George Clinton is coming to Santa Monica to add some funk to a provocative French cabaret-inspired production, Night of the Black Cat, which features forbidden poetry, passionate dancing and sensual music in a variety show format.
Clinton will perform as a special guest in two performances of the production, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, February 25th and 26th, at the Edgemar Center for the Performing Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $22.50 for general admission and $18.50 for students.
With his three platinum albums and over 40 R&B hit singles with his bands Parliament and Funkadelic and on his own, Clinton could duke it out with James Brown for the title of king of funk, but he’s most certainly the undisputed originator of funkadelic, which merges funk, and Motown with the bizarro acid-fueled experimentation of psychedelic rock.
His band had no hang-ups about throwing distortion, sound effects and booming bass lines into funk tunes.
His lyrics were equally as hi-‘funk’tane and ‘superfunktastic.’ Whether listeners were ready or not, Clinton came at them with album titles like Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow, Maggot Brain and America Eats Its Young, titles that would be more befitting of a modern alternative rock or hip-hop band.
Clinton wasn’t always so ultra-funky. He scored his first hit in 1967 with a doo-wop ensemble that he had started called The Parliaments.
Then came the psychedelic movement, Jimi Hendrix and a higher profile for funk.
“The hippy thing popped in,” says Clinton. “There was Cream and bluesy rock ‘n’ roll and I realized we needed to find something different.”
He became big into Hendrix, The Beatles and later Frank Zappa.
That was the end of Clinton’s Motown-era Parliaments and the beginning of Parliament and Funkadelic.
“James Brown was on the straight funk tip,” says Clinton. “We decided we were gonna get nasty with it, musically and lyrically,” says Clinton. “We wanted chants and groans and raw ‘mmmf.’ We were taking it back to ‘A wop bop a lu bop, a wop bam boom!'” says Clinton, referring to Little Richard’s classic “Tutti Frutti,” which originally had bawdy, sexual lyrics and had to be cleaned up before it became a hit.
Clinton had a vision, but he had to work to prove it worthy.
“My band mates thought it was crazy until it started working. People would call us James Brown on acid or The Temptations on acid,” says Clinton.
Clinton always had a penchant for flash, and he wears his hair in his trademark colorful braids and dreadlocks and pimped-out clothing, which makes it an interesting addition to the Night of the Black Cat production, which stems from Moulin Rouge-themed flash and variety that was considered overtly sexy and saucy in late 19th century Paris.
“It felt like something I could get some funk out of,” says Clinton, who was asked by a cast member to participate in Night of the Black Cat.
Clinton says he’ll perform an original song or two and perhaps a Beatles song. Beatles songs are “easy to funk out,” according to Clinton.
Like the Beatles on the pop charts, there was a time when the R&B charts were top-heavy with Parliament/ Funkadelic tunes. Clinton and his bands had four number one hits on the R&B charts, including “Flashlight,” “One Nation Under A Groove,” “Aqua Boogie” and “Not Just Knee Deep.” Parliament/ Funkadelic were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
It was during the chaos of the Vietnam era that Clinton started to get cosmic and far out with his ideas. He learned to “start reading about things, to start questioning things” at that time, he says.
“We realized that nobody knew anything. We would be aware of things, but we never made it like we knew what we were talking about,” says Clinton about his lyrics. “The government was trying to pit everyone against each other but the war was what everyone was against.”
Having two bands, Parliament and Funkadelic, allowed Clinton to stay in touch with mainstream and underground music. Parliament was his pop cover and Funkadelic was pure funk freakout.
Throughout the ’70s, Clinton ruled the urban and black music scenes.
“We were on to something. It was almost like church to a lot of people. But I wasn’t gonna be no guru. I was just looking for drugs and [sex],” says Clinton.
The ’80s wasn’t Clinton’s biggest decade. And just about the time when some may have mistakenly written Clinton off as a relic of the 1970s, his name began to pop up as a key influence on the hip-hop and alternative rock artists of the 1990s.
And to the surprise of the music industry, he became one of the most name-dropped and sampled influences in hip-hop and modern urban music in the ’90s and to this day. Samples from Clinton’s music turned up on albums by hit artists including Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Outkast, Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot.
“Sampling made it go to the next generation,” Clinton says about his 1970s repertoire.
The younger artists were personally willing to give props to Clinton. He teamed up with Coolio, Redman and Ice Cube for collaborative recordings.
He was the producer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Freaky Styley.
Rapper Warren G’s 1994 hit even dubbed that time period the “G Funk Era,” a spin-off on Clinton’s trademark P-Funk sound, with a gangsta rap influence.
“I wouldn’t let my music get obsolete,” says Clinton.
“We made a point to stay friends with the younger artists.”
He ignored his contemporaries when they would be overly critical and mock the styles of younger musicians.
“Every time they say they hated it, I would grab it and listen to it,” says Clinton. “I stay in touch with everything the parents hate.”
Clinton loves Prince and Soundgarden, Outkast and Eminem (who he calls the best lyricist around).
Clinton says that parents, older musicians and the older generation are out of touch with what’s really going on with younger musicians, and that they are too preoccupied with lyrics they view as violent, crass and/or salacious.
“I try to get the parents to like Tupac [Shakur] but they won’t do it,” says Clinton. “They talk about rap artists dissing each other.
“In my day it was called ‘playing the dozens’. It’s the art of dissing each other, but you’re not supposed to get mad about it. It’s the one who gets mad that loses. If you want to fight for real, then you lose.
“A lot of media and people in straight society are the ones that make it very negative.
“But they’re not thinking about it the way we thought about it.
“To musicians, its just his art. It’s telling stories about the world. And a song is not always about what the musician believes. It’s just like the movies. We don’t always agree with the character in the movie.
“And alternative rock, we can play completely silly and stupid.”
But it’s all entertainment, all expression in the end, says Clinton.
“And likewise, a lot of guys like to sing about how bad a cowboy they are or how bad a gangster they are, but they got grass in their front yard and parents at home. They ain’t no gangster.”
In fact, Clinton thinks that hip-hop and rap have wound up having important positive social and political ramifications.
“Hip-hop is the best thing that ever happened for race relations,” Clinton says, referring to its popularity and common bond among young music fans of all races.
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