Funk musician George Clinton

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The producer-writer-performer and one of the true innovators of pop music talks about his latest projects, including a memoir and a new CD.

With over 40 R&B hit singles, George Clinton has put his stamp on four decades of music. He's known for his dedication to funk as a musical form, his innovative albums and his multicolored concert attire, and many rappers confess they owe him a debt. The Grammy-winning architect of the Parliament and Funkadelic bands embarked on a solo career in 1981 and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and recognized for lifetime achievement by BMI. In his long-awaited memoir, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You?, Clinton shares his ride from barbershop quartet to funk music megastar. He's also dropping a new CD, "First You Got 2 Shake the Gate."

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: George Clinton is one of the great hit-makers of all time, working first in R&B before creating a sound known as funk, providing the DNA for hip-hop to thrive. He has been the leader and force behind two mega bands, of course, Parliament and Funkadelic. “Make my funk the p funk. I wants to get funked up. Make my funk the p funk. I wants my funk uncut.”

George Clinton: “I want the p funk.” Oh, you must have been there [laugh].

Tavis: Anyway, his strong musical roots go all the way back to high school where he formed a barbershop quintet and cut his teeth on doo wop. He has a new tome out now with a great title. You got to love this. “Brothas Be, Yo Like George…

Clinton: “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” It’s easier if you do like, brothas be, yo like George, ain’t that funkin’ kinda hard on you? I say I was hard when I started, I’ll be hard when I get through [laugh].

Tavis: You got it right. George, I’m honored to have you back on this program, man.

Clinton: I’m glad to be back.

Tavis: It’s good to see you. When I got into this – as a matter of fact, I wrote this down. I want to get this quote just right. “I kept the funk alive, but record labels kept all the money.”

Clinton: They kept all…

Tavis: “I kept the funk alive, but record labels kept all the money.”

Clinton: Do you remember when I came on your show before? I was out of my mind then, but I came with all the paperwork to all of the lawyers, all of the copyright material? I had to clean up my act just so I could come on your show clear and say we’re moving all the way to the Supreme Court right now.

We’re getting ready to go to the Supreme Court. All those samples of all that music, not the artists now. I’m tight with every one of those hip-hop artists. The record companies took the money from them, never gave it to us.

And anytime I say something about it, they make it look like I’m attacking the artists. So I really want to tell Dre, Snoop, Puffy and everybody, Jay-Z that I’m not the one that sued them. Matter of fact, I’m asking them to come forward to just – ’cause I’m going to the Supreme Court with this.

I don’t want to talk about just that. On page 379, that’s the key. You can find out why I really wrote the book ’cause I don’t feel like my story ain’t over, so I wouldn’t have been trying to write those books if I didn’t want to tell what’s happening in the copyright issues. They took the money from me. I was misbehaving, so they got me.

But now they’re trying to take from my heirs, from my grandkids and from the band members’ heirs and grandkids. That’s a different story. If you took it from me when I wasn’t paying attention, that’s my fault. But now, they’re going after the copyrights which is eternal, you know, and the Mothership is going in the Smithsonian now.

Tavis: I saw that. The Mothership at the Smithsonian, yeah.

Clinton: Yes. So the music itself should not be disrespected like that. I got my own lawyers suing me for a million and a half dollars protecting the other record companies that stole all the money. And then they pay all my lawyers to, you know…

Tavis: Come after you.

Clinton: Come after me. All of that starting at page 379, but the rest of it is Funkadelic, Parliament, Bootsy…

Tavis: What is it about your upbringing, about your being a child, a young adult that people should know if they really want to appreciate where all this comes from? What is it about your story as a child that they ought to know?

Clinton: Oh, that’s a good question. I mean, I started out wanting to be like anybody else, known for something. I started a baseball group. I couldn’t play. They put me on my own team [laugh]. I tried everything, you know.

I bought the gloves and the catcher’s – I mean, I tried, and I was about 13 then and I couldn’t do that. So I started Parliament at about 14 or 15 years old, grade school, New Jersey. From then on, I wanted to be Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Spaniels, The Flamingos.

Then when Motown came along, I managed to write letters to Smoky, to the publishing people, and I got a job. They didn’t even know who I was. They just thought I was cute in writing and sending my songs to them. Now the songs, they’re getting popular after all these years. But I tried so hard to be a star.

When we finally got to Detroit and did a record called “I Just Wanna Testify” and it became a hit, from then on I wanted to be like Motown. Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy, the Horny Horns, the brass, the Parlet, Ed Hazel – it was just a family and I’m still doing that to this day. That’s the way I keep going.

Tavis: But your sound was – I love Berry Gordy. My dear friend, The Chairman, was just here on this very chair not long ago. But your sound’s a little funkier than Motown.

Clinton: Oh, no. I took everybody’s thing and mixed them together. You know, Bootsy brought Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker and his brother. We had James Brown in our band. We had Motown in our band. Jimi Hendrix, New York together as kids, all of us in the Village and stuff. So we had that history with Eddie Hazel playing “Maggot Brain.” I just mixed everything together like a Motown. Instead of keeping them all separate, I mixed it together so you got something called “P Funk” which is pure funk, uncut funk, ain’t been stepped on, the bomb. You know what I’m saying [laugh]? I mean, every bit of that, I think we all know the communication then.

