DAM FUNK INTERVIEWS GEORGE CLINTON: IT’S A BEAUTIFUL STINK!
Call it destiny, fate or simply the way things should be, but the Long Beach Funk Fest’s pairing this Labor Day of George Clinton and Dam-Funk made it seem obvious—why not ask Dam to interview George Clinton? 4,000 words later, this is the result: a true meeting of the minds between two generations of funksters. As Dam says below, get ready to go deep.
L.A. RECORD hit me up so instead of talking to a normal editor, you’re talking to somebody who knows about the funk as well, and been following it and waving the flag like yourself. It’s an honor again, brother. So I wanted to start off by mentioning we been follwing your music for years, all the great things you’ve done sonically and stylewise – so how do you feel about the state of funk in 2014?
I’m telling you, you’re gonna hear in another 6 weeks—we got our first funkadelic album in 33 years! I got a book coming out the same time: Brothas Be Like, Yo George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? And it’s also the first single off the album. Like you mentioned Sly Stone … he’s on at least 5 of the cuts. To answer the question, I feel great! Funk is—it’s time, it’s always been here. Hip-hop kept it going forward, electronic music kept it going forward, and now we gonna stick our nose back in there!
Deservingly so. Name some musicians you’re working with on the album and on this current tour.
All the people who are family is there. I got El DeBarge, Chico DeBarge, Scarface, Kim Burrell, Sly Stone … Funky Homosapien, Del, he’s on there. I got Tracey [a.k.a Treylewd] my son—
That’s a bad dude right there. The track ‘Personal Problems’ he made back in the day is incredible.
He’s all over this record! And his son Trizay is all over the record. My stepdaughter is all over the record—you know, I got married recently.
I heard a rumor you hooked up with Steve C. Washington [of Slave] again.
I’m always working with Steve! The Parliament album is coming out right after this.
You’re gonna hear a lot of him on that! Believe me—this album’s got 33 songs on it. And each one has their own story to tell.
And will it be on wax as well?
As well! As well! I’m sitting in the hotel with a turntable that plays wax only—it’s so good to hear that music played right there. The warmth … you don’t forget it, but you feel good when you hear it again.
I understand. Who’s handling the artwork on this particular juncture?
Pedro Bell did the album and Overton Lloyd did the book. On the road, my granddaughters they’re on the road with me, Tracy and them are on the road with me.
How about your artwork?
I’m still dabbling! I got sidetracked into this album over the last nine months, so I haven’t had a lot of time to do art. I’ve been like living in the studio.
I understand. On the artwork tip, how can readers actually purchase some of your art?
firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out flashlight2013.com. The story on legal hassles.
So over the years, George, you’ve blessed us with different eras of funk, sonically as well. What made you emphasize the importance of the ‘clap’ being turned up louder than other songs in the 70s?
I don’t know, that was one of those moments—that was on ‘Flash Light,’ and that was also the first time a synthesizer did the bassline. That gave us the concept of ‘1’ being so hard, with the bassline being like—Bernie was playing and Larry Graham—and the funkiest thing would be to add the backbeat in there kinda like Motown would do with the tambourine, or they’d beat on something to make the backbeat really hard? I thought on ‘Flash Light’ since the bass was first time on a synthesizer and the ‘1’ is always emphasized, we know that … let’s give ‘em a backbeat of ‘2’ that was so hard when you run your hand across the record, you’d feel a lump on the record.
I intended for the bass and the handclaps to be abnormally loud.
That’s phenomenal. It really influenced a lot of dancers too at that time. A lot of the pop-lockers, especially on the West Coast, they would pop to that clap—
—they’d LEAN on it! Especially like on ‘More Bounce To The Ounce.’ By the time we did ‘Flash Light,’ ‘One Nation’ and ‘Knee Deep,’ we had it perfected. So when we did ‘More Bounce,’ even Roger [Troutman of Zapp] didn’t know what I was talking about cuz we’d loop something and then he’d start sampling that. We looped that first little piece off another one of his songs and made that the groove—and then had him play. And he didn’t know what … to him was just a jam, but we colored it so much with his Wes Montgomery jazz licks and all kinds of things he did on his show that had been incorporated in the groove—you couldn’t hurt that groove, I don’t care what you put on that. That groove was so definite with that bassline and those handclaps.
And to clarify for the readers, that was a Mothership thang right? That whole Zapp first album. That was the Mothership, that was P-Funk?
