For over six decades, singer, band leader, producer and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer George Clinton has carved out a musical legacy as the godfather of funk, and grandfather of hip-hop.
Approaching his 77th birthday this summer, Clinton is readying to pass the baton. He announced his retirement, effective in May of next year, last week in an exclusive release to Billboard. Clinton has 50 shows schedule for this year and makes what will be, perhaps, his final stop in Savannah on May 10 at The Stage on Bay.
“Truth be told, it’s never really been about me,” Clinton said in the release. “It’s always been about the music and the band. That’s the real P-Funk legacy. They’ll still be funkin’ long after I stop.”
Clinton’s legacy began in the mid-1950s with a doo-wop group, The Parliaments, named after the cigarette brand. As doo-wop was losing its draw, Clinton guided his band into the future with a mixture of psychedelic rock and soul, forming the birth of funk with the help of a cast of 50 musicians. Drawing influence from James Brown, Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, Parliament became a staple of the 1970s R&B charts.
The Parliaments charted their first single in 1967 with “Testify.” Parliament released its debut album, “Osmium,” in 1970. After a label despute that tied up the Parliament name in legal limbo in the late 1960s, Clinton took his entire ensemble and renamed it Funkadelic in order to record new material. From 1970-74, Funkadelic released six albums, including the seminal “Maggot Brain.”
Clinton regained control of the Parliament name and began cutting new material with the band in 1974. In 1975, they released “Mothership Connection,” the band’s first platinum record. All together, Funkadelic would have three platinum records and Parliament would have one, further cementing Clinton as the mastermind and godfather of funk. Iconic live shows were trademarked with outlandish psychedelic costumes.
Musically, keyboardist Bernie Worrell helped cement the sound. A classically trained musician, Worrell helped arranged the horns and synthesizers that become synonymous with the band’s beat. Bassist Bootsy Collins, a former backing musician for James Brown, added the indelible low-end groove to Parliament’s sound.
In the early 1980s, Clinton began a solo career. Signing with Capitol Records, he released four albums with the major label. Since 1982, he’s released 10 solo albums and six live albums.
Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic’s music was widely sampled in the early days of hip-hop. Soon, those artists began reaching to Clinton. He cut tunes with Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Outkast and many of the nine members of Wu-Tang Clan. Red Hot Chili Peppers recruited Clinton to produce their sophomore album, “Freaky Styley.”
For his sophomore album, Kendrick Lamar reached out to Clinton. While not completely familiar with the rapper, once they met, Clinton was enamored. He appeared on the album’s opening track, “Wesley’s Theory.”
“Funk is gonna always survive,” Clinton said in an interview with Noisey. “It’s about doing the best you can, and if you do the best that you can do, you just leave it alone and let the funk take over. It usually leads you to where you need to go. Right now, I’m having pretty good luck working with Louie Vega, Kendrick Lamar, and now, Ice Cube.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Clinton summarized his career:
RS: What do you want people to say about you when you're gone?
Clinton: He made me sick, but he gave me the antidote.