Dropping the bomb on Santa Rosa
By Greg Cahill
"The '60s was a crazy, cool period," George Clinton once mused to writer Chip Stern. "It let us know that we could have an infinite number of alternative realities. Acid busted that shit wide open. But at the time, we tried too fast, so we got scared and jumped back. But now that we know what it is, we can sort of sneak up on it slowly."
No one's ever going to accuse the clownish Clinton--part songwriter, keyboardist, producer, and arranger; part hustler, preacher, poet, and pimp--of being shy.
This pivotal figure in the funk revolution inspired the hip-hop movement and influenced everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers--as producer, he put his indelible stamp on their 1985 breakthrough album Freaky Styley (EMI) and helped launch the punk-funk onslaught--to Public Enemy to Prince (in the days before he attained "the artist formerly known as" status).
Clinton is scheduled to bring his intergalactic grooves to Santa Rosa next week in a show produced by the locally based Mestizo organization. For local funk fans, it will be a chance to savor the original brother from another planet; Clinton canceled a local show last March after a nasty rift developed between his management and another local promoter.
For three decades, this former barber from Plainfield, N.J., has been the driving force behind the landmark Parliament/Funkadelic spinoffs. As a part of a street corner doo-wop group, the Parliaments, Clinton landed a contract with Motown and scored a hit single with 1967's "(I Wanna) Testify." Motown proved too confining, however, and Clinton began absorbing influences from Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and even Bob Dylan, all of whom informed his later work.
The result was a highly danceable sound that mixed searing psychedelic guitar ("Maggot-brain"), the funkified stylings of former James Brown sidemen like gonzo bassist Bootsy Collins and saxophonist Maceo Parker, synthesizer-laden R&B grooves, contagious pop hooks, black pride anthems ("Chocolate City"), and tripped-out sci-fi fantasy themes.
The culmination of that mid-period, The Mothership Connec-tion, produced the classic "Tear the Roof off the Sucker (Give up the Funk)" and led to concerts that featured Clinton and crew descending to the stage from a flying saucer, decked out in outlandish silver lamé space suits, and romping through bombastic stage shows that sometimes included as many as 45 performers, leading Village Voice writer Greg Tate to dub the shows "a cross between the Apollo and the circus."
But Clinton is more than the P. T. Barnum of funk. He has consistently delivered poignant social commentary cloaked in relentlessly danceable revelations like One Nation Under a Groove, "The Bomb," "Atomic Dog," and the delectable "Do Fries Go with That Shake?"
Don't be fooled by the kitschy clothes, Marilyn Monroe wigs, and buffoonish behavior--this cat is nothing short of a true pop genius leading one of the best rock bands on the planet.
George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars perform Friday, March 8, at 8:30 p.m., at Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave. Tickets are $25 advance, $30 at the door, and available at various independent record stores throughout the county. 539-1470.
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From the Feb. 28-Mar. 6, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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