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MICHIGAN MUSIC

JULY, 2000

Exclusive

George Clinton Speaks

INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY P. T. QUINN

Comment From The Editor
In 1979, while I was an executive with George Clinton's now defunked record label, I was made a lifetime member of the Funk, with a certificate and the whole bit.  George was at the top of his game at the time and his stage life looked rosy. 
Then came the business failure of his Uncle Jam Record Company, the loss of lucrative record deals, and many in the industry simply "wrote him off." 
Today George Clinton is again as popular and as influential of an artist as he ever has been.  He has remarkable "staying power" and continues to "do his Thang" while ignoring the little bumps in the long road of his career.
We were happy to get an exclusive interview with him while other magazines were "locked out" by his management.  Fellow Funkster Murgua simply arranged it, knowing that George treats "his own" well.  To give the REQ reader some more background, I have included part of a companion interview with Muruga, called Muruga Responds.
- Bob Dennis
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George Clinton - July, 2000

We’re movin’ back ..to Michigan

Detroit, Michigan: George Clinton is a lot of things to a lot of people.  Most famously as being the purveyor of Detroit origin funk.  That bass bottom music which revolutionized pop and brought Detroit into the eyes of the dancing world.  Yes, he’s a father, husband, grandpa, but is a preservationist and iconoclastic father head who leads his P-Funk Allstars into a realm that’s otherworldly in its power and musicianship.
The P-Funk might be as many as 20 or more participants.  When they played at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit recently, the music kept going through several shift changes.  The appreciative crowd had their senses delightfully overloaded in what turned out to be a long night for the Lord of Funk.   After the 3 1/2 hour gig, he went into the studio until 6 AM! That kind of energy from a man who has survived himself for over 30 years, seen many come and go, and tragically lose his son bassman Darrel.  George burst into the Motown scene with the Parliament, evolved into the Funkadelic and P-Funk, as well as play the Grammies and tour with the Chili Peppers. Yeah, he’s legendary, and now that Jerry Garcia is gone, Deadheads have embraced him as one of their own. The music is real. It taps in to the raw with a synergy of expression that covers the whole gamit of human experience.
When my friend percussionist Muruga Booker told me he was going to play with the Funk, I tagged along. Muruga’s son web-guy Aaron was there too.  After Muruga mentioned to me he was going up to George’s hotel room before the gig, I thought it a grand opportunity to meet the man.  Oh boy, did I get lucky. George’s wife and personal manager Stephanie greeted us.  A happy reunion for Muruga and the Clintons.  George and Stephanie love Aaron and have known him nearly all his life.  The first impression I had upon meeting George, was that he was friendly and low keyed.  There’s a gracious sincere gentleness about him.  The unknowing would never guess the magnificent transformation he makes from a candid setting into his stage persona.  Outlandish, brilliant, the funkiest showman on the planet is a hero to a lot of people.  All those people.  Surprisingly to me, he was agreeable to let me interview and photograph him.  What do you ask of the demi-god of funk?  I did my best.......
PT Quinn:  How does it feel to be back in Detroit?  George Clinton:  I was homesick, I got over that.  I’m glad to be back here.  It’s good to be back here.   We were here last year but it was at Clutch Cargo’s up there in Pontiac or some place up that way.  We’ll be back here for good pretty soon.   We’re movin’ back here.
PT:  To Detroit? George:  To Michigan anyway just outside of the home stretch.
PT:  Are you going to record here? George: Oh, I’m going to see what I can get into.   You know I can’t go nowhere
without getting into the studio especially in Detroit.  I’ll probably break and enter into a studio if they won’t let me in..... B& E the studio.  You know what I’m saying?  Oh yeah, I’m going to do some kind of recording.
PT: Why the funk?  George:   Why the Funk?? Wow, that’s a hell of a question.  (pauses)   That’s sacrilege.
PT: How come man?  George:   Why not the funk?  I don’t know no reason why not.  Well, we were too late and too old to be Temptations.  We were slick in our younger days, but by the time we got a hit record with “I Wanna Testify”, the Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrex were comin’ over with all of that funky rock & roll stuff... so even though I love Motown all the while we were doing it, we missed the boat on being cool.  We were just a little bit too old
by the time we got our hit record “Testify” to be you know.....wooing little girls.  I know one thing, character’s don’t get old.  Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, and Porky Pig don’t get old.  We became the Parli-Funkadelic-ment thang. Funkin’ up things.  Then we had our own space, we weren’t fast rock & roll or slow blues.  We had that mid-tempo
music, that nasty music.  So that’s where some of my ideas for funk came from.
PT: What inspired you to write “Maggot Brain?  George:  First of all Eddie Hazel had a good a good vibe on bluesy slow stuff, and he was real articulate with that kind of tone.  Rock & roll and blues was still happenin’ so once in a while we had to put some real blues into the thing.  Real tears into the picture.  Maggot Brain just happened to be the vibe that we came across.  Hendrex, Page and Big Brother were doing that real good rock & roll and blues and all that stuff.  So we had to knock out a few ballads.  You know, “free your mind and your ass will follow...Maggot Brain.”   “Music for my Mother”....we were just in and around all of that.  We were just trying to get some bluesy-nasty music goin’ on.
PT:  What’s your current lineup?  George:  It’s current..ha-ha.   Bernie Worrell.... PT:  From Talking Heads.  George:   Yeah..  Muruga:  Originally with George.  George:   He started with us when he was 14 before he went to college and came back.    He was always a very good classical piano player...at 14 or 15 he was like that. Bernie and all the rest of the playing field like Billy Bass who was our original bass player...oh, Wordell “Boogie” Mosson, Blackbird, Michael Hampton.  The P-Funk horns with Greg, Bennie and Scott.  Frank Waddy, and Razor Sharp...Peanut Robert Johnson all from Bootsy’s Rubber Band.  Sheila Horne from the Brides of Funkinstein” My son Tracy.  Oh, man. It just goes on and on....... We got a bunch of guitar players.... Gary Shider, Jerome Rodgers.  Shirley Hayden is there from the Parlette.  She’s been with us for the last few weeks. Anybody that will be celebrating the group will be there.  Muruga will be up there bangin’ on the congo’s and percussion like he has been doin’ for the last 25 years.  Ever since Bakers.  (Keyboard Lounge in Detroit)
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Bernie Worrell - July, 2000

