George Clinton’s career is an open book, one he insists has yet to reach its final chapter. The architect of P-Funk returns to tell Rip Nicholson his story.
“I needed to tell my story. So in order to do that, I had to get famous again,” insists George Clinton of releasing his new album Medicaid Fraud Dog. “This is to let the people know that Atomic Dog and Mothership Connection are not the end of the story. So when you see Medicaid Fraud Dog, you’ll see Sir Nose is still out here fuckin’ up and Dr Funkenstein is out here inoculating people with the funk.”
Breaking out of Motown’s stable of songwriters, the funkadelic relic’s first release came in 1967 with the song (I Wanna) Testify. Fifty years on, his latest Parliament album features Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis and the great Sly Stone and follows on from First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate, a 2014 reunion of Funkadelic, his other funk incarnate band.
“We didn’t feel like putting anything commercial out until I got that court stuff with all the copyrights,” he confides of the album, the first completely new Funkadelic release in more than 30 years. Indeed, Clinton’s longstanding court battles with labels, most notably Bridgeport Music, for monies owed him from mammoth sample royalties are well-documented in Clinton’s memoir Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?
The funk is my viagra. That’s why I’ll be hard when I get through.
While the man himself has been clean for the past decade, Clinton’s drug use, and its part in the creation of a lifetime catalogue of hits, has also been covered at length. One story, however, stands out from the pack. Backstage at a 1996 gig with Parliament, Clinton met the daughter of then US President Bill Clinton, Chelsea, with a lit crack pipe palmed behind his back.
“I was gettin’ ready to light up. It was red-hot, burning the shit out of my hand, and I look at the picture they took ’cause they had it in People magazine I [can] feel the pain in my hand as I look at the picture.”
These past indiscretions are not something that Clinton is afraid to reflect on, nor is leaving them behind. “Getting off of drugs is a high too. It works both ways. Really. I’ve made doing drugs look hip and I made gettin’ off them look hip, too. And, I tell you, gettin’ off drugs is a better high. I got sick probably one time and that was enough. I took that as my warning and I was glad that I took it.
“I have fun performing so it’s not a job. I feel like I’m on drugs even though I’m not on drugs anymore. The funk is my viagra. That’s why I’ll be hard when I get through.”
Medicaid Fraud Dog is about just that journey, says Clinton; “People on meds all over the place, whether it’s legal or illegal,” something reflected in the title of the lead single that dropped back in August. “I’m Gon Make You Sick (Antidote),” shares Clinton. “Then I’mma give you the antidote.”
How are you today and what has been happening in the world of George Clinton and P-Funk?
Fine. We’re on tour right now in Cleveland, Ohio. And just left Minneapolis, Minnesota and we’re on tour around the world. We live on tour.
I grew up on your music, and the hip-hop that surrounded itself in your music. So, to have you on the phone now is truly an honour.
Thank you. The hip-hop is some of my best friends.
I grew up on your music as mostly used through hip-hop sampling. You must get that a lot?
Oh yes. When Digital Underground and Ice Cube were young I knew them. Tupac and Dre, I knew all of them. Then on the East coast: Rakim and through most of the Bronx. I knew most of them as they first got started. I made it my business to stay in touch with the rappers because funk was the DNA this was the way they were keeping funk alive. They helped me reinstate myself over and over again.
How do you stay relevant at over 70 years’ old?
Paying attention to all those young ones coming out that sound silly as hell and then before you know it they’re the new ones. You can tell the ones that are gonna be the new shit because they get on your nerves. As soon as they get on your nerves that’s the new shit. So I pay attention real early, because they wouldn’t be something if you didn’t notice them. They wouldn’t get on your nerves as much. But if they’re nagging on you they’re probably going to be the next shit. And I’ve always written and worked with them and they want to work with me because I’ve been their idol and I respect them. Working with Kendrick Lamar – you know, he’s out of Compton’s third generation of artists
That track you worked with Kendrick on last year, Funkadelic track ‘Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?’ was fantastic.
Speaking of new artists – there is also Thundercat, Dam-Funk doing great things right now outside of just hip-hop. Who, in your opinion, is carrying the torch for funkadelic music now, and who would you like to bare the legacy that you built up?
Well it’s going to be Thundercat and Flying Lotus and there are a lot brewing in the scene that kendrick Lamar introduced me to and they just happen to be third generation hip-hoppers out of Compton and around L.A. He said they’re gonna be the ones herd next and Thundercat – he’s got a lot of stuff on him, he reminds me of Bootsy when he first came out. But, my grandkids, wait till you see them when we come to Australia. They’re part of Parliament Funkadelic. My grandkids, my daughter and then Black Byrd and the regular musicians so it’s like a branch of Funkadelic with a fresh sound and a new look.
