We want the funk

By Rich Tupica

While most people know George Clinton as the psychedelic-funk pioneer, the mastermind behind Parliament-Funkadelic actually got his start singing doo-wop at Motown Records in Detroit, working alongside a young Michael Jackson.

The Jackson 5 actually recorded the Clinton-penned “I’ll Bet You” in 1970. Clinton said he has nothing but fond memories of the pop icon, who died last week.

“We got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame together (in 1997),” said Clinton during a phone interview the day after Jackson died. “I’ve known him since he was really young. He has to be one of the best musicians I’ve known in my time. He is a beautiful person. Most people refuse to believe it, but he is really that innocent and beautiful.”

Clinton, 67, met Jackson and the rest of the legendary Motown roster after he and his band mates started pushing for a record deal in the mid-to-late ‘50s. Clinton said he would sleep outside of the Motown studio waiting for it to open, hoping to get a deal, which he eventually did during the 1960s. “I started Parliament in 1955 and ‘56, when there was a group on every corner,” Clinton recalled. “We were singing that doo-wop stuff right up until the early ‘60s. Then Motown started, and that was the new doo-wop.”

After the musical landscape began to change in the ‘60s, thanks to acts like Jimi Hendrix and Cream, Clinton said he and his band mates decided to take a new, funkier approach to soul music. “The English invasion was coming in,” he said. “I didn’t want to get left behind, so I made a midstream turn right there and started doing a form of rock ‘n’ roll and blues, which was funk.”

Funkadelic’s first record after the “turn” in musical style is now a landmark in funk music. “The next record we did was ‘Free Your Mind … And Your Ass Will Follow’ (1970),” Clinton said. “We made a real crazy, psychedelic album with wah wah (a guitar effect popularized by Hendrix and Eric Clapton in the ‘60s), to catch up with that new era that was coming in.”

Clinton said he mixed a variety of genres into one funky combination. “There was a combination of James Brown, Sly, Motown roots and The Beatles influence, so I just mixed it all together,” he said. “We mixed all that with the new synthesizers that just came out. I could do almost anything I wanted to then.”

After releasing such classics as “We Want the Funk,” Clinton found another niche in the hiphop world during the ’90s, after acts like Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Ice Cube began sampling his music. Since then Clinton said his audience has become more diverse, and his live shows often depend on what type of crowd he sees in attendance.

“We read the audience and see who’s there,” Clinton said. “The audience changes dramatically day-to-day. With Deadheads (Grateful Dead fans), I can get away with anything; they just like to get up and dance. If there are some college kids, I play some of the hip-hop influenced stuff. If it’s old-school fans, I play some more of the soul.”

George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic 9 p.m. Tuesday, July 7. Pearl Vision Stage, with The Roots, Twinn City