Roger was to be our first artist of substance on the Uncle Jam label. We did ‘More Bounce To The Ounce’ for him, we got him a deal—we were like, ‘Just make up a name!’ ‘Zapp.’ And we drew that album cover right in the studio. With ‘More Bounce,’ I just knew we were on such a roll. There wasn’t no doubt that record was gonna do what it did.
It was a phenomenal jam and it influenced a lot of musicians just to go harder on the next level of funk. It was such a great moment and it stands the test of time. Is it correct Bootsy Collins was on drums or is that a wrong fact?
That’s not … It was Roger’s brother [Zapp Troutman] who played drums on that. Not Bootsy. It’s that same loop that starts ‘Funky Bounce.’ All I did was take it off of there and loop it.
There’s a lot of funk urban myths out there. That’s a good one to clarify. Around then you’d got into the label Uncle Jam, and that was very influential—
That’s what Roger was supposed to come out on. That’s what separates everything. When he didn’t put out … you know the one with ‘Grapevine’ on it? That’s when everything fell apart. That record was done for Uncle Jam’s, and he ended up taking it to Warner Brothers. After we had paid for it.
Things like that happen and get twisted in the sauce sometimes, but the most important thing is it came out and we all know your legacy is all over it.
You’ll hear all the details of those stories in the book—all of that is part of the book. All what happened with Roger, Bootsy, Parliament Funkadelic and it’s still going on to this day. You’ll hear a lot about it in the news in the next two months. All the way to Supreme Court.
And what’s the title of the book, one more time?
Brothas Be Like, Yo, George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? It goes like [sings]: ‘Brothas be like, “Yo, George, ain’t that funkin’ kinda hard on you?” / I was hard when I started, gonna be hard when I get through.’
Yeah, yeah, yeah—that’s what I’m talking about! We’ve been getting great reports of the live shows—are you guys using electric sound claps at the shows?
No, we used to do that five or six years ago. It’s a hybrid of everything, all the music that comes through us. We do ‘Testify,’ like the original version. It’s such the hybrid, it’s almost like theatre. People have plugged into it in a way that we don’t even understand. We usually know the crowd, but now it’s like bubblegum!
Old people acting like teenagers! And then you got teenagers acting like older people of that time! You got a lot of teenagers there, hip-hop or otherwise, there’s something going on in the media—throughout Europe, at every show, was filled up. We used to be on top of shit, we’d beat people up—we’d beat people to death! Now we’re trying to play catch-up to their expectations!
What was your reasoning behind the way you progressed into space topics? And the universe? And those concepts you incorporated as you went forward from the mid-70s and the 80s? Where did that influence come from?
I was a Trekker. I liked the Star Trek! It was from the psychedelic era of the 60s, and you’d travel a lot in like that Orion zone, with the Dogons and all the different tribes that say they come from different planets. So all that stuff, all that information … you mix it up with some R&B. After we did Chocolate City, and made the experience of a black man in the White House—which we got—we felt back then we said why stop at the White House? Let’s go into outer space! Black was hip. To this day, it’s still the dominant groove. With hip-hop being around the entire planet. Every country has its version of hip-hop. And that is the epitome of blackness! When you can play the dozens and become a billionaire … fuck the dumb shit! Forget all we think we know about what’s right, wrong, cool, all that shit! We just only realized that we ARE that power! We just got to catch up to our own cuz it is already THERE!
It took the ghetto to get it out into the raw. We played the dozens for a reason all our life. That was so we didn’t have to kill nobody for calling us a name.
So for some reason, talking shit has made everybody … whatever that groove is! Have you read that book Mumbo Jumbo’? Check it out—by Ishmael Reed. It’ll give you the essence of what I think funk is, and that groove that makes us talk shit, ditty bop, hip-hop, be-bop, whatever we wanna do, doo-wop … whatever, ‘swag,’ they call it now. Everybody walk with a swag. But that groove … everybody wants some of it.
Of course—when you talk about the blackness of it, it’s really important that you stay and maintain that aspect of it because—
That’s what I’m talking about! The blackness of it. That is all that that is. And we are more ashamed of it ourselves, a lot of the time. While other people be snatching it up! I guess we might have to put a cover on it cuz rhythmically we can get ridiculous! That’s why we can say super ridiculous shit and show that it can be done groovy and still be stupid as hell! Like ‘Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad’ … that’s one of the most beautiful love songs we ever did! But we just messed all over it beautifully.
Got you—it’s a beautiful stink!
Frank Zappa used to do the same thing.
He was another great artist—I’m sure influenced by you and vice versa.
Miles Davis … all those ones who just wanna do something so different, they break all the rules and just go anywhere!
