Taken from The Bulletin (Mar 21, 2018)
George Clinton gets P-Funky at Midtown
Parliament-Funkadelic brings the Mothership back to Bend
by Brian McElhiney
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, featuring at least 22 musicians, will take over the Midtown Ballroom on Thursday. (William Thoren/Submitted photo)
Parliament-Funkadelic fans are seeing a lot more of George Clinton these days.
It’s not as if Clinton, leader of the multiband, multimusician collective, has ever been hard to miss. Even without his trademark multihued dreadlocks, Clinton cuts quite a figure onstage, whether decked out in a dapper suit or an Afrofuturistic costume.
But in recent years, Clinton, now 76, has been taking the spotlight more and more at Parliament-Funkadelic’s marathon, three-plus hour shows. In the 2000s, you might have seen Clinton sing a song if you were lucky — mostly, he seemed content to let the 22-plus musicians onstage do the work and revel in the chaos. Now he’s singing lead vocals on a number of songs he sang on the original records.
“A lot of people didn’t even realize that I sung most of the songs on the record, even though somebody else sung ’em onstage,” Clinton said while on the road. The group was navigating a snowstorm in Lake Tahoe to get to the next gig on its tour, which hits the Midtown Ballroom on Thursday (The concert also is promoter Parallel 44 Presents’ 1,000th show, with Red Light Productions co-promoting). “I figured that would be a nice change. Right about three years ago I started doing that, and so people are like, ‘Wow, I thought you was getting ready to retire.’ Nah, we got a record out now, ‘I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me,’ and it’s like so hot everywhere we go.”
Clinton has seemed particularly energized onstage, in the studio and in the business aspects of the P-Funk empire since kicking a much-publicized (in Rolling Stone, his own memoir and more) crack-cocaine habit. In 2014, Funkadelic (the more psychedelic, experimental side of the Parliament-Funkadelic equation) released its first album of new material in 33 years, the three-disc, 33-song “First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate.” Continuing a tradition of collaborating with artists he’s influenced such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg, he worked with Kendrick Lamar on 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and was subsequently introduced to producer Flying Lotus.
More recently, Parliament (the dancier side of the equation) dropped “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me” online. The single precedes a new Parliament album, “Medicaid Fraud Dog,” which should be released next month, Clinton said.
The multiple names can get confusing (as can the list of musicians who have played in the group — there’s a full Wikipedia page dedicated to it, arranged alphabetically). Clinton’s first band was a ’50s doo-wop group called The Parliaments, which scored a hit in 1967 with “(I Wanna) Testify.” Subsequent label disputes kept him from using the name, so he went out on the road with the same band, rechristening it Funkadelic. When the Parliament name was clear to use again in 1970, Clinton began releasing albums under both monikers (and later, with P-Funk All-Stars and solo).
“It may be one song or two that could have been on the other group … but for the most part, Funkadelic is gonna be outside the box,” Clinton said. “… That’s been our thing; we just do Funkadelic albums. That’s the thing. I can experiment all I want. Parliament I do a little straighter because it’s got on the radio a lot, so more people know of that one commercially. A lot of these songs on this album (‘Medicaid Fraud Dog’) will be accessible.”
“I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me” fits that mold, marrying a trademark P-Funk bass-drum groove to modern, synth-heavy production, complete with a throwback R&B bridge. Subjectwise, things get a bit heavier, though. As the song and album titles suggest, Clinton’s lyrics take aim at pharmaceutical companies and prescription drug abuse.
“I look at all the people now that’s on the street; they look like me and my friends used to look — I’m talking about regular people who are grandparents,” Clinton said. “… (Doctors are) overprescribing everything to these people, insisting insurance is paying for it and all that s---. They got a real racket going on, and once you get up, you can’t get out of it, especially since it’s legal. They gonna get the fall guys — the ones on the street with the little bit of drugs in they pocket — they’re gonna make them the scapegoats. They’ll be the ones that get the death penalty.”
Between these releases and touring, Clinton has found time to guard the P-Funk legacy. He’s been in and out of court trying to get the copyrights back to his songs, and plans to release a documentary about that process soon. He’s also in talks with rapper Ice Cube about making a movie (“‘Black Panther’ is so much like ‘The Mothership’ and the old ‘Motor Booty (Affair),’ that anybody’s calling us now want to do movies on us,” Clinton said). On top of all that, he published a memoir, “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?”, in 2014.
“I tried to put it all together,” Clinton said. “Since I was making the comeback after 33 years, I made the album 33 songs. And the book — I tried to make something out of it so people will say, ‘Oh, it wasn’t just a record he threw out; there was the thought behind it.’”
He continued, “At the same time, it’s like a brand new group. I got a lot of the kids of different band members. … I got a son, a daughter and five grandkids (in the band).”
So while he may be singing more, Clinton is passing the baton at the same time. His role is still primarily the ringmaster of his self-described “three-ring circus.”
“They all have they own styles and things,” he said, “but we’ve been a group that played all kinds of styles, so it’s not weird for us to do the different kind of things that they do, even the younger ones. It’s a little more like a musical play over the years — three generations.”