On Sunday, August 5, a Mothership commander will land on the Fort Adams stage when the 76-year old vocalist, songwriter, producer, bandleader, icon and Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame Inductee George Clinton and his supergroup, the Grammy Award-winning Parliament Funkadelic, perform for the first time at the Newport Jazz Festival® presented by Natixis Investment Managers. In support of his latest CD, Medicaid Fraud Dogg, and part of a landmark, worldwide tour that will end with his retirement from touring in 2019, Clinton is sure to bring the funk and more to Narragansett Bay.
“I had to get this music out there,” Clinton said in an interview posted on the website www.consequenceofsound.net. “I felt real creative urgency to give the world this, right now.”
Simply put: With the exception of James Brown, Clinton has done more than anyone to elevate and expand the African-American music genre known as funk, first with his R&B vocal group, The Parliaments with their 1967 hit, “(I Wanna) Testify.” In the next decade, Clinton – who first formed the band as a doo-wop group in his hometown of Plainfield, New Jersey where he worked in a barbershop – expanded the group, moved to Detroit, where he briefly worked for Motown and with some independent local labels. As a songwriter, he augmented the group’s music, with a funkier edge, drawing from Brown and Sly Stone, with touches of Afro-psychedelic, talismanic iconography. Parliament featured colorful characters like the square, non-dancing Sir Nose D’Voidaffunk, who was the nemesis of Starchild, his polar opposite who always knew where “The One” was. And, there was the Mothership – an Afro-American version of the Apollo Moon Module that literally landed onstage, where Clinton as “Dr. Funkenstein” would emerge from the ship, exhorting his funketeers to “give up the funk.”
Throughout the 70s, Parliament produced a number of R&B hits, including “Up for the Downstroke,” “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off The Sucker),” “Aquaboogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadol oop)” and “Flash Light,” from their equally impactful albums including Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, Mothership Connection, and The Motor-Booty Affair. With the jazzy horn lines supplied by saxophonist Maceo Parker and Pee Wee Ellis and trombonist Fred Wesley – all from James Brown’s groups – Parliament set the bar high as one of the most influential ensembles in 20th-century music.
As Parliament was to funk, Clinton’s other equally influential ensemble Funkadelic was the Black answer to rock. The group’s roots go back to 1964 when it was a touring band created to back The Parliaments. The band, which was named by the group’s original bassist Billy Bass Nelson, came into its own as a distinct entity from Parliament, even though there was some overlap and interchange between groups with the same musicians. And though both groups were next to none in terms of dance grooves, Funkadelic was more guitar-oriented, abstract, and daringly political.
Its classic albums including Maggot Brain, America Eats Its Young, Hardcore Jollies, Uncle Jam Wants You, and One Nation Under a Groove, yielded several singles including “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On,” “Comin’ Round the Mountain,” and “Cosmic Slop.” Guitarists Garry Shider and Glenn Goins, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, and vocalists Walter “Junie” Morrison (who also played keyboards) and Philippé Wynne of The Spinners, were some of the stars that made Funkadelic the premier band that it was. With Clinton at the helm, his groups sang and riffed on a number of subjects that included extraterrestrial life, The Bermuda Triangle, Egyptology, drugs, Atlantis and the inner city, drawing from any musical source he deemed worthy.
“I’d bite off the Beatles, or anybody else,” Clinton told Rolling Stone. “It’s all one world, one planet, and one groove.”
Parliament and Funkadelic were but two of Clinton’s ever-growing cadre of groups, which included Maceo Parker Horny Horns, the all-female outfits Parlet and the Brides of Funkentstein, bassist Bootsy Collins and his Rubber Band and The P-Funk All-Stars. In the early 80s, after long, legal battles with record companies, Clinton became a solo artist, with his most successful single, “Atomic Dog” becoming one of the most iconic videos of all time. Clinton was also a force beyond touring and recording. He wrote the theme song to The Tracey Ullman Show, hosted the HBO series Cosmic Slop, and he appeared in several films including Prince’s Graffiti Bridge, and House Party. Clinton’s influence on pop music and hip-hop is massive. Prince, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur and Digital Underground have sampled, and have been inspired by his music, and Clinton was a major influence on the rock group, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Brit-rocker Thomas Dolby, among many others. Clinton also guest stars on the track, “Wesley’s Theory,” from Kendrick Lamar’s rap masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly, and in 2014 published his memoir, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?
When Clinton steps on the Newport stage, he’ll do so, with six decades of funk and Black rock under his belt, with a new generation of funkateers, poised to carry “The One” onward and upward. “This is to let them know that “Atomic Dog” and “Mothership Connection” are not the end of the story, Clinton told Consequence of Sound. “So when you see Medicaid Fraud Dogg, you’ll see Sir Nose is still out there … and Dr. Funkenstein is out here inoculating people with the funk.” Newport, get ready.
The 2018 Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Investment Managers takes place August 3 – 5 at Fort Adams State Park and the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino. Artists include Charles Lloyd’s 80th Birthday Celebration with three different bands; Pat Metheny with Antonio Sanchez, Linda May Han Oh, & Gwilym Simcock; Andra Day; George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic; Jon Batiste; R+R=NOW; Alicia Olatuja; Michel Camilo; Grace Kelly; Laurie Anderson & Christian McBride Improvisations with special guest Rubin Kodheli; and Roy Hargrove.
For tickets and additional information, go to www.newportjazz.org.