George Clinton’s Farewell To P-Funk

George Clinton
– George Clinton

The national treasure that is George Clinton, aka “Dr. Funkenstein,” aka “The Prime Minister of Funk,” this week announced the final tour of his illustrious 60-year career. The 77-year-old embodiment of funk has just released the final dates of his 2019 One Nation Under a Groove Tour with Parliament-Funkadelic, the ever-morphing groups he’s helmed concurrently since the late-1960s. It’s a milestone for Clinton and the millions upon millions of fans whose minds and booties he’s set free.

“The band is still kicking it,” Clinton told Pollstar of his final tour. “I’ve been getting the band in shape to run the mothership. It’s not ending, I got my family and my grandkids up there. They’ve been doing the old funk and brand-new funk like Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus.” 
“Yes. It’s his last tour,” confirms Universal Attractions’ Nick Szatmari, Clinton’s RA since 2008. He put together the tour with four similarly funk-minded support acts: Fishbone, Gallactic, Dumpstaphunk and Miss Velvet & The Blue Wolf. He calls the run “a pop-up festival in a box.” The trek originally went through May, but “we just felt like the outdoor spaces with a five-hour show is better in the outdoors, an open field or an amphitheater, though we are playing some really cool indoor music room as well,” Szatmari explains. The tour’s final leg will include stops at New York City’s Central Park Summerstage and L.A.’s Greek Theater.
Before then, Clinton and P-Funk will hit Australia, opening for a band whose star he helped create in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Plus, Clinton and P-Funk will do their own spring jaunt through Hawaii, Australia and Japan. 

George Clinton
William Thoren
– George Clinton
“George Clinton is an absolute road warrior and his health and stamina have actually increased over this time,” Szatmari says, “It has been a decade of grinding it out on the road, 100, 120, 150 dates a year in clubs re-proving his value at the box office.” 
Clinton and his bands have a long history on the road, generally playing clubs and smaller, theater-sized venues listed in Pollstar’s archive stretching back almost 36 years. His first concert on record dates back to March 14, 1983, when the group performed at Painters Mill Theatre in Owings Mill, Md. 
Since that first reported show, Clinton has racked up an overall gross total of $23.3 million from 905,353 total tickets sold at 586 shows. That’s an average attendance of 1,544 per event with a gross average just under $40,000. But this last tour they’ll be playing larger rooms like the The Greek (cap: 5,870) and Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom (cap: 5,000). 
What helps sell out any Parliament-Funkadelic tour is its catalog of stone-cold funk classics. “One Nation Under a Grove,” “Flash Light,” “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” “Bop Gun,” “Not Just Knee Deep,” “Mothership Connection,” and “Get Off Your Ass & Jam” are among a treasure trove that have become an essential part of the American music canon. This includes 40 R&B hit singles, three No. 1 singles and three platinum albums: Parliament’s 1975’s Mothership Connection and 1977’s Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome and Funkadelic’s 1978 One Nation Under A Groove (which last year celebrated its 40th anniversary with a new tour). 
Underlying P-Funk’s intergalactic booty-shaking, foot-stomping jams is an expansive music palette that rather surprisingly begins with doo-wop. Clinton’s first group, The Parliaments, named for a brand of cigarettes in the late-’50s, was based out of the Silk Palace, a barbershop Clinton co-owned in Plainfield, N.J. But that was only the tip of the group’s kaleidoscopic sonic stew that would come to include soul, acid rock, psychedelia, jazz, pop, gospel, classical, hip-hop and all else.
“I credit it to being a songwriter at Jobete and working in the Brill Building,” says Clinton, referencing the publishing company Jobete Music, started by Motown’s Barry Gordy and run by his ex-wife Raynoma Gordy and where Clinton worked as a staff songwriter. There, in the epicenter of the NYC music industry in the ’60s, Clinton co-wrote songs for the Jackson 5 (“I’ll Bet You”) and the Supremes (“Can’t Shake It Loose”), among others, and absorbed much. 
“It was the best of all worlds when it came to writing songs,” Clinton says. “All the people that came from Motown and Broadway, you got a chance to see the styles of different songwriters who reigned over that era from Burt Bacharach to The Beatles. Being at Jobete made you appreciate all the writing, the Smokey Robinsons, the Barrys Gordys, the Hall & Oates – you just learned to appreciate any music that’s working. I could pop off Cardi B just as easy as I could Smokey Robinson. … If you just open yourself up to all that music that gets on your nerves – it’s the new music that keeps you in tune. Because, like Barry would say, if it’s a hit record we have to figure out what made it hit, not what you don’t like about it. It’s just working out what makes its work, that’s what I was more interested in.”
In his 2014 memoir, “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” (written with Ben Greenman), Clinton chronicles his wild career in which you can see his tastes evolve with the times. 
At first it was the day’s doo-woppers like Frankie Lyman, the Drifters and the Shirelles and then Motowners, like Smokey and the Temptations; but as the ’60s progressed and the roof was ripped off the sucker and minds were “expanded,” the funk rocker starts namechecking the likes of Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, the Grateful Dead and Cream among others. 
And then came an agency which expanded their horizons.
“We had this agency in Ann Arbor called Diversified Management, the same agency as Iggy Pop, MC5, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, and we were a part of all that,” Clinton recalls. “That made us susceptible to rock ’n’ roll. We played with [Iggy] all the time at the Grande Ballroom on the east side. I mean there’s pictures of Iggy and I back when he was cutting himself up and breaking glass and taking a bath in it with his little bird chest.”