On last year’s Funkadelic track ‘Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?’ you said “I was hard when I started and I’ll be hard when I’m through” – where do you muster the energy to keep reinventing funk the way you do and consistently delivering the funkiest shit out?!
Funk will give you that inspiration, especially when you’re really open to receiving it you can transfer it to the people and they transfer it to the people and they give it back to you. It will give you the inspiration once it get started. You feed off each other. The audience feeds off the band and the band feed off the audience. And if you take it to the studio you feed off each other. I didn’t need as much energy as you’d think. That’s all I did. I have fun doing that so it’s not a job. I feel like I’m on drugs even though I’m not on drugs anymore. The funk is that drug.
The funk viagra?
The funk is my viagra. That’s why I’ll be hard when I get through.
In 1982 you released the album Computer Games – at a time when computers were not taken seriously. Did you foresee a future ruled by computers?
Oh yeah. I watched Star Trek. I watched them talk to the computer and the computer answer giving them all the data and I could see that happening. That was when computing was advancing real quick. Then the minute they brought out the personal computer I knew it was going to become a reality. At the time I was into the video games: Galaga and Galaxian. And from that you could see where it was going. From pinball machines to computer games. You could see that that was the beginning of the toy like Pacman. But it took a lot of money and animation to make all that stuff. I knew it was going to be the shit. I didn’t know what it was going to be but I knew there was going to be a lot done with computers.
Was ‘Atomic Dog’ recorded with computers?
It basically was an accident. We put down a drum track, a beat and we turned it over, flipped it backwards and then they added percussion and a groove to it and when I came on it it didn’t have a note or a key on it where I could sing to it that’s why I started talking on it, ‘this is the story of a famous dog’ and I just added the adlib on that and a couple minutes on that I just added ‘why must i feel like that, why must I chase the cat?’ in very A tone and it just took off from there. People were looking at me in the studio and laughing like I was doing something. So after we added ‘do the dogcatcher’ it started coming together I just ad libbed it straight like that and Garry [Garry “Diaperman” Shider] came racing in and put it in a specific key and he left it like that and made it so it harmonised to the tone of singing I was doing. Then we came back to it and put another drummer on it going forward, turned the thing back over and had it going backwards. The backwards drums was a brand new sound and made it sound hip-hop because we made it sound like we sampled something but we actually played it. But it was geared to sound like it was sampled. And, true enough as soon as it came out everybody started sampling immediately.
Please tell me that you will be playing that when you come to Australia?
Oh yeah we definitely going to play that but not only will we play that we’re going to play some new stuff and drop the new single ‘I’m Gon Make You Sick’ and I’m going to make you sick of me. It’s going to do the same thing that ‘Atomic Dog’ did and that’s that P-Funk – it’s gonna make you sick, sick of me. We’re gettin’ ready to put it out right now.
Medicaid Fraud Dog?
It’s gonna be on the Medicaid Fraud Dog album. It’s called ‘I’m Gon Make You Sick (Antidote)’. Then I’mma give you the antidote.
That’s the new Parliament album. How is that coming along?
We’ve got the single comin’ in a few weeks then the album at the end of the year so we’re trying to get it out.
You’ve got Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis and the great Sly Stone featuring on the album?
Who else is expected, and what dimension does this album take you to?
This is like a new dimension. Scarface is on the ‘I’m Gonna Make You Sick of Me’ song
In 2014, Funkadelic dropped the 33-track First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate, the group’s first official release in 33 years. What brought you all together?
We were touring all the time, you know? And we didn’t feel like putting anything commercial out until I got that court stuff with all the copyrights. I’m doing a documentary on that so that freed me up from having to breaking up for court because of the book. And the book Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? – the title of the book and that’s the title of the lead song off that album. So it took me that time to get rid of my old drug habits and get reinspired and get me through my court dates and into doing the documentary and doing the book. I needed to tell that story, so in order to do that I had to get famous again. Not only did I have to get famous I had to get my family down with me. So this is to let the people know that ‘Atomic Dog’ and ‘Mothership Connection’ is not the end of the story. We’ve still got a story to tell so when you see the group now in Medicaid Fraud Dog, you’ll see a Sir Nose is still out here fuckin’ up and Dr. Funkenstein is out here inoculating people with the funk.
You said earlier that you about coming clean off of drugs in the last decade or so. Drugs makes great music across the board. Good drugs will make good music.
