George Clinton says getting clean was tactical. '... To fight the fight I needed to fight, I had to be clean and able to talk clearly.' (William Thoren)
The Mothership may not be hovering overhead when George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars play Freedom Hill on Sunday, but rest assured, he’s got the funk, and the funk will be delivered until everybody has it.
The ’90s-era Mothership is at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., prepared to deliver funk in all its forms. The Smithsonian acquired the decommissioned funk spaceship from Clinton, and it will go on display at its National Museum of African American History and Culture soon.
As for the stage, Clinton will debut next year a new, digital holographic Mothership for the 21st century.
“It’ll be an interesting year, next year,” says Clinton, by phone from his Tallahassee, Florida, home studio. “We’re finishing up the new album that’s coming out (in October) along with a book, all tied together.”
His book, a memoir for Simon & Schuster, has the Clintonian title of “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?” That’s also the title of one of the songs on the new album.
He’s recorded 33 songs for the album, and now he has to sift through all that. “It’s got my grandkids on it, along with Funkadelic. Sly Stone is on there a lot, Kim Burrell, as well as Del Tha Funkee Homo Sapien,” Clinton says.
The godfather of funk says he’s been filming a reality show called “The Clintons: The First Family of Funk” to premiere in September on the Fuse network, featuring himself, along with his children and grandchildren. How many children does he have?
“I’m the father of our country!” he teases. “Nine or 10” is his serious answer. As far as the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, “I don’t know, lots!”
His memoir won’t have anything to worry Berry Gordy Jr., for whom Clinton came to Detroit to work in the 1960s as a Motown writer/producer.
“He had the right to do what he did,” Clinton says. “Ideologically, I might have said some things differently, but I ain’t that political. I had more of a beef with a lot of record companies, but that’s one (Motown) that didn’t stick out. It’s still my pride and joy.”
Clinton says he does get into his legal fight with Bridgeport Publishing to regain his copyrights, a battle he says is not over. “All of that is what I’m trying to bring attention to in the book. We’ll shine a light on (his) bankruptcy. It’s a chance to tell my side of the story, about the legal stuff I’ve been going through.”
The musician, who was “Tweakin’ ” in 1989 and whose group the Parliaments were dubbed “The Temptations on drugs,” says he’s clean now, after creating a catalog of music that was as psychedelic and drug-influenced as anything that came out of the hippie era.
“Getting clean from drugs, that was a tactical move,” Clinton says.
“If I could do drugs and take care of business, I’d probably still be doing it,” he says, “but that ain’t possible. I’m not saying I got religious, but to fight the fight I needed to fight, I had to be clean and able to talk clearly. So I had to take it slow and produce the legal case like I do a record, so when they see the book they’ll be able to follow it.”
Beyond the rainbow dreads, the Mothership, his “Chocolate City” and diaper-clad musicians, Clinton has had a profound effect on modern music and a serious message or two.
Starting out as a doo-wopper in New Jersey in 1958, Clinton was in Detroit writing songs in the Hitsville tradition in the ’60s when his music changed — radically. Motown softened the line between black and white music; Clinton obliterated it, combining hard rock, soul and a druggy psychedelia.
The Parliaments became Funkadelic, which released “I’ll Bet You” in 1967, with its funky rock guitar riff overlaid with Temptations-style harmonies. What happened? San Francisco and the blossoming of British rock, which factored into his sound.
“We were doing Motown and then segueing into a white version of an R&B song, but we made it like a rock song,” Clinton says. “We did that, and that actually changed the Tempts from their style, into that (psychedelic soul). Sly (Stone) and ourselves, we were doing that.”
Clinton was still writing for the Temptations, and they recorded a version of “I’ll Bet You,” as did the Jackson 5, although Funkadelic has them all beat. But, “I’m proud of all the versions of the song,” he says.
Funkadelic evolved into Parliament-Funkadelic, and Clinton, working mostly at United Sound Systems in Detroit, produced a body of music (“Give Up the Funk,” “Cosmic Slop,” “One Nation Under a Groove,” “Maggot Brain,” “Mothership Connection,” “Tear the Roof off the Sucker,” “Atomic Dog,” to name a few) that has been heavily sampled by rappers.
Speaking of rap, Clinton is a big Eminem fan. The rapper was first brought to his attention years ago by Mike and Jeff Bass, Eminem’s early producers, with whom Clinton was working. “That boy knocked me out,” Clinton says. “He couldn’t have been more than 16.
“He’s one of the few rappers who can do what Motown used to do: have songs with hooks. Even if you can’t rap, you can sing the hooks. ... And he’s got the work ethic, the competition thing that used to make everybody so sharp at Motown and Jobete (publishing). Rakim is my favorite rapper for the most part, but Eminem has got to be No. 2.”
George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars
George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars
Clinton and P-Funk perform at 9 p.m. Sunday on the Budweiser National Stage
Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Parkway, Sterling Heights.
Admission: Free. VIP seating: $25. Call (586) 268-9700.