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George Clinton, Still Radiating the Funk

If James Brown is the Godfather of Soul, George Clinton is the Crown Prince of Funk. He's the ringleader of Parliament and Funkadelic. Their shows in the '70s featured an apparition called The Mothership.

George Clinton hasn't had a hit in years. As he likes to say, though, funk is the DNA for rap. Tunes like "Atomic Dog" have been sampled over and over. His music is recycled on records by Public Enemy, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg.

In true funkmaster fashion, here's how Clinton describes what he does:

Shedding Light on a Funk Classic

 

George Clinton says he draws inspiration from his days in the '60s as a Motown songwriter. In this interview excerpt, he describes working with Parliament band mates Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell to create the funk classic "Flash Light."

"Psychoalphadiscobetabioaqua- doloop — the art of dancin' underwater and not gettin' wet. That'd be my job..."

Clinton recalls the unlikely way his early '80s hit "Atomic Dog" ("This is the story of a famous dog, about a dog that chases its tail...") came together in the studio, thanks to a backward-tape machine, overlaid drums and puzzled engineers that let it all go down.

"I just had the word 'dog,'" Clinton says. "That's all I had in my mind. I had to ad lib a lot of it. The track was atomic. It's a futurist track... I don't still hear no tracks like that one."

Clinton, in his mid-60s, still tours with a band of almost 30 people, most in outlandish costumes. He says it's a waste of time trying to analyze what the band is up to. "Can't even count us," he says.

Stage props over the years have included a huge denim hat, and a gigantic puppet that wore a baseball glove and tapped its foot. Clinton says the roadies got tired of dealing with the puppet, though, and ditched it somewhere along I-95.

Clinton's pervasive influence on today's pop music isn't limited to rap. He produced an early record by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Freaky Styley. Much of that record was made at Clinton's house in Michigan.

Features in this series are produced by David Schulman and NPR's Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Well if James Brown is the godfather of soul, then it can be said that George Clinton is the crowned prince of funk. He's leader of Parliament Funkadelic, groups from the 1970s. Now, Mr. Clinton - that's George Clinton - hasn't had a hit in years, but as he likes to say, funk is the DNA for rap. Tunes like Atomic Dog had been sampled over and over, and his music has been recycled on records by Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and Snoop Dogg. As part of our series Musicians in Their Own Words George Clinton recently came to our studios and told us his job description.

Mr. GEORGE CLINTON (Musician): Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop - the art of dancing underwater and not getting wet. That would be my job.

(Soundbite of Flashlight)

PARLIAMENT (Musical Group): (Singing) Nah, I lay me down to sleep. Ooh, I just can't find a beat...

Mr. CLINTON: I like it makes it silly because the kids are the only ones who relate to it for a minute. And then you go to another age bracket, and they relate to it for minute, then it's too old for anybody.

(Soundbite of Flashlight)

PARLIAMENT: (Singing) Flashlight.

Mr. CLINTON: (Unintelligible) you know, everybody was under the influence of something, and I go in the studio and they're cutting tracks. And I'm paranoid and thinking, why did he cut without me? So I pop in, and they get the tape on backwards, trying to get some background sound effects. I bust right on in there and this tape and come on this shoop(ph) shoop(ph). It's all these effects; they ain't got nothing in there except for what key it's in. Shoop shoop, and I just add the word dog; that's all I had in my mind. And I just ad lib a lot of it, this is the story of a famous dog, the dog chases it's tail -I'm just talking (unintelligible) I'm here to see what key he is in.

(Soundbite of song "Atomic Dog")

Mr. CLINTON: (Singing) Yeah, this is a story of a famous dog, for the dog that chases its tail will be dizzy. These are clapping dogs, rhythmic dogs. Harmonic dogs, house dogs, street dogs. Dog of the world unite.

Mr. CLINTON: Why must I feel like that, why must I chase a cat?

(Soundbite of song "Atomic Dog")

PARLIAMENT: (Singing) Why must I feel like that, why must I chase the cat. Nothing but the dog in me.

