He's a man who needs no introduction, so I won't say much. My conversation with George Clinton ranged far and wide, from his legal affairs to the history of Parliament-Funkadelic and on to close encounters, even a recipe for fried fish, "the best one in the world."
In advance of his show for the Black and Red Ball on Friday, Feb. 8 at the Mateel Community Center I lined up an interview. The number they gave me to call him was a hotel in San Francisco, so I figured he was doing some shows here.
"No," he told me as we got rolling. "We're in town doing a some things with
Are you kidding me? Sly's back? I guess I've been out of the loop. I hadn't heard of him surfacing for years.
He's back. He's been all over the world for the last six months. He just played B.B. King's in New York for about five days. He's even better than he was years ago.
And you two are doing some recording?
We're getting some things together. We've been doing things together for a long time. We're planning some outdoor shows, some festivals.
Are you going to put a record out together?
Something like that. He did a couple of songs on the last Funkadelic album. We're going to finish the collaboration and see what comes next.
Was that record on your own label?
No, that was years ago.
I heard you started a new label, what is it, The C Kunspyruhzy.
Yeah, and we have a new record, How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent ? (How Late Do You Have to Be Before You Are Absent?)
What's the answer to that question?
Oh, 4:21. You miss 4:20 and you're absent. The album is a compilation of all the artists on my label, 25 different songs.
I assume it's a DIY independent thing, your own thing. That seems to be the way musicians are going today.
That's what's happening now because the labels are finished.
As I recall you never got along too well to stat with. I'm curious, given that the music you made over the years became the basis for a lot of hip hop — you've been sampled left, right and sideways — do you get a piece of that action?
Well, we're getting ready to get it now. I just won my second case against a publisher who forged my name and was collecting on One Nation , Knee Deep , Uncle Jam and Spanking . I got those albums back. We're going after the other ones this year.
You're talking about retrieving the rights to your master catalogue.
Yes, and monies from sampling, commercials, and everything else.
So, someone else was claiming the rights to your music and when Dr. Dre or whoever sampled your records, they got the money, not you.
That's right. They got the money. Now it's all coming to a head you know. They filed all kind of papers in my name. Finally, I got a lawyer that would fight for me, the same one who got Jimi Hendrix's stuff back. When I finally went to trial, I won. If I can get to court, I can win all of them. It's going to be a prototype for a history of business in music when people see all this stuff. I have all the papers from over the years; as a matter of fact I'm making toilet paper out of it. You can you on the Internet and find most of the cases, but I kept the papers myself. I want people to see what went on. There's so much money in all those samples, so many careers was made off of that music. I'm cool with almost all of the artists, but I stay on top of the cases. The lawyers are pretty much all in it together. You would not believe it if it was a movie, The Usual Suspects don't come near this particular situation. I won the first case about six months ago. We go back to court pretty soon for damages, to see how much I'm supposed to get.
Is it hard to track the accounting for all those samples?
Not really. All the artists get their royalty statements and it shows how much came out for the samples. So it's there. What I want to do is get as much as I can off the top, get the copyrights back, then do the movie and have some fun telling the story.
A movie about the great rip-off?
That's what it'll be. All the artists involved in it are my friends. We'll have a royalty statement party for our first reality show. You know we're suing Puff for about a million and 200 thousand dollars for one of Biggie Smalls' records. Half of that song was mine; the other half was the Ohio Players. This lawyer out of Nashville is working that, along with about 400 other cases, some have been settled under the table. It's going to be so loud and scandalous when all this comes out.
The artists who use your samples seem to show a lot of respect for you...
I have no problem with them. That's why it was easy to get their royalty statements. They got burned too when they had big records. The label would tell them, 'Well, you know we paid George a million for that sample, and we paid this and that. So instead of giving them their royalties, they told them I got the money for the samples. Of course they never paid me or the publishers as much as they said. I'll get the money when it's all done.