That’s why we love you. The visions you gave us and the concepts really made us dream and think more and further. That’s why I touched on the space aspect. Even though you said we get stupid on it, it was very smart at the same time. From a lot of funkster’s perspective … you really did go deep.
Some of it comes from saying, ‘I don’t even know myself!’ I don’t claim to know what the fuck I was talking about, but I must’ve been thinking about something weird, whether it was Star Trek or overemphasizing things I’d seen in the 60s or whatever … I just put ‘em in the pot! They came over as my theories, but they sound pretty good to me now! Before I always considered it clowning, and I think it’s best that I did cuz I wasn’t into no talking about it. Just what if? If that’s the way it is, so be it. I just didn’t get involved with it other than bring it up. My thing was, ‘Think! It ain’t illegal yet!’ My job was to make you think about it! I ain’t go no point of telling you how it is—so long as myself, I don’t think I know!
So you never experienced anything in person?
Oh yeah! That’s my own … whether it was hallucinations, whether it was high, but I’ve experienced things when I wasn’t high that I know was not of our everyday normal shit and I’ve talked about that. The light coming out of the sky that covered me and Bootsy? Definitely, for like three minutes, the thing happened—over the space of about two or three miles—and the light ended by hitting the car and rolling off the car like mercury out of a thermometer. Yes, I’ve experienced things!
That’s what I want to know—do you feel or remember that you’ve been actually talked to or contacted by some higher force?
No, but Bootsy and I both figured out we lost all of that day. We got to somewhere between 9 and 10 in the morning, but when this thing first saw us, it was like clear day light. And in less than two minutes, we got off the highway. And the light we saw again came down through the trees, and the third one hit the car and the streetlights were going off and so was the car in back of us. But no lights should have been on anywhere—cuz the first one we saw was in daylight! We didn’t pay any attention to making logic out of it. We just got outta there! And it took us ten years to think about. We left Detroit at six in the morning, takes about four hours to get to Toronto … what was the streetlights doing going out? And when I got to my house, my daughter said, ‘You all look like you’ve seen a ghost. Gimme a kiss cuz I’m about to go to bed!’ We never questioned none of that for ten years.
Around what album was that?
Check this out—it was right after we finished mixing Mothership Connection!
Amazing! That’s what I’m talking about, the mysteries we don’t pay attention to!
We weren’t about to even play with that! I was doing enough drugs not to wanna … I didn’t need no real paranoia! I could live with paranoia I bring on myself by getting high, but if I have to deal with something I ain’t got nothing to do with … I can’t take the blame for that!
George—do you believe there are other life forms or a higher power than us in the universe to this day?
Oh come on—oh shit, you know it! That’s without a doubt.
There’s a supreme being somewhere. We may call it different names, different this, it may speak this language or if you’re supreme you’re speaking all. I don’t see why we should find it hard to understand there’s got to be something somewhere. We can relate the logic and reasoning but it starts somewhere. Whatever that somewhere is, is that supreme entity.
Do you believe there is empowerment in funk and the ideology of funk music? For us?
Oh yes—music itself has that healing thing. And groove music specifically. You find it in church, all kinds of things, and that is the essence of funk. When you pick up a tambourine and jam. You can do basic, do the best you can and funk it—that’s where funk starts. Yeah, it’s a healing thing, a powerful thing. I never wanted to be leader of nothing! I’m a fan of the funk myself. It’s too good to stop and tally in one spot for a day! So I like the funk and I like to funk.
When you were at the pinnacle of the Mothership reigning the scene—the heyday of everything—how did you feel about groups like Slave and One Way and those type of fun outfits?
Both of those were really close to us, and not just cuz of funk records. Slave, they had a lot to do with our records later on. ‘Do Fries Go With That Shake,’ that’s Steve Washington. I was glad they was getting ready. I thought there’d be a genre. Gap Band was smoking it. And Ohio Players, I was hoping they’d do what they did cuz they was the bomb.
Look what happened—you got Junie Morrison out of that.
And they did their biggest records after they left! What Junie was doing, he went crazy with it. You know there had to be a supreme something-something to spread it out like that. When Junie come with us, we go into deep funk, ‘One Nation’ and ‘Knee Deep.’
I remember a story about Bernie Worrell and Junie Morrison excited about breaking open new instruments and playing ‘One Nation’ for the first time—
For One Nation, we got a whole bunch of stuff from Yamaha. We bought a bunch of it and they gave us a bunch. And opening up the box for the first time … Junie, Bernie and a kid named [Doug] Duffey. When Garry [Shider] was jamming on the ‘One Nation’ thing, that groove got so hot … so hot that everybody was like right there playing it, and that was like … probably the last session we did with everything as a band.