That was street language and everybody related to that. It became the background for our generation. After that, our kids picked up on it which is the Dres and the Snoops and the Tupacs and, you know, all of the next generation picked up on their mother’s and father’s music. They called it “go to the crates and get the record.” Leave my records alone! Stop scratching them!

Tavis: Don’t touch my records!

Clinton: But it was the DNA for hip-hop. We were looking to be part of that generation, our generation. Now the new generation is dance music and, if you got a butt, you’re gonna shake it. Matter of fact, we tell them to bring too booties ’cause one ain’t enough [laugh]. We got big! Matter of fact, the new album that goes with this book got 33 songs on it.

Tavis: Nobody’s done that, George.

Clinton: No. I had to do…

Tavis: Nobody does 33 songs on one record.

Clinton: I had to make a statement. I’m not going anywhere, I’m not going anywhere. So since I know they’re gonna pay attention to the book, and my main mission is to bring attention to this copyright stuff going on. I mean, they don’t intend to let this music be ours. You know what I’m saying?

It’s going to the Smithsonian, but they want it to be somebody’s – “One Nation,” of all songs that we’ve done is the one my own lawyer’s trying to take from me. “Knee Deep,” those two are like the holy grail of the funk. Not only the record company’s trying to take it, I paid him a million and a half dollars to protect it. He’s working for them.

Tavis: But I thought we were “One Nation Under a Groove.”

Clinton: I thought we were too, but that ain’t for real. They want “One Nation Under a Dollar.” That’s where they at and it’s a conspiracy between – ’cause so many records were sampled that they’re afraid now that I’m getting ready to do what this guy went down and sued 700 or 800 people in Nashville for my music on behalf of me. He didn’t give me any money. Now I might have to go there and do that same thing all over again.

Tavis: It’s just fascinating to me that you have people, one group of folk, in the country disrespecting and trying to take what’s rightfully yours. And on the other hand, the Smithsonian which is, you know, the quintessential governmental agency putting the Mothership in the museum.

Clinton: Right. And at the same time, these other people are going to the U.S. Copyright Office itself and go in there and change our name and you can do that. They don’t have any protection against you. We been to the senators, to the Congress people. They’re backing us. Bobby Rush, John Conyers, Sheila Jackson Lee, they been helping me for the last five years.

We couldn’t even get in there to look at the stuff, but they were going in there changing our name. Matter of fact, they’re getting ready to give me an award to – I guess I been such a headache, pain in the butt. My wife writes them all the time, writing everybody, getting on them about what’s going on.

Tavis: What’s sad about this story is that it happens to so many artists.

Clinton: That’s what sad…

Tavis: So many artists, yeah.

Clinton: With me, I’m 73 years old. I wouldn’t have nothing else to do anyway. I got rid of my habit, so, hey, you ain’t really got nothing to do. So this is my…

Tavis: You gave your habit to the junkman [laugh].

Clinton: I got a lawyer habit now. I gave my habit to the junkman? I sold it to him. I wasn’t buying nothing. You know what I’m saying? I got over that just so I could pay more attention…

Tavis: To the copyright issue.

Clinton: To the copyright issue. You know, I’m really thankful to them doing that ’cause I probably wouldn’t have paid no attention to the copyright issue if it hadn’t been that they’ve taken it from my heirs, my kids.

Tavis: Do you wish that you had figured this out, wised up about this, sooner?

Clinton: I mean, of course, but not that much. I’m glad I can do it now ’cause, at 73, you ain’t got much to do, but go fishing and get fat for real. But I’m still on the road. I have fun being on the road, but this give me something I can be passionate about. I was able to write a lot of songs, you know.

At this day and time to be able to do 33 songs for an album? And I got another Parliament album coming out in about four more months. So I’m busy and, like I said, “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” I was hard when I started, I’m gonna be hard when I get through.

Tavis: And there you have it [laugh]. The new book from George Clinton is out now. “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” You come up with the greatest titles, man, for songs, for books, anything.

Clinton: I had to fight them for the title. Just like when you read it, just like we had to fight for the titles of the records. I mean, I make it my business to try to make it – the title itself to make a statement, you know.

Tavis: Before I let you go, can I just tell you that it’s rotation in my car. This track that you and Kim Burrell did, oh, Lord.

Clinton: I gave it y’all first.

Tavis: I remember that, that Kim Burrell thing…

Clinton: Now wait till you hear it. Sly Stone is on it. On this album, Sly Stone is singing on that same song. We redid it with Sly Stone, Kim Burrell and myself.

Tavis: Oh, that’s too much right there, yeah. I got to go, y’all. I got to go put this record in right quick [laugh]. You got George Clinton, Kim Burrell and Sly Stone on the same track?

Clinton: On the same track. This album is a statement.

Tavis: I love you, George Clinton.

Clinton: Thank you, and I love you.

Tavis: Good to have you back, man, my man. That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: October 23, 2014 at 3:07 pm