The unlikely catalyst for the revolution of funk was The Parliaments – Clinton’s first group, founded in 1955. Operating out of a barbershop in NJ, The Parliaments were inspired by Clinton’s love of doo-wop, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, in particular. The early Motown hit machine was equally influential, at a time when Clinton worked as a producer in Detroit, although his own group had only released two singles by 1965. In 1967, they had their first hit, “(I Wanna) Testify”, although some label-related issues convinced the group to lay low for a while. Ultimately, the Ministry of pre-funk was born out of necessity – Clinton founded Funkadelic in 1968, mainly as a means to shift their label’s attention away from Parliament, and functioned as the backing band for the doo-wop outfit. Clinton eventually abandoned the Parliaments concept altogether, until 1970, when he acquired the legal rights to his former band’s name, and reintroduced the Funkadelic band as Parliament – it was this incarnation of the group which released the innovative and mind-blowing debut album, Osmium.
Despite the album’s 1971 hit, “The Breakdown”, Clinton decided that Funkadelic was bound for bigger and better things, and Parliament went on hiatus once again. Funkadelic released it’s own self-titled landmark debut in 1970, immediately followed by the compelling grooves and soul-stirring manifesto, Free Your Mind…and Your Ass Will Follow. The following year saw the release of Maggot Brain, a bluesy, psychedelic, acid-jamming stoned soul mind trip, possibly the Black American version of Their Satanic Majesties Request. Some of the group’s major players were quickly becoming established, including the late guitar prodigy Eddie Hazel, and keyboardist/arranger Bernie Worrell, a member to this day, and the ubiquitous Bootsy Collins, master showman and bass player extraordinaire.
After five albums, Funkadelic stepped out of the spotlight in 1974, and a revamped Parliament was back on the scene, combining the upbeat, romantic whimsy of the early doo-wop sound, with cartoon-ish, sci-fi sexual overtures, and a thump-and-grind rhythm section that provided much of disco culture with its’ impetus. The 1976 platinum-selling album, Mothership Connection, featured Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley from James Brown’s backing group, and provided the group with a number of simultaneous hits in the soul and pop charts. The album itself remains a classic in their repertoire, and the extravagant stage show for that tour featured diaper clad dervishes, divas and mad scientist line dancers, descending upon the stage from a full-scale spaceship. In 1977, the song “Flash Light”, from Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome, became Parliament’s first number one hit, and is still a club favorite in the post-millennial club scene.
Computer Games, featuring yet another #1 R&B hit – “Atomic Dog” – was released in 1982, as Clinton launched a solo career, brought about once again by label complications. As in the past, the same musicians were kept on board, this time under the moniker of The P-Funk All-Stars, mixing up the amazing intergalactic repertoire of both previous outfits, and which continues to deliver the funk, the whole funk, and nothing but the funk. Clinton’s former outfits are among the most sampled by DJs and techno artists around the globe, as the oft-touted legacy of these legendary groups manifests itself in new generations of artists from Prince to The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Bands calling themselves Parliament or Funkadelic may come and go, but there is only one George Clinton, and you owe it yourself to witness the awesome power of a fully functional mothership, when it descends in your town.
© J.Free / D.A.M.F.; 2002; 2022
You have nothing to lose but your mind…