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29 October 2014
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Roots music

George Clinton
George: Brother from another planet

George Clinton Interview

Yve Ngoo scoops a juicy BBC Tyne exclusive as George Clinton makes The Sage Gateshead the first port of call on his 2006 tour.

Hello Mr Clinton, or is it George?

Funking facts

George was born on July 22 1941 in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Making him one of the funkiest pensioners on the planet!

In Plainfield, he ran a barber salon, where he straightened hair. He went onto form a Doo-Wop group, inspired by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers.

Many rappers cite him as an influence and have sampled his songs. Alongside James Brown, George Clinton is considered to be one of the most sampled musicians ever.

Rapper Dr. Dre sampled most of his beats to create his G-Funk music era.

George created The Brides of Funkenstein (Lynn Mabry and Dawn Silva) and toured Japan in 1981 as a new wave act.

George is also an accomplished artist, and sells true one-of-a-kind pieces of artwork online.

George’s first group The Parliaments, was named after a brand of cigarettes.

George and the P-Funk All Stars are transported by The Mothership.

(Laughing) You can call me anything you want !

OK George, welcome!

Hello Yve!

The Sage Gateshead is the first date on your European Tour 2006, but it’s not your first visit to the region?

No, but I haven’t been in Newcastle for in a long time.

I was there last time you played - in 1983, on The Tube; it was Lopzilla time, and I was stunned!

Aqua Boogie too..yeah!

Mr Clinton, this is a very special tour for you, marking fifty years in the music business.

Yeah, fifty years, and we’re just getting started

At 65 years young – you’re still one of the coolest kids on the block. You’re constantly introducing young people to the funk.

"We were the first ones to say, the music (funk) is ‘dope’, and they didn’t realise they were going to get hooked."
George Clinton

And they make me rediscover it. I have to go back and listen to my albums, to get reacquainted with a lot of the cuts. A lot of the kids don’t know which ones were the singles and from which album, and they’re always asking me questions about different songs!

Your singles are often very different from the albums – particularly the early stuff; almost funk concept albums.

Really? I’ll have to tell the band to go back and listen to them again!

Very psychedelic in places!

Oh, we were psychedelic. It was legal then!

I was going to ask you about those times. The P-Funk look you’ve been championing for such a long time seemed to occur around the time of Psychedelia, Vietnam, Black Power, civil rights; did any of this have an effect on what came out of your wardrobe?

Not so much the wardrobe, more a frame of mind, which probably dictated our wardrobe too! Without realising it, our frame of mind was caught up in ending the Vietnam War, which I think all of the Psychedelia was about.

Back then, what you and your contemporaries wore was very different from the cool, sharp and conservative threads black men were wearing at the time. Did you ever get any adverse reaction to the way you dressed?

Only when we went home to Jersey. In Jersey we created styles, fixed peoples hair. We were the leaders of style there. When we decided to go all out psychedelic, we were convinced in what we were doing.

George Clinton
George Clinton is a style icon

We realised that the Motown era was over, the Hippy thing had took its place and it was the hip thing to do, so when we did go home and someone said, “Hey brother, take off that ****”, we’d say “come and take it off us”, and all they had to do was hear our attitude, and they’d know that we were down (with the programme). It wasn’t long before everybody else started dressing like us.

I would say, that’s what made you stand out, you were really at the start of that look, but it actually got bigger and more competitive; people wearing the biggest shoes, sporting the biggest hair, the biggest hats, wearing the most colourful clothes.

A lot of it was quite corny, like with Superfly. Some people actually started doing it, and by the time the seventies got here, it was over.

Your look has evolved in many ways, especially with Hip-Hop and street style and you still look pretty cool.

I never thought about that when I was doing it. I guess there are so many people around at the time. I was just basically there. I still look different because of the hair. Style is whatever you want to do, if you can do it with confidence.

Having been blessed with afro hair myself – we can do anything we like with it!

Yeah, I did hair. I know what cool’s about. All of it is superficial. I do it without thinking about it, that’s why I can get away with it better than anybody else. I pick up on styles, way before they get popular, pretty much before young kids do. I see ‘em coming.