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Parliament-Funkadelic circa 1975 with Michael Hampton, Bootsy Collins, Grady Thomas, George Clinton, Fuzzy Haskins, Bernie Worrell and Calvin Simon the year Mothership Connecion was released.
That evolving rock-funk amalgam P-Funk forged was built on a rotating cast of virtuosos and fearless improvisers who passed through Parliament-Funkadelic and its associated acts, including the Brides of Funkenstein, Parlet, The Horny Horns, and Bootsy’s Rubber Band, as well as solo albums by Bernie Worrell and Eddie Hazel and later The P-Funk All Stars. Taking his cue from Motown and the Motor City’s assembly-line approach, Clinton had more than 170 musicians cycle through his music projects. 
Those artists were a veritable murderers’ row of musicians and included keyboardist Worrell, bassist Bootsy Collins, guitarists Eddie Hazel, Garry Shider and Michael Hampton, keyboardist/producer Walter “Junie” Morrison, drummers Jerome Brailey and Tiki Fulwood, guitarist/vocalist Glenn Goins, bassists Cordell Mosson and Billy “Bass“ Nelson, vocalists Dawn Silva, Sheila Horne, Jeanette McGruder and Lynn Mabry and horn players Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker among legions of others. His current lineup includes 30-plus-year veterans Bennie Cowan (trumpet), Greg Thomas (sax), Lige Curry (bass), and Blackbird McKnight (guitar).
This alternating cast of musicians was replenished by younger generations of musicians whom Clinton seemed to stumble upon. “Absorb youth and youth will absorb you” were words he lived by. He hired a young, shy Hazel after he held an impromptu audition in the middle of his Plainfield barbershop; he first saw Bootsy and his brother Catfish at a small club in Cincinnati with their band The House Guests; and he picked up Shider and Mosson in Toronto from a band called United Soul.  
While the P-Funk nation recorded some 60 studio albums, the groups built their legacy on the road. Clinton recalls that when the Parliaments finally broke through with their hit “(I Wanna) Testify” they went out on package tours where they “played ski lodges, teenage fairs and ‘American Bandstand’ stuff, mostly in the Midwest.” 
He also writes of Funkadelic’s “devotion to the road” and how signing with Diversified expanded their base beyond the “soul circuit” with the Parliaments performing at rock and roll venues, which he called “unchartered territory.” 
P-Funk was fully absorbed in the revolutionary music and mores of late 1960s and the introduction of certain “substances” hastened the band’s evolution toward unfurling their full-on funky freak flag. “That all comes from tripping and shit,” Clinton says with his typical humor and candor when asked about P-Funk’s philosophical underpinnings. 
In his autobiography, Clinton goes into great detail about his first foray into psychedelics. “Boston was our introduction to three important letters: L-S-D,” he writes. “Acid seemed like a miracle mood modifier, easy travel to other parts of your personality.” Dosing in Harvard Square on a rainy day led to “all of a sudden everyone taking off their clothes wading into the rivers that the streets had become. … Everyone was in the water, flopping around like fish, just feeling it.” 
A phalanx of freaky and funked-up African-American musicians in the 1970s traveling the byways and highways of the continental U.S. –what could possibly go wrong? The P-Funk’ers have more than their fair share of extraordinary tales and run-ins, like the time they were flying commercial with the radically-inclined MC5. “They was acting a fool and clowning on the plane and smoking weed and shit,” Clinton recalls. “We all was too, but we said they wasn’t going to be the ones that got in trouble when the police came. And sure enough, the police came and they came straight for us and they didn’t even bother them.” 