He started with us when he was 14 before he went to college and came back. - G.C.

PT:  Sounds like a family.  George:  It is a family.  Aint nobody stay together this long and go though the things we do without being a family.  You fight, fuss, kiss, love, and make up and start all over again. It aint no virtual family.   It’s reality.  Muruga:  A spiritual family. Spiritually and funkally.
PT:  James Brown had a dominate bass but you brought it out even more.  What about that?  George:   Well we got it from James Jameson from Motown.  They’re the ones who named the band the “Funk Brothers” (early).   The first electric bass I can remember being on a record where it was dominate was at Motown....we just took it from there and went crazy with it.  We exaggerated everything that we learned...you know, bass was definitely the thing that we
learned was the bottom in music.  It was one thing that wasn’t illegal on the radio.  So we’d try to give you as much of it as we could.  Especially on pop radio.  Bass was like a big d--k. You know what I’m sayin?  You just didn’t put that on the AM radio.  FM you could get away with a little bit, but most of the rock & roll and top 40 didn’t have much bass in it as a matter of fact.  Doo-Wop had a bass voice and guitar, but as far as a bass instrument, it was James Jameson and them at Motown who put the funk IN.  It was so sophisticated it probably got past a lot of people.  They did it in unison with vibes and piano.   The Four Tops and everything.  You could’t get away from it, they had bottom on that stuff.  It used to be upright bass, and that was slick, but I put the electric bass all the way on top.  I made the drums
and bass the loudest thing on our records.  You can almost run your hand across the vinyl and feel a lump in it.  I tried to make the needle jump up off the record.   Yeah, we accentuated the bass.  Every time we hit on something that was truly funky, we went overboard with it.  Free your mind your ass will follow...we just went totally NUTS!  I mean it was the day of the drugs but it wasn’t as much as the record indicated.  Even though the drugs may have given us the nerve to do it, we weren’t as f--ked up as we sounded.  We were out there though, you know what I’m sayin?  But that was pretty much normal at that time.  Everybody was experiencing a new vibe ‘cause that was the thing that stopped the (Vietnam) war.   Tune in, turn on, and drop out.  Till the war dropped out it was what everybody did.  But the minute it became for sale..(pauses) it was over too. When Woodstock happened, drug culture was over, I mean
as a positive thing.  It was business after that.  It was “do you want to buy a lid?”  And when it becomes that, you got to be careful.
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George Clinton  continues to "do his Thang" while ignoring the little bumps in the long road of his career. - R. D.

PT:  What’s the funk done for you?  George:  Everything there is to be done.   I mean it’s been the reason for doing
all that I do.  Today is just like the first day that I started.  Every day a brand new chance to do it. To me the pursuit is happiness.  Not catchin’ happy.   If I ever caught up with happy I’d probably be bored.  The pursuit of happiness is the trip.
PT:  Any advice for a young band that could be helpful?  George:  Well, I aint tryin’ to give out no advice and all that, but I’ll tell what I like.  That is I like doing what I do.  I think if you like doing what you do it’s a real big help in getting it done.  As long as you like what you’re doing, aint nobody got to make you do it.  You don’t feel like you’re workin’ and it’s all reward just doing it.  I feel successful every time I get a chance to do it.  I don’t have to reach no specific point.  For me I’m still shootin’ for it. 
PT:  If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?  George:  To play the other side of the record!