When I hear music that parents hate, or older musicians hate, I know that’s the new music. When I hear older people saying, “I hate Rap or Techno” I rush to it.

Have you got many more music genres to work with and discover?

Always, I’m married to many of them. Doo-Wop is one of my favourites; I also like Motown and music from the fifties. The real Doo-Wop around the late fifties. Then Motown took it over in the sixties, till about 1968. By the seventies, we (funk) had taken over.

In the seventies, we in the UK had Punk. What did you think of that?

Punk! Well, by then, we were doing ‘Free Your Mind and Your Ass will Follow’, songs like ‘Wars of Armageddon’, that was Punk. I listened to the Sex Pistols and Fear (Fear is a punk band from Los Angeles, California that formed in 1977 and they still perform).

The Chili Peppers brought me back to a lot of the Punk stuff. It was called New Wave by the time the Pistols had gone. It was as if society was trying to trap The Sex Pistols. You could almost feel that something was going to happen to them.

Very short lived, but very important, weren’t they?

Oh, very important. It seemed like the authorities and everyone set them up. The era when groups were ‘going for it’. It’s as if what the system opposes, the kids are going to do it harder. Saying no is the greatest aphrodisiac there is. The Sex Pistols defined an era.

Have you ever met John Lydon?

Oh yes, I’ve met him. I’d really like the chance to get to know him well. He’s really out there. Primal Scream remind me of the Pistols!

When you come over to the UK, are you bringing all of the family (The P-Funk All Stars)?

Yes, and they’re in tip-top shape too. Twenty-four people.

So what can we expect at the gig?

A lot of rump-shaking and a lot of jams, songs off the new album, ‘How Late Do U Have 2 B B 4 UR Absent?’.

I’ve got my grand-daughter who’s on the album, who also has a group within the group called Children of Production, and they do their thing.

And what about old friends such as, The Diaper Guy and Sir Nose D'Void of Funk?

George Clinton and Macy Gray
George Clinton with fan, Macy Gray

Yeah, you’ll see Sir Nose and Gary Shider with the Dirty Diaper, as well as a couple of new ones you haven’t seen before. We also do a bit of rock and roll, ‘A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On’, stuff like that. 

And is it all going to be over in an hour – or are we in for a long night?

I’m going to be on as long as they let us. Maybe they can give us an extension?

For over 25 years, the P-Funk back catalogue has been raided in many ways by Hip-Hop, Rap and funk artists. Are you precious about your beats or do you like to spread the love?

No – that’s why I put out the record ‘Sample Some of This Sample Some of Dat’. Funk is the DNA of Hip-Hop, that’s the way we’re able to stay around – just by getting a little taste of funk, you're going to be hooked.

We were the first ones to say, the music is ‘dope’, and they didn’t realise they were going to get hooked. Funk is music that kids and their parents like at the same time.

I interviewed James Brown last year when he played The Sage, for an African music website; we talked about Afro-beat and Afro-centric culture. What are the influences of Afro-centric culture and Afro-beats in your work?

I think our influences came by way of the Mothership. I never really knew or recognised what the beats were, or where they came from. You hear them in Latin music, New Orleans, Motown - lots of African beats, but I never knew where they came from.

I started listening to African music when I got into Fela Kuti, and that’s when I realised where a lot of our stuff came from. Have you heard of Mory Kante?

Yes. Mory Kante played in the region, last year.

I love Mory Kante – Yeke Yeke! I want to record that song so much. If I can find me a copy of that, I’m going to record it. Would you give me a copy of it?

I’ll try and get you one by all means!

That’s one of the baddest songs I’ve ever heard. It sounds like the funkiest disco ever got!

George, I’m going to have to wind up now - I could talk to you all day.

Sure, call me back anytime!

Whatever you do, whatever you lay before us on the 14 July, there’s a legion of Funkateers awaiting your instruction – ready to surrender to the Funk!

Bring that extra booty!

last updated: 09/11/06
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