I’m dealing with this myself in my era as I record and try and keep the funk alive: was there any competition or lighthearted competition with other artists? For instance Earth, Wind and Fire?
[laughs] Yes! Yes, definitely. With Earth, Wind and Fire particularly. Right when we got Chocolate City out and it was just beginning to do alright, they wouldn’t let us play a couple of gigs.
So we did Take It To The Stage, we said it! As opposed to being mad at ‘em about it. We were goofing with ‘em about it. That’s what hip-hop was doing. Playing the dozens with a different cadence. It was definitely about a punchline and making people laugh at you.
Did you ever become cool—or that’s probably too harsh of a description, but did you all ever leave that competitiveness alone?
We never did it on that stage—it just drifted off. We did it only on the record. We never did it on the stage. If we wasn’t headlining, we’d get off two or three minutes before we were supposed to. We knew that one from the 50s and 60s when you’d have five groups on a show. You learn that respect really good when the headliner gets his spot—you try and make sure the headliner works, and the headliner makes sure yours works. Don’t start compete cuz otherwise the headliner gonna turn them others down on you, and you gonna take all the time on them, and that’s what a lot of ‘em ran into. What I called trying to be Sly Stone. Most of em didn’t know how to do that. Sly Stone and Miles Davis are the only two muthafuckas I know that can be on stage and be like ‘cool rude’ and people like it. They was qualified and good and people’d say, ‘Told you that muthafucka wasn’t coming!’ and pay that money to go see him! Everybody can’t do that! I used to tell Rick, ‘Come on, man, you cool but you ain’t Sly, man!’
Rest in peace to him—did Rick James ever do shows with you all? Were you all cool?
We was cool—he was always end up mad about Bootsy or somebody. But he auditioned for us in 73 or 4? Before he went to Motown—Jeffrey Barnes who took him to Motown had us when we did our Invictus album, Osmium. He’s the one who found Rick James. Rick’s from Buffalo, you know. Mike [Hampton]’s wife is from Buffalo. He was part of that family. He auditioned, and that’s what he’d always tell me—‘You flunked the audition with the funk!’ and he’d crack up.
What did you guys think about Prince when he burst on the scene? And before you answer that, I did a record with Steve Arrington, and I was riding around with Steve and he was telling me that when ‘Sexy Dancer’ came on the radio when him and the band were on tour, everybody just looked at each other like … silent. They just couldn’t believe it. They looked at each other like, ‘Well, the game is about to change.’ How did you feel?
Pretty much the same. We knew that he was beginning to be that. I didn’t know what to think when I first heard it, but we’re the ones who took it to the stations in Detroit—Electrifying Mojo who was the one that broke it around the world. So we knew that it was gonna be the shit. He was like one of us—he’d get on the side of the stage and watch Bootsy. You knew he paid that much attention and to this day he’s still a bad motherfucker.
He has a lot of respect and a lot of love for you and P-Funk and all the cats, and it’s good to see him AND yourself still out there representing this, man—I’m telling you, George, there’s a lot of us out here that really do believe in the precedents you laid and we really respect everything you done. I never want you to ever think as time goes on that people just went super-nuts over only hip-hop. There’s still a lot of young cats that follow funk. The album covers, the posters, the music—we still ride around to that.
It needs that. The time always flips. And there’ll be a time when they need a new batch of that. They gonna need musicians to play that with one finger!
That’s a true point. Over the years, I think more people would be doing funk if the stuff wasn’t taken out of school and the instruments being taught—
—right! Trust me—we got to find new ways of making that schooling available. Kids need that.
Yes. Most definitely. What’s a record of yours you would have liked to record differently than it came out?
The Paisley Park Records release, The Cinderella Theory album—I really wish I’d have done that at United, like I did most of the other albums.
Last one—Long Beach Funk Festival is coming up this Labor Day—is there anything we could look out for?
Tell everybody bring two booties cuz we got that doo-doo!
And are there any updates on the Mothership being put in the Smithsonian?
All of this is leading up to the Smithsonian when the Mothership will be displayed next year—the album, the book and the Parliament album is all leading up to the Mothership at the Smithsonian. And/or us at the Supreme Court with this law case.
OK, I’m gonna let you go to your doctor’s appointment, but we won’t mention that—
No, put that in there! I want that in there! I’m going to get my medical marijuana!
Alright brother George—keep funkin’, man. We love you. Peace!
My pimp hat just fell off! OK, man!
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