Muruga Responds

INTERVIEW BY BOB DENNIS,  PHOTOS BY P. T. QUINN

In 1979, one of my main assignments for George Clinton was to produce a group created by Muruga, called The Soda Jerks. 
It was not my first session with Muruga nor was George unfamiliar with Muruga.
In this interview, Muruga fills in a little of the background of the Funk in Michigan and his two-decade association with George.
- Bob Dennis

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Bob DennisOne thing about the interview that PT did with George, he didn’t talk a lot about your connection with George Clinton and the funk, so our readers probably don’t know that you were actually signed to the production  and record company that was being formed by George at that time, Uncle Jam.  So what can you say about that period and some of your initial experiences with George?  Muguga:   First of all I’d like to say that a long time ago george used to come and see me play at Bakers Keyboard Lounge. I was with Darious Brubeck and that is one of his first recollections of me. And I rember Morrie, owner of the Chess Mate Club,  called me and said there’s this outragious group playing here,  and I came down and saw one of the funkiest bands I ever saw.   It was George with his 5 to 6 piece group.   Then in 1977 or 1978,  I came back from new york and my friend, Joey Z,  took me to see George record – he was doing something at United Sound. He said, "So what have you been doing."   I said I just came back from New York and put together the group caled Soda Jerks – I sorta gave him a quick rap, that I had lived a couple years as a monk and I played with Weather Report, and Brubeck. [I told him that:] I saw a guy on TV that had been playing guitar for 6 months and he had a hit record, and that sorta inspired me. (I had always wanted to play a little guitar) – So I got a guitar and started writing songs to open E tuning.  I put together a group called the soda jerks – I made my  wife play drums and I played the guitar and everybody in the group had to play something that they didn’t play before. I told him (george) that I loved the funk and I saw the conciences of it (cause it does stem from Godspel music – mixing that with James brown and jimmy hendrix kinda styles).  He said well anybody that could play with Dave Brubeck to Weather Report, like the funk and come out of being a monk and want to do "The Soda Jerks" - "I’ll give him a recording contract sight unseen and sound unheard!"   He said "We are recording down at the Disc and also at Superlycs and come on down there."  I came down we did one or two quick demos.  Here for 20 years I was recording for name groups like Weather Report and Winter Consort and so on – but nobody gave me a personal recording contract.  When I started playing guitar and writing songs I got a recording contract. … You have to have a direction – I got the direction of the soda jerks from [one time having a job of] packing the soda pop on the truck and [thinking of]  how I started to listen to music in the soda shop in the 40’s.
Bob:  Somehow you managed to get on 6 or 7 of Georges hit albums at the same time - him calling you in as a percusssionist for the other groups. Muruga:   One of the good things about hanging around at the Disc and Superlycs was that I was around his sessions  and he would invite me to his sessions as well.  Seeing me play guitar and seeing me sing the soda jerks he almost forgot that i was a regular drummer and that I was serriously doing drums and percussion. One day with Sly [Stone] and George, theyt were doing a tune, and I began playing my Nada Drum [Muruga's invention] and they said "listen to this dude play that stuff" and "put him on some tracks"  So the next thing you know I started recording tracks with them   Some of it was "Urban Gollorlias," "Smell My Finger," and "Atomic Dog" - the things from about 1980 to 1985 - I began hanging around with them in the studio weither I was doing my session or theirs.
Bob: How was it this most recent concert and session?  Muruga:   George is doing fantastic...He seems very healthy - his energies are very strong.   We had a fantastic gig at St. Andrews, .... and afterwards we went and recorded until 6 in the morning at a studio two blocks away, The White Room ... fantastic session ... wonderful session ...went until 6:30 in the morning.
Bob:  Unfortunately we don't have a ton of room but i wanted to get your input on his interview - it was a nice interview, good to hear that George plans to move back .... maybe one of these days we'll all get together with me behind the board, you and George and a couple of other mugs and go at it again   Muruga:  Its something we should do - looking forward to that... and Hello to all you internet readers - keep the funk up - keep the music up ... that's what's its all about - that's what the P in P-Funk is, its the real, its the pure .... God Bless the world.

Copyright 2000, by P. T. Quinn, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Published in Recording Engineer's Quarterly Magazine with permission

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