George Clinton is not alone play funk – he lives it.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer earned his rightful place in the pantheon of funk gods alongside James Brown and Sly Stone with a five-decade career as the mastermind behind Parliament-Funkadelic. Widely sampled and critically revered, Clinton’s rise from Motown staff songwriter to leading figure was not without its fair share of indulgence.
While Clinton’s drug of choice rivaled Hunter S. Thompson’s for variety for years, the 76-year-old has found he is now turning to cannabis for inspiration and medicine.
“I’m getting an education on this shit,” Clinton says from his home in Tallahassee, Florida. “We still don’t know everything marijuana can do, but I have no doubt they wouldn’t have withheld it from us as long as it wasn’t important.”
Clinton, a keynote speaker at the 2017 New West Summit in Oakland from October 15-17, said he was far from surprised that cannabis is now being legalized in states across the US, but that he thought it should have happened a long time ago.
“Shit, I thought we licked it in ’69 and ’70,” he says. “I think I took it for granted that it would be legal a long time ago. I didn’t think it would take this long.”
While Clinton isn’t using much of the new technology that has ushered in the current cannabis boom — “I’m old-fashioned,” he says — he endorses the concept of marijuana as a medicine, especially given the terrifying reality surrounding current legal prescription drugs.
“We need to fight legal drugs now,” he says. “Man, we’ve waited so long for legal drugs to be the ones that suck. Prescription drugs are sold on the street and on the black market. I mean, damn it! People have a lot of trouble getting rid of the shit they’re about to sell you.”
“Growing up, we were dealing with Bayer aspirin, Tylenol, and Bufferin on TV,” he adds. “Now we need to see ads for drugs that will bring demons to you, kill you – any warnings they put on that stuff will terrify you unless you’re looking for something to fuck off on, like they do on the street.”
Parliament and Funkadelic are bands that consist of the same group of musicians, but played slightly different types of music (and were signed to different record labels). And Parliament’s origins date back to the doo-wop of the 1950s. But for someone whose first album with Parliament, Osmium, was released in 1970, Clinton is remarkably in tune with today’s music. He has worked with rapper Kendrick Lamar, producer and musician Flying Lotus and bassist Thundercat.
Clinton says he doesn’t need to seek out these artists because the power of funk brings them to him.
“They’re basically P-Funk bands. They are Funkadelic’s grandchildren,” he says. “[Childish] She and Gambino – when they were making their album – came out and said they sampled “Maggot Brain.” He came to Tallahassee with Kendrick Lamar to explain what they were up to. With Flying Lotus I knew as soon as I heard the record. It was like, “Okay, you know what you’re talking about.” Ice Cube? The same. He got a band that sounds like we sounded in 1980. I keep in touch with all the people who stay in touch with the funk.”
Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label will release Clinton’s new album with Parliament, a record focused on the fight for affordable drugs titled Medicaid Fraud Dog.
It is an issue Clinton takes very seriously.
“The album is really about how to get free medicine,” he explains. “They should make that mandatory. They now use health in the same way as you protect on the street with police and military. They sell it to you. They sell you your health. Medicines should be free.”
One thing no one should worry about is the energy at a George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic live show.
After the release of Clinton’s memoir in 2014, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You, the artist says he sees a renewed interest in his concerts. While in town for New West Summit, Clinton and his musical family will be putting on two shows at San Francisco’s Independent, and fans should be ready to dance.
“Music is the ultimate drug,” he says. “We still know how to get people up, turning them around so they get to where we want them to be. It’s about getting them crunk, turning, fucked up and partying. If you put them in that frame of mind, then you’ve passed.”
After recently weathering Hurricane Irma at his Florida home, Clinton acknowledges that natural and political forces combined to make 2017 a rough year. Fortunately, he knows exactly what the doctor would order when things look bleak.
“Now the funk is most needed. You can tell when people stop smiling, when they don’t make eye contact or go completely silent,” he says. “When you feel that tension, you need funk! There is no other language. You have to be the loudest person in the world. Get a groove on, because we’re going to party, and the tension will be broken.”
New West Summit
Thursday, October 13 through Sunday, October 15 at Marriott City Center, Oakland.