“Say Brother” was a TV programme out of Boston which concerned itself with social & cultural issues in the Black community. The 1960s becoming the 1970s was a tumultuous time for African-Americans. Black Power & Pride endorsed the progress made by the Civil Rights Movement, personal & political futures were negotiable, everything was open for discussion. Imaginative often scattergun stuff got said about serious issues but debate about racism, sexism, apartheid, things like that, is never wasted breath. In 1969 “Say Brother” opened their studio for the musical equivalent of these strident voices. A wild crew eager to sample & explore the possibilities on offer to black people in the USA. It produced amazing, landmark music TV.
George Clinton formed a doo-wop vocal group with his teenage friends in the late-1950s. The next decade included a stint with Jobete, Motown’s publishing company. George worked out of the New York office run by Berry Gordy’s estranged wife Raynoma. She had bootlegged copies of a Mary Wells hit & trousered the dosh. The label’s head honcho was not well disposed towards any of her proteges. The Parliaments did hit big in 1967 with ” (I Wanna) Testify”, a stomping soul shout but the hits did not keep on coming. In fact their small label hit the rocks & George even lost entitlement to his own group’s name. One thing Clinton did was to keep his friends close. 3 of the 5 Parliaments were there at the beginning, the 2 who joined in 1965 were still around when George was ready to make his big move. “Testify”‘s success meant that he could employ a 5 piece backing band for gigs. In 1969, those legal wrinkles temporarily smoothed, he convened a new, expanded Parliament. A 10 member collective which intended to tear the roof off the sucker.
Guy Peellaert’s magnum opus “Rock Dreams” imagines the new aristocracy of African-American music as directors at a boardroom table. Established superstar artists were limited by the primacy of the demand for hit singles. Marvin, Stevie & Curtis wanted to make albums despite, in the case of the first 2, label opposition. Stax Records were shafted by the small print of their contract with Atlantic & lost the rights to a wonderful catalogue. Isaac Hayes stepped up with “Hot Buttered Soul”, 3 million reasons to believe that the future was already here (a nod to Sly Stone too). 1969, as Soul was moving to Funk, was time to take care of business.
George Clinton was bang on to that idea. His deal was with Invictus, the label founded by the Holland Brothers & Lamont Dozier after leaving Motown. With his vocal group brand in legal limbo those same musicians became Funkadelic who had a separate deal with another Detroit label, Westbound. Parliament/Funkadelic had a thing, a new thing, they were “ready to get up and do their thing (yeah go ahead!)… get into it, man, you know”. They were a busy crew. In 1970 3 LPs were released in as many months.
These clips are just dynamite. The primped & pompadoured Parliaments have been replaced by a wild & woolly swarm of boys from the hood. George has a haircut from the future, is drenched with the acid sweats. As the young people say he is “tripping balls” & enjoying the ride. “Soul is a ham hock in your corn flakes”, man, that’s still as strange & as funny as George knows it to be. Thanks for the reassuring “we will not harm you” too because these brothers are not here to dick around. This is authentic “Psychedelic Soul”, not the orchestrated monuments of Norman Whitfield & the Temptations but a magical mystery expedition which leaves no turn unstoned in the search for the Funk.
Clinton recognised & encouraged the abilities within his troupe. Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins had been a trusted partner since the beginning. Here he leads the congregation, sharing the band’s new vision. In the backline Billy “Bass” Nelson & guitarist Eddie Hazell thrived on the freedom. They recruited Tiki Fulwood, house drummer at the Uptown Theatre Philadelphia, & the heart of a great band was beating.
There were 2 LPs in 1970. “Funkadelic” began the P-Funk myth-making, asking “What Is Soul ?” & “Mommy, What’s A Funkadelic ?”. The music emerged from sprawling, exploratory jams. The vocals were raw, reaching back to the field hollers of the plantation. The acid logic of “Free Your Mind & Your Ass Will Follow” expresses a credo which continued through the decade as the Mothership Manifesto gained momentum. The band spent a lot of time in the Invictus studio. They hooked up with Ruth Copeland, an English blues-folk singer & made 2 LPs with her which include couple of grandstanding Stones covers as good as this version of “Play With Fire”. This blaze of creativity tempered the sound, they discovered which of their experiments were worth pursuing, which elements of their new music was worth keeping. The 3rd LP “Maggot Brain” opens with a 10 minute long mind-melting title track where Eddie Hazell plays it like he means it. The influence of Jimi Hendrix was everywhere at this time, Eddie got that technique without emotion is just playing with yourself. “Maggot Brain” is a classic of our music.
It took years of solid touring & recording to finesse this lysergic blend of soul, rock, what ifs & why nots into a noise that a lot of people wanted to buy. When that happened George Clinton was ready with a 3-ring Greatest Show On Earth stadium spectacular. Success brought its own problems as a big band wanted to get paid. The hits just kept on coming for Parliament/Funkadelic & the P-Funkers. George’s vision stayed crazy & encouraged collaboration with other talents. That time at the beginning though, when the new rules were that there were no rules, when you took acid then went into a recording studio just to see what might happen, produced some raw, funked-up, gutbucket music. Just like George had heard that time in “Keep Running Mississippi” that “way back yonder funk”.