"Good evening. Do not attempt to adjust your radio. There is nothing wrong. We have taken control as to bring you this special show and we will return it to you as soon as you are grooving..."
So say the first words of the now classic album "Mothership Connection" by Parliament. I first heard them back in grade school and have been hooked ever since.
The one who said those words was George Clinton aka "Star Child" aka "Dr. Funkenstein" aka "Maggot Overlord." Little did I know when I heard that first song entitled "P Funk" that I would one day have a lifetime pass on the Mothership, which will land at 8 p.m. tonight at The Rave.
That was back in ‘75 and I'm still riding today. You can keep your Beatles, Stones and Led Zeppelin. You can make my funk the P Funk.
In case you've been living in a box under an overpass since 1975, "P Funk" stands for a combination of "Parliament" and "Funkadelic." Those are two separate bands were powerhouses on two different record labels back in the ‘70s. You might not recognize the names of the bands or any of their songs, but I'll bet you've heard some of their music. If you are a fan of current rap, then for surely you've heard it. P Funk is sampled constantly.
George Clinton is the man behind most of the madness. He was the one in charge of all the record deals off stage and all the cosmic insanity on it. The group(s) were famous for having amazing live shows highlighted by an actual space ship landing in the arena with George inside. It was pure spectacle and nothing like it had ever been done.
I have no idea why I liked it all so much but as a kid, I was hooked immediately. There's no reason a white boy from Milwaukee should have such a strong funk gene, but I do. I can remember seeing a James Brown performance on TV when I was about six or seven and having a light go on. My grandparents thought I was possessed by the devil, but I just knew there was something about that music that I liked. It had to be the funk. It still does.
James Brown was one of the "Holy Trinity: of funksters. The other two were Sly Stone and George Clinton. George created Parliament / Funkadelic, but also had help from many others and there is also a P Funk Holy Trinity. They are George Clinton, Bootsy Collins (who got his start as a bassist with Brown) and Bernie Worrell. Those are the three who teamed up on the biggest albums and hits.
I've been following the whole soap opera since I first heard the "Mothership Connection" album and it's been a lifetime of trying to piece together information. P Funk has a strong cult following but -- much like The Grateful Dead or Frank Zappa -- they always seemed to operate outside the mainstream. It was a challenge to keep up with everything in the years before the Web. It's easy now.
There have been recordings under many record labels using many aliases, but it's all the same core of musicians and George heads it all up. He's the maestro and it's been a long and impressive roster that includes Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy's Rubber Band, The Brides of Funkenstein, Parlet, P-Funk All Stars, The Horny Horns and a few more, too (and that doesn't even consider the nearly 20-year career Clinton had before "Mothership" came out in 1975). And I love them all.
The first time I saw them live was on Halloween night of 1989 in Chicago. They were past their prime years of touring with the spaceship then and I really didn't know what to expect. Every band has up times and down and this was not their hottest era. I bought my ticket and went inside hoping to finally see my favorite band live. I was not disappointed.
The band was extremely tight and they started the show with one of the Funkadelic hits "Cosmic Slop." One by one, musicians and backup singers came out and took their places on stage, but George was not there. Yet. The band was really kicking and the crowd loved it and halfway through the song George magically appeared and the place went CRAZY.
Clinton's charisma and presence is amazing. He took over the whole room and then we had a show. It was a little over four hours later that they quit and I felt like I just had an out of body experience. That was what a concert should be. I felt like I owed a few more bucks. I sure got my money's worth that night and every other time I've seen them since.
George Clinton is a master showman. I have learned a lot by studying him and I am just a huge fan. He's the man. I try to study all great showman and rock has a bunch. I do love Alice Cooper and Mick Jagger has his moments, but give me a live P Funk show anytime. The raw energy of a stage full of world-class musicians led by George is worth my while.
Last year, I got to meet George in person. What a thrill. Not many get a chance to meet a hero in the flesh, but I did and it couldn't have gone any better. George was in Houston to be the grand marshal of their "Art Car Parade," which showcases unique vehicles that have been decorated by artists of all kinds. It's a tradition that has been going for 20 years.
Someone had designed a Mothership car and it was touring art galleries in Europe and they lost funding to get it back. I heard about it and decided to risk my life savings to get it back to Houston in time for the parade -- if I could meet George in person. It was a whim at first, but then it turned into a reality and I ended up flying to Houston to be part of it all.
George had heard about my offer to help rescue the car from Europe and was impressed by it and the newspaper reporter said, "George is very excited to meet you." Very excited to meet ME? Was she kidding? I'd waited my whole life to meet HIM! I was really jazzed to be able to meet him but what does one say to a hero? We don't have much in common.
I love his music, but even more I admire his showmanship and charisma. We are both in the entertainment business so that's one thing we have in common and another is that we both know a comedian named James Wesley Jackson. James used to open for the P Funk back in the ‘70s and lives in Chicago. We've worked together a lot and are good friends.
I can remember being in the hotel lobby in Houston waiting for George and his manager to come meet us. The air was tense and I didn't know what I would say. Then the elevator doors opened and out he came. I looked at him and said "Dr. Funkenstein I presume." His big smile gave me a rush and then he gave me a hug and I could feel we would hit it off. I just knew it for some reason. I could feel his strong vibe and we talked for a few minutes.
I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head. He carefully looked at all of them and saw that I had them organized by group and release order and he looked up and said "How much you want for these?" I thought he was kidding but he wasn't. He wanted the collection for himself because he never saved a copy of all that stuff over the years and he wanted to have a copy. What could I say? I told him he could have it as my gift of thanks for all the great entertainment he gave me over the years. I thought he was going to cry.
He started talking to some of the crowd that was gathering and showing them the book of his CDs and I could tell he was genuinely excited about it. I wish I would have known it so I could have made a copy for myself because I love listening to it, all but what could I do? I didn't expect George to be so pumped and if I was going to give my collection away to anyone, he's the one who should get it if he wants it. That's a memory I'll never forget.
If you've never sampled any P Funk, let me give you a beginner menu to get you going. If you like it, you'll have a lot more to choose from but for starters we'll keep it simple. This is a good top five list of CDs to start with and all should be relatively easy to locate:
1. "Mothership Connection" by Parliament. This one broke it wide open. A true classic.
2. "One Nation Under A Groove" by Funkadelic. This was the group at its peak.
3. "Computer Games" by George Clinton. His first solo album. "Atomic Dog" was the big hit.
4. "Urban Dance Floor Guerillas." P Funk All Stars. A nice mix of the funk to sample.
5. "Bootsy? Player Of The Year" by Bootsy's Rubber Band. A different flavor of funk.
I have a comedy booking tonight and I don't know if I can get out of it but if I can I will be there shaking my Caucasian buttocks for several hours. Good thing I'm a comic and not a dancer, because if I was a dancer I'd be a comedian anyway. But I love the funk. It gets in my pelvis and rattles around and when I'm at a concert I let my funky side loose.
As George says "Free your mind and your ass will follow." Mine has been following the funk for many years and as long as I have a shake left in it and there is a P Funk live show within my grasp, I will be there flying on the Mothership forgetting about all my troubles.
When I met George, he told me I have a lifetime pass to see his show. Now I need to put some frequent flyer miles on it. Swing down sweet chariot, stop and let me ride. If I don't see the show this time, I'll catch one whenever I can. Or two. Or three. Some people travel around catching as many shows as they can. A lot of Deadheads have come on board the funk since Jerry Garcia died and there's a seat for you to ride on the Mothership, too.
You might like it so much you'll say what real funkateers say -- "Make MY funk the P Funk!"