And when you become a millionaire, what your plan?
I'll just go around doing shows, having fun funkin.'
Isn't that what you're already doing?
I'm not going to learn any new habits. I'll just keep funking it up, going fishing, maybe I'll buy me some Viagra.
What does that word funk mean to you?
It's what you do to survive. You do the best you can, then funk it. It's an attitude. You funk it, hang loose. It's the Force. You do the best you can, take some blues and start jammin' — that's funk music. You just get in and jam and get funky. You don't blow your mind about it; you just do the best you can.
When you got going at the end of the '60s it seemed like you were all about blowing minds.
You see it was a positive blow then. You'd get fucked up and it was positive, but then it started becoming literal, and people were thinking they had to be crazy to do this. You got to be in charge of your crazy so whatever you funk up, you're still in control. It's not always easy.
And you have no regrets?
Nah. I'm having a ball. In the pursuit of happiness, I'm successful. I don't ever want to catch it. The pursuit is what it's about. I'm still going after it.
Was there some turning point, some time when Funkadelic was born. You had a barbershop or something first...
That's right. I had a barbershop where I sang doo-wop. As a matter of fact, my new album is a doo-wop album. That's what we're doing now.
I swear to God. And it's not nostalgia either. It's actual serious doo-wop. But there was a point back then when I said 'Oh, shit.' It took us 10 years putting the group together to get our first record out, which was '66-'67. "Testify" came out, our first hit record.
I have that record, the 45. It was pretty much classic soul.
Classic soul, Motownish. Right at the time that record hit, I realized we were a little bit late. At that time the English groups was coming over here playing the music I'd listened to growing up, my mother's music: blues, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and all those kind of songs. Cream and all them were coming out with blues and the other bands were playing old rock stuff. I realized we had just missed it with the doo-wop soul thing. The Temptations had made it, but that was over in '67.
And the psychedelic era was beginning.
That's true. We actually turned the Temptations into "Psychedelic Shack" and "Cloud 9." We turned them on. With Funkadelic we started doing psychedelic funk music. That's when we changed. I knew I wasn't going to wait another 10 years of chasing Motown, it was over, so I said let me do something that'll have no competition. It ain't gonna work for about 25 years, but at least I won't have to compete with nobody and I won't have to worry about it going out of style.
You're saying it was ahead of its time?
Yeah, just like rock 'n' roll was in the '50s.
When I was a teenager in the '60s...
You know Sly was happening then...
That's right. I heard Sly and was totally into his music, and I heard Jimi Hendrix, but I wasn't hearing your stuff until much later.
No, we was on the East Coast. You probably heard
True, but a few years after it came out. Of course it never hit the radio. I picked that album up in the cut-out bin at the local record store. All those Westbound records were in the cut-outs.
That stuff is so hot today. All that stuff, Sly, Motown, all that's going to come back.
I don't think your stuff ever went away. I went to hear a local funk band the other night, they're called The Bump Foundation , they play music a lot like yours and I'm pretty sure they cover some of your tunes. You are the Funk God to kids like that.
A lot of them can tell me more about my music than I can. Hip hop groups, rock groups, techno, all of them have funk in the DNA. Guys like the Chili Peppers, Offspring, Tool. You know I just me System of a Down and they're like funk fans forever. Wu Tang, I'm on their new album.
And I know you've broken through to the jamband crowd.
They've been our fans from way back, even while Mothership was happening. All of that's coming to a head. You know we played with Widespread Panic and Phish, way back, then all of a sudden they took over for the Dead. Now we're playing to that same crowd.
I heard you have plans to start putting out your live recording in the same way that the Dead and bands like that are doing.
I've got millions of live shows we did over the years. People recorded them. We'll sell the ones we've got.
So you'll do that online?
That's what we're getting ready to do, the whole online thing. All our groups. Videos, we've got animation coming out. I want people to be able to record the shows, take pictures, all that. We'll put all that stuff together -- we're trying to get the right people. You can get them through the conventional agencies.