Mr. CLINTON: (Unintelligible) so I ain't committed to no key, and thereby neglect (unintelligible). Something wrong with them? So I did, do the dog catcher, do the dog catcher and everybody started laughing.

(Soundbite of song, "Atomic Dog")

PARLIAMENT: (Singing) Do the dog catcher, dog catcher. Do the dogcatcher...

Mr. CLINTON: And then I get confident, but now the tape is backwards. Now, they have to put the music on it going that way. We put another set of drums on it, made it forward and backward at the same time. Bernie Worrell came in and played those melodies that made him legit, so now it seemed like we planned it.

(Soundbite of song, "Atomic Dog")

PARLIAMENT: (Singing) Bow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yay. Bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yay. Bow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yay. Just walkin' the dog. Atomic dog.

Mr. CLINTON: The track was atomic.

(Soundbite of song "Atomic Dog")

PARLIAMENT: (Singing) Futuristic bow-wow.

Mr. CLINTON: It's the futuristic track, I don't still hear no tracks like that one. We don't even try to do it again. Cat's have lived longer than people do. People get old and kids grow up, and it's over. Dr. Funkenstein will be around, making people think about they change time and never get old.

(Soundbite of song "Dr. Funkenstein")

PARLIAMENT: (Singing) Dr. Funkenstein here. Preoccupied and dedicated to the preservation of the motion of the hips. We love to funk you...

Mr. CLINTON: We love to funk you, Funkenstein. Your funk is the best.

(Soundbite of the song "Dr. Funkenstein")

PARLIAMENT: (Singing) And take my body...

Mr. CLINTON: Take my body, and give it the mind to funk with the rest.

(Soundbite of the song "Dr. Funkenstein")

PARLIAMENT: (Singing) To funk with the rest, kiss me on my ego.

Mr. CLINTON: In his wisdom he forenotioned the shortcomings of your condition. So, we the Clones were designed.

(Soundbite of the song "Dr. Funkenstein")

PARLIAMENT: (Singing) In his wisdom he forenotioned the shortcomings of your condition. So, we the clones were designed.

Mr. CLINTON: When I did (unintelligible) clones, nobody was talking about cloning then, you know, in '76. I had to go around looking for bookstores. The closest thing I could find was on Dr. Moreau. And then when they cloned that sheep, I felt like (unintelligible).

Today the epitome of cloning up is sampling. Just take a piece of funk that's got a real natural sound, and you can dupe it and loop it to stupid, you can clone a thousand records out of it. You can kind of dilute it ten times (unintelligible) equation. But the (unintelligible) part of it is being able to do and make arrangements. Public Enemy would take a little piece of those songs and actually make arrangements out of them.

(Soundbite of music)

PUBLIC ENEMY (Rap Group): (Singing) Oh. Yeah. baby here we go, here we go. To go with, to go to go with. Public enemy.

Mr. CLINTON: I'm laughing, I'm laughing, I'm laughing. You know, it's no longer one of our songs slowed down, and they would have Public Enemy in my voice from a disco (unintelligible) of Public Enemy Number l, with my voice speeded up a little bit. Then he goes to the bridge and it's the Ohio Players, and they made, like I say, arrangements. Rap is funk. I mean the funk is hip-hop. Kids usually hate their parents' music. They hate their older brother's or sister's music.

(Soundbite of song "Give Up the Funk")

PARLIAMENT: (Singing) Oh, we want the funk, give up the funk.

Mr. CLINTON: Kids right now come to our shows 14 years old, and they pride themselves on I know everything about the funk.

(Soundbite of song "Give Up the Funk")

PARLIAMENT: (Singing) Oh, we want the funk, give up the funk.

INSKEEP: George Clinton, aka Dr. Funkenstein. He's the leader of the Parliament Funkadelic, and the P. Funk Mob. You can hear George Clinton describe how his band came up with the groove for their song Flashlight by going to NPR.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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