George Clinton brings his brand of funk music to Morgantown

Nov. 12, 2015


MORGANTOWN — George Clinton was writing songs for Motown in the 1960s when a new wave of rock and roll came on the scene in the form of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
Clinton saw the writing on the wall.
“It was time for us to change,” he said during a telephone interview on his way to the studio near his home in Tallahassee.
“We got us some big amps and we changed and we called it Funkadelic.”
Not one to stop there, he formed another group, Parliament, and together, they ruled the funk airwaves in the 1970s and never stopped.
“Parliament was the singing and the band was Funkadelic,” he said.
And what it all means is that when Clinton performs at 7 p.m. Sunday at Mainstage Morgantown, there will be about 24 musicians on stage, singing and playing instruments from guitars and bass to drums and horns, billed as George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, or P-Funk.
“We’re on the stage for three hours,” Clinton said. “We don’t stop and take a break. Sometimes it’s four hours.”
Considering that Clinton turned 74 in July makes that feat even more impressive, but musicians have been trying to keep up with him for years. In fact, his signature song, “Atomic Dog,” has been sampled by at least five other artists — Herbie Hancock, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur and New Kids on the Block.
And these days, Clinton has two versions of a song — “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?” — in circulation, one with hip-hop star Kendrick Lamar and another with electronica artist Louie Vega, in a move that shows Clinton’s diverse musical tastes.
“It’s the same single but different mixes,” Clinton said. “One is slower, like West Coast, and Louie’s is the house version, EBM,” or electronic body mix.
His most recent album — last year’s “First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate” — features 33 songs. The fact that he plans to play many of them on his upcoming tour, along with crowd pleasers such as “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off That Sucker),” might account for the three- to four-hour shows.
Clinton released the album in conjunction with his 2014 memoir with the kind of unique title that his fans have come to expect, “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?”
In it, he describes his childhood, starting out in North Carolina and ending up in New Jersey, where in the 1950s he became obsessed with the new music that was emerging, including doo-wop and rhythm and blues. That led him to his songwriting gig in Motown and eventually to his decision to follow the lead of James Brown into funk, eventually with the help of former Brown sideman, bass player Bootsy Collins.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 by Prince, whose Paisley Park label recorded two Clinton albums. But Parliament’s first two releases did not dent the charts. Fans took notice in 1975, first when Clinton came out with “Chocolate City,” both the name of an album and a single that praised Washington, D.C. for it black majority citizenry and suggested that Aretha Franklin should be first lady.
That idea led Clinton to his next album later that same year, “Mothership Connection,” his first platinum release, as well as a concept that would follow him for several years. A spaceship prop, the mothership, was used on the tour and eventually wound up in the Smithsonian Institution.
Clinton admitted to being a “Star Trek” fan, he said, but he also thought it was an appropriate follow-up to “Chocolate City.”
“I had to think of another place where you wouldn’t expect to see black people, and that would be on a spaceship in outer space,” he chuckled. “We had only seen one, Uhura on ‘Star Trek.'”
Of course, with Barack Obama in the White House — and Lando Calrissian and Mace Windu in the “Star Wars” films — things have changed a bit since the mid-1970s, and Clinton expects there will be more to come, maybe with a certain someone with the same surname.
“I knew it was going to happen,” he said of Obama’s presidency. “And now we’re going to get a woman in there and then a black woman.”
Mainstage Morgantown is located at 444 Chestnut St. in Morgantown. For tickets, check out