And you know what, getting off of them is a high too. It works both ways. Really. I’ve made doing drugs look hip and I made gettin’ off them look hip too. I tell you, gettin’ off drugs is a better high. I only get high now off the weed. That’s the best high you gon’ get. I mean all the rest you can’t get high but one time and you never get it again. You be chasin’ that high. So, it makes good music. Gettin’ drunk and gettin’ high probably kills everything that alters your state of mind but if you can’t appreciate the music without it’s probably not worth it. When I got off the drugs I never thought about it, never did. It got in the way more than it did anything else. It probably was tellin’ me that I just off it in time but I never got to the point where it got like that. I got sick probably one time and that was enough. I don’t get get sick often, so when I did get sick I took that as my warning and I was glad that I took it.
You’re a very open book, Mr. Clinton. I read something a while ago about your chance encounter with Chelsea Clinton who had come to meet you backstage at a show.
That was back when they had the Olympics in Atlanta, around that time and we were gettin’ ready to go on and she came into the dressing room and wanted to show off to her friends in school and said that they would be so proud that she had the opportunity to come in and meet us. And, as she did I was into my act and as she did I had to ball my hand up ‘cause I had the pipe in my hand, you know. I was gettin’ ready to light up. It was red-hot burning the shit out of my hand and I look at the picture they took ‘cause they had it in People magazine I could feel the pain in my hand as I look at the picture.
That remains one helluva story for you.
She probably never knew until she read the book. Her and Holyfield walked me to the stage and it was my birthday. We had a cake they were gettin’ ready to take to the stage and present it to me and she wanted to start a cake fight. And I was like ‘you’ll can’t do that around this girl she’s got security all over the place’. So I said, ‘hell no, don’t do no cake fight’. Then they presented me with the cake onstage.
Last night you posted a Tweet ‘The Nosy smell of S.E.A.I.C.’ can you elaborate on what that means?
Socially Engineered Anarchy Induced Chaos. That’s my theory on what they’re doing – his whole cabinet and people. They’re intentionally playing people off each other to the point of anarchy and martial law and all of that.
Do you think this could be the demise of the U.S.?
It could be the demise of a lot of places. But yes, the U.S. especially. But a lot of places because of their connection with Russia, on behalf of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if he defect. Resign him because it’s gonna get so bad ain’t nobody gonna wanna speak to him, at all. But yes, they was intentionally doing things to piss people off. Shit that don’t even make sense. First, you can think of how he undid everything Obama did. He was into that before he became President. He was always tryna’ start some shit with someone. Their theory, like [Steve] Bannon, their theory is causing panic but this time I think it’s to intentionally put the police, the army to put them all against the people. If they turn to martial law and their purpose is to keep the peace then they don’t have to be concerned with being right or wrong at that point. But, I think we should pay attention to that so that it don’t ever get to that point because i really do believe Socially Engineered Anarchy Induced Chaos is the concept.
That’s why Medicaid fraud Dog is about medicine. People on meds all over the place whether it’s legal or illegal it’s all the same. People don’t know how to react to each other. You can call it drugs or you can call it meds. You can get shot by the police if you on your meds. You go from one state to another you can’t get your prescriptions, not only marijuana but a lot of meds you can’t get. A lot of drugs are hard to get now with the controlled substances act. Then you got a lot of people selling pills like they’re candy pop. It’s about money now. Obamacare is about drugs. It’s about people’s meds. So I call it one nation under sedation. They all gettin’ harder to get so we gotta learn to dance some more.
Everybody needs a break from reality and you bring it the best way there is.
I’m gon’ make you sick then I’mma give you the antidote.
You’re a devout performer, 250-some shows a year… What do you like to do when you’re not writing, recording or performing? When you’re home on time off?
I go fishing. And they have some great fishing there I wanna go again. I wanna go there again because I heard they have some good Marlin fishing in Australia. I didn’t get a chance to do that last time I was there. So I would love to.
I would never imagine you to be someone who would like fishing but I guess it’s good to get into an environment that is the exact opposite to your bright and colourful music career. You’re a very flamboyant performer. So fishing is the relaxing calm away from all that.
Yes and I live on the farm. Actually my real personality is, I’m a lazy ass. On the water though it’s tranquil as hell. You don’t have to even catch fish it’s just nice to be there.
What can we expect from a George Clinton live show?
A lot of booty-shaking, a lot of jumping up and down. A lot of hard partying. You know, it’s a circus but it’s a fun circus you know. So, tell everybody to bring two booties with ‘em. One booty ain’t enough.