Looking around the music scene today, what impresses you?
Well the fact that everything's broken loose: People making music, putting it on the Internet and finding all these creative ways of getting it played, some not charging anything.
You mean like the Radiohead pick your own price thing?
All that stuff. And we need it 'cause the Top 40 was getting sickening. It was so good for Prince to get out of that. He's doing so good now. You can't be held up by the old chart-chasing stuff.
This label you're doing, is that just for the people in your band?
It's for anybody I run into that has good music. We intend to be a universal Motown with alternative music of any kind. Right now our own people have so much music they've been waiting to put out. They'll help me with it all. They'll be producers for the label.
You're bringing the P-Funk crew up here, is that what you're calling it now?
Does that include anyone from the old days? Bernie Worrell or any of them?
Bernie's with us a lot, but he's off doing his own tour right now. This show's really going to impress you. A lot of the young womens in the band have been with us a long time. Then we've got Michael Hampton, Garry Shider, Cordell, Frank Wally, Bootsy's drummer, we've got Ricky Rouse and all the girls. It's gonna be some real good, funky music.
How many people?
27? Must be hard to fit everyone on stage in some places.
We play tag-team.
I see on your website you're listed as lead vocalist and referee. What does that mean?
It means you have to guide the band. Like you said, with small stages everybody don't fit at one time, so I act as traffic cop, say you're on, you're off, you're on now.
I know you used to tour with that Mothership from space...
We're trying to get it back out there right now.
Have you ever seen a UFO? Do you think there's life on other planets?
I think there's life here right now from other planets. I've seen it. Bootsy and I have an encounter in '78. I thought everybody knew that. For real, or as far as I was concerned it was real. I was under the influence at the time. I'd just come through the border into Canada and there it was clear as day. It hit the car with some kind of light and shit. This is an old story.
I had not heard it. I was wondering because of that UFO story from Texas a few weeks ago.
What was that?
There were a whole bunch of straight Texans who saw some lights and stuff. They said there was a jet chasing the lights. They're sure the government knows all about it.
No shit? I must have missed that. I'm waiting on them coming. That's the only thing that'll break the monotony of all this terrorism bullshit. Seems we're about to break out in a real serious religious world war. The only thing that'll get in the middle of it is something like that.
You're saying we need a visit from outer space.
So, what do you think is the future of funk?
Funk is forever coming. It's not going anywhere. It's head of itself right now and will be catching up with itself any minute. You know when those aliens finally catch up with us, we'll realize, that's us.
Are you saying you're from outer space?
Definitely, from the Dog Star. You know there's an African tribe called the Doguns. Check 'em out. They're from the Dog Star. That's what they've been saying for two or three centuries. It's Sirius. You know that satellite radio? That's what it is.
Right. Transmissions from outer space... Are you on the satellite?
Yeah, I was. I started of with them, had a funk show on there from the get-go. Right now I'm getting ready to do it again. You'll be able to get funk all day long.
Have you ever been up to Humboldt County?
Yeah. I go fishing up in Eureka, Yreka, Crescent City. I've never played there. I got high driving through there. No, I always go fishing up there. I'm a fisherman, I love going up to the Klamath, the Chetco and the Smith River. I catch salmon and steelhead.
Got a good fish recipe?
I got the best one in the world. Get you some saltine crackers, crush 'em up until they're powder. Take some eggs, beat 'em up. Filet the fish. Dip it in the eggs, pat 'em with the saltines. Fry 'em two three minutes. Get some Rice-a-Roni and a can of green peas or some corn. Then call me back and tell me 'bout it. I guarantee you'll have to go to rehab.
You ain't goin' to rehab? I agree with that girl too. I love her. I'm not going to rehab. I'm a rehabit.
It was great talking with you, and I'm so looking forward to you coming to Humboldt. And thanks for all the funk.
You got it man, Take care...