Michael Ochs Archive Getty Images
George Clinton emerging from the Mothership. The spaceship made its stage debut at the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium on Oct 27, 1976.
Another famed P-Funk tale involved, of course, the undead. “We come through this area and you know smoking weed and shit, not paying attention, and we realized we were lost. Billy Bass, who was driving, got us lost again and we were hollering at him. As we come around the corner, here comes these motherfucking zombies and shit. We saw a sign that said do not enter, and I think it might have said there’s some production going on and we were going in anyway. They sure did scare the shit out of everybody. We found out much later they were filming ‘Night of the Living Dead.’”
Beyond zombies, the band’s groundbreaking live performances were predicated on the theatrical, outlandish and absurd. It was heavily influenced by Clinton’s cosmology with a space-age extraterrestrial mythology, Afrofuturism, a let-it-all-hang-out ‘60s ethos, a wicked sense of humor and the aforementioned controlled substances. 
“Right from the beginnings, we had a crazy stage act,” Clinton writes, just as Funkadelic started to break into rock clubs. “Before Funkadelic’s first flowering, we were starting to dress in that West Village style, a mod look with bell bottoms you might find on a shop on West Fourth Street in the Village.” When the band hit the road following the release of 1970’s “Music For My Mother,” Clinton writes, “it was all the way out there and the sillier the better. We went to a prop store and bought duck feet, rooster heads. There were big floppy Amish-style hats. I started wearing a diaper onstage sometimes made from hotel towels and sometimes even from an American flag…” (Shider, it should be noted, became “Diaperman” long after Clinton had put his in the diaper genie.)
The one iconic stage prop most associated with P-Funk, and for which a replica now sits in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., is The Mothership. 
It first appeared in raw concept on the cover of Parliament’s 1975 album, Mothership Connection. The building of the stage prop was financed by Neil Bogart, the profligate head of the band’s Casablanca label, who set up a million-dollar loan for the spaceship (which Clinton claims his then management took a commission from).
“That spaceship was designed specifically for us in New York by Joel Fisher who designed sets for Broadway shows like ‘Hair’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’” Clinton says. Fisher had also been David Bowie’s tour producer and did the stage concept for The Rolling Stones’ 1975 tour. 
After rehearsing for weeks in an airplane hangar at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, N.Y. (notably with Aerosmith’s stage equipment they had on their 1976 tour) with the new Mothership and a smaller version in tow (which would fly over the audience), The P-Funk Earth Tour made its debut at the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium on Oct 27, 1976. 
Scheduling the spacecraft’s ETA at the beginning of the set, however, taught them a valuable lesson. “It was impossible to follow the ship,” Clinton wrote. “After New Orleans, we knew that the ship had to come on at the end of the show rather than early on.” 
When asked of his favorite tour, Clinton is quick to namecheck a series of jaunts which show P-Funk’s range and ever-evolving approach. 
“Oh, I think, right around [1978’s] Motor Booty Affair and One Nation… because we had the mothership and it was so successful, and then we decided to go under water and at the same time. One Nation happened right after that so we were able to just be a group with no props. For One Nation all we did was wear fatigues and did our army thing with no big production and we introduced the Brides of Funkenstein. There was no pressure on us and people didn’t even know who we were. They figured it out once we got there. That was called the Anti-Tour because there were no props, no roadies, no limos.” 
Clinton would begin to pursue a solo career in the 1980s which yielded a number of major hits, including “Atomic Dog” and “Do Fries Go With That Shake?” He put out two releases with Prince and on his Paisley Park label. During the same decade, Clinton’s star crested again with the rise of hip-hop, which owed a huge debt of gratitude and sampling royalties to P-Funk. 
Funk Upon a Time:
Photo by William Thoren
– Funk Upon a Time:
P-Funk circa 2017
Clinton says rap music heavily influenced him, citing Eric B & Rakim’s Follow the Leader and Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise.” But that was nothing compared to when the West Coast’s G-funk movement exploded with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Snoop Dogg heavily re-appropriating his work bringing P-Funk’s music to a massive younger audience. 
In the latter half of his memoir, Clinton goes into candid detail about his struggles with drug dependency and unscrupulous 
managers, which seem invariably to go hand-in-hand. 
In the aughts he brought his business dealings in-house with family and close associates and in 2008 signed with Universal Attractions, which has helped Clinton and P-Funk regain their footing in the live space. 
“It was kind of a hodge-podge of disorganization in terms of the market and the clubs he was playing,” says UA’s Szatmari.
“And that’s really when we started to get involved, and start really focus on routing, booking actual tours six months in advance, and getting things launched properly. That was the beginning of his resurgence.“
Jeff Epstein, co-owner of Universal Attractions, adds, “It’s a fitting culmination of our years of work together. 
“We are excited and honored to be sending one of the most iconic touring artists in history  into his well deserved retirement with a bang, and quite a bang this will be.”
Now, with Clinton’s retirement from touring in the not-so-distant future, one has to wonder what’s next?  
“I’ve been getting the band into shape to run the mothership, it’s not ending,” Clinton says of P-Funk. “The band is still killing like they always have.” 
Then he pauses for a moment and says, “I’m just going to lay back and do cartoons, movies and the music.” 
George Clinton will appear in conversation at Pollstar Live! on Tuesday, Feb. 12 from 2:15 p.m.-2:45 p.m. at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif.