.
“I guess that comes with age, too.”
Clinton suggests he had a powerful motivation for putting away the crack pipe. He was lying low in the weeds, waiting for the lawyers. Lawyers and music-industry suits who, by the early ’80s, had control of his music, and his money. They would underestimate him. “I knew they’re not gonna believe I cleaned up,” Clinton says.
One of the problems with the sprawling Clinton funk empire is no one knew who owed whom what. Everyone was going to court, and Clinton’s name was on every document. When Clinton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 15 members of Parliament, Funkadelic, the P. Funk All-Stars and his associated projects were inducted with him. Name changes went with label changes. Copyright laws were argued. Clinton was a prolific creator, and everyone was fighting over his creations.
Always a man of the future, Clinton went to crowdfunding sites to support his long and costly legal battles. There were some defeats. Victories came a piece here, a piece there. But he was winning back control of his own music. He recovered the rights to the master tapes of some of his classics. Now he’s working on a documentary on his life, which really wouldn’t have worked without the music, “that will vindicate me,” he says. He’s still in demand as a touring act, having just returned from Europe.
Which leaves time for …?
“Fishing?” He does love to fish, Clinton says. And being with his family. For the past 20 years he and his wife have lived in Tallahassee, Florida. A son lives there, and the grandkids, who are sometimes his backup vocalists. “It keeps me out of trouble,” he says with a cackling laugh.
And his studio is there. The studio is where the Mothership was stored, making special appearances at clubs on weekends, with DJs spinning the classic funk.
But change, Clinton concedes, is always gonna come. Sartorially: He now favors sharply tailored suits onstage. And musically: “When we were into doo-wop, Motown came along and wiped that whole thing out, and we became a part of that,” he says. “The kids would always take it to something else. Like the European invasion, with The Beatles and The Stones, it seems like they do that every 20 years.”
The key to survival is, Clinton says, “I try to make sure I’m down with whatever the next generation is doing.”
For sure, the next generation took note of Clinton. He is one of the most-sampled artists in the history of hip-hop. In 1993, rapper Snoop Dogg used pieces of “Atomic Dog” in his own “Who am I (What’s My Name?)” on his breakout album, Doggystyle.
And Clinton has reciprocated, working with hip-hop acts such as OutKast. And more recently, he appeared on the opening track of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, speaking from experience: “Looking down is quite a drop,” he sings in his crack-raspy voice, “Looking good when you’re on top.”
He’s had a hand in electronic dance music, touring with jam bands such as Phish. Clinton’s future is, he says, “Re-invent what we did, with a bunch of new kids. And let them do what they do.
“I’ve been about making sure I was available to them when they wanted some help with the old school stuff. When you can’t get along with other generations, you’re going out to pasture.”