Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Parliament - Funkadelic

What we have here is not, in the strictest sense, a band in spite of fact that they are known to do a lot of band-like things...write great music, kick all kinds of ass onstage, influence at least two entire generations of musicians, that sort of thing.  The fact is Parliament-Funkadelic is not so much a band as they are a collective. They are an ever-changing group of individuals coming, going and coming back again, vast in numbers and united by a concept created a long time ago by a man named George Clinton.

Plainfield ,New Jersey in the 1950's is the place to start. A doo-wop group formed called The Parliaments  (pictured left above). The name came from a brand of cigarettes. They were Ray Davis,Fuzzy Haskins,Calvin Simon,Grady Thomas,and group leader George Clinton (far right in the picture and also pictured to the right). After several attempts at several labels, the finally scored a hit with "(I Wanna) Testify" on the Revilot label. It reached #3 r'n'b and #20 pop on the Billboard charts.  As it turned out, Clinton was the only member to appear on the recording because the other members were unable to make the trip to Detroit for the sessions. It was on the surface a nice bit of the expected soul vocal group offering, but a closer listen revealed an underlying subversiveness in the performance not  found in similar groups.

Clinton put together a backing group for a tour,and having lost the rights to the name, "The Parliaments" in a contract dispute, renamed the entire ensemble Funkadelic, a name coined by bassist Billy Nelson.The band consisted of Nelson, guitarist Tawl Ross, keyboardist Mickey Atkins,  guitarist Eddie Hazel, and drummer Tiki Fulwood. The band itself was signed to Westbound Records by Clinton and released their epynomously named debut album in 1970. The album also featured the five-man group who were at one time The Parliaments.

Clinton, having regained the rights to The Parliaments name, formed a new entity, called simply Parliament. It was comprised of the same two groups combined but concentrated on a smoother r'n'b sound as a counterpoint to Funkadelic's funkier, more aggressive guitar-oriented sound. (stay with me,it all comes together soon) Parliament signed first to Invictus Records, then to Casablanca Records where they released their first album, Up For The Down Stroke in 1974.

Combining influences with the best of them, Clinton's collective served up James Brown-like marathon funk, the humor and fearless experimentation of Frank Zappa, and with it's stellar line-up of past and present guitarists, generous amounts of Hendrix-Zeppelin inspired hard rock. Much like John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, P-Funk had legends pass through it's ranks. Bootsy Collins,  Bernie Worrell,Gary Shider, Fred Wesley,Maceo Parker,Eddie Hazel and Phillipe Wynne are all Parliament-Funkadelic alumni. All told, the organization produced thirteen top ten hits including six Number one hits on the American charts between 1967 and 1983.

Along with personell changes a-plenty, there of course were the inevitable differences both artistic and personal that resulted in spin-off bands such as Glenn Goins' Quazar and Jerome Brailey's Mutiny. Spin-offs also were formed under George Clinton's tutelage, most notably Bootsy's Rubber Band and The Brides Of Funkenstein. P-Funk music has had a large influence on hip-hop with the group's works being widely sampled on a huge number of rap hits, particularly by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. Hits like "One Nation Under A Groove", "Flashlight" and "Atomic Dog" are practically tutorials on funk music. George Clinton and fifteen other members were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in May of 1997, the largest group inducted to date. You simply cannot intelligently discuss funk without discussing P-Funk.