Every Atomic Dog has its day. For George Clinton, that day’s gone on longer than anyone could’ve imagined. Decades after the Mothership landed on Earth, opening its shiny metallic hatch to reveal the smoky silhouette of the man nicknamed Dr. Funkenstein, Clinton continues to be a man ahead of his time. The extraterrestrial groovemaster of Parliament Funkadelic drafted the musical blueprint for generations of musicians, rappers and producers that followed him. But not even Clinton himself could’ve imagined the everlasting glory of the house that funk built, or that he’d still be around to see it over 40 years later.
This year the leader of P-Funk announced he’ll retire from touring in the spring of 2019, but not before giving it one last go, scheduling over 50 shows between North America, Europe and Japan. One of those stops is tonight at The Observatory where Clinton will bless us presumably one last time with his funky aura backed by a band filled with his family and friends who’ve been with him for years. 2018’s Medicaid Fraug Dogg, his first album in 38 years, is a 23-track opus to his sense of activism against Big Pharma as well as his spacey, raunchy, sci-fi filled imagination. Last year Clinton spoke with yours truly for an article about his ability to kick hard drugs with the help of cannabis for Dope Magazine. As you can expect we talked about much more, from his collaborations with Kendrick Lamar to the moment he decided to get clean and his commitment to keeping P-Funk’s touring band all in the family even after he’s retired.
What do you credit for your resurgence in popularity in recent years?
It started with the book Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin Kinda Hard on You? [in 2017.] And the Kendrick Lamar thing, that just started it off, now it’s blooming, we’re working with the Flying Lotus People, Brainfeeder, and right alongside with the book and the Mothership going in the Smithsonian [in 2017], it’s right where we planned it. We planned for all of it to come together just like this.
You might be the only artist to have a piece in the Smithsonian and still be collaborating with the hottest new artists in hip-hop.
The history is good and everything, but the fresh stuff we did has been accepted so well. Being relevant to work with Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Kendrick Lamar, even Louie Vega from the ‘90s, he was nominated again this year in 2017 [for the track “Aint’ That Funkin; Kinda Hard on You?”] for the remix of that song. So we’re nominated again in the Grammys. I’m having fun. ‘Cuz the whole things is to be able to reinvent myself enough to pay attention to the copyright fight that we have. And ain’t no way they’re gonna pay attention to that story unless I’m relevant again. It’s too much for them to want to dig into. It’s a big story with all the sampling and what the record companies have done, to do a documentary which is what we’re working on now. We’ve got all the legal side compiled and put together.
Why do you feel the Parliament Funkadelic sound has managed to endure for so many decades.
Funkadelic made it a point to not be in a bag. After releasing the song “Testify” in ‘67, I never wanted to have to follow up with another single. You’re outta the game quick if that’s where you’re head is at. Make a record that lasts as a record even if it doesn’t sell at first. The endurance of that record will pay off. We have records that didn’t sell 10 copies. Free Your Mind sold a few but it wasn’t no hit. None of em were hits until they were rediscovered. The rest of Maggot Brain was known and critically acclaimed but it didn’t have no distribution to get it around the world until years later cuz we toured so much they became hits. Cosmic Slop looks like it was a hit record. And it was a hit record…20 years later.
What is it like for you to be a pioneer still doing your style of music after we’ve lost so many great ones including Prince, David Bowie, Bernie Worrell, etc.?
It gives me a good excuse to stay around. When I hear Donald Glover…they went through the same thing we went through, trying to impress Smokey Robinson or the people at Motown, we wanted to be around them so bad because we wanted to be a part of that. We did everything we could to learn the Motown theory. They did the same thing with funk. They learned the producers, the artists, the recording process. They’ve been in it and they respect it–whether it’s Kendrick or Ice Cube…Too Short can tell you more about the funk then I can. They studied it so much that I have fun talking to them cuz it makes me have to answer their questions, like “Where was I at?” Most of the time I was fucked up. But it’s good wiggling through all of that and looking back at now that I’m clean. It’s a good brain exercise to see “Just what do you remember? Did you fuck up your brain fo real?” I feel alright. Somedays I don’t, but I’m just glad I stopped. Cuz it took up my time more than anything else. I definitely wasn’t high. But I spent a lot of energy trying. Once that’s off of you, that’s the beautiful part. I can go to sleep at 8 o’clock and not really even think about it. Before that I’d be up all night chasing shit.
What moment in your life forced you to make a change in your lifestyle?
I got sick in LA and had to go to the hospital. And I don’t normally get sick. I done been through everything and taken every type of medicine but I don’t get sick. But the [drugs] that I had was no good, I gave it away, so I knew I wasn’t gonna do it no more, I just gave it to somebody. I went to the hospital and I said please keep me overnight. And they kept me for four or five days. And that was enough time to get enough rest. Cuz you need energy to really stop. And when you stop you need some rest first, then you can actually think about stopping. Once that happened…I had an inside joke with myself, like “I’m gonna change and nobody’s even gonna know I’m changing. I’m gonna be so far gone away from my old self before anybody even notices.” I told people around me that’s the mission. What we doing is a book, an album with 33 songs, a documentary, everything that looks like we been working. And it was two or three years before people say “You really ain’t doing nothin?” by that time we had all this shit coming out. To me it’s a good inside joke, I knew that if they didn’t know that I had cleaned up to that extent, I could catch a lot of the people I was fighting with–the record companies, the lawyers–they didn’t clean up shit because they figured I was still a crackhead so they could do everything sloppy and that’s what the documentary is gonna expose because there’s no way they could clean up the shit that they’ve done.
How has family been important to you and your career?
You can see now I got all the kids on the stage with me. My wife, she brings all the families together, she’s a family oriented person, her family’s got five generations together. I’ve always been on the road so my family I’m close to ’em but I didn’t have them around me because I was on the road all the time, through her I got all of them around. They always worked with me, some of them on the stage, but not like it is now. We got five grandkids on the stage, my daughter, my son Tracy, three of his kids, my other daughter is a manager and my granddaughter is the road manager. Now it’s really going good because everyone’s got the spirit. And they’re into different types of music so I had to get them all in through Funkadelic. If I can help you, I can only help you if you’re here. You can do whatever you wanna do but you have to do it through here. I got a grandson rockin’ out into metal, granddaughters do R&B, one does hip-hop, and we got Gary Schieder’s son playing guitar. Family is all throughout.
Are you still paying attention to the new music coming out?
We try to pay attention to whatever the new music is that gets on your nerves, but if it’s working with the little 12, 13, 14 year olds, we try to hear that quick, cuz by the time they get to be 18 it’s gonna be full fledged and if you wait that long, they gonna be gone. But if you hear it coming you can meet ‘em by the time they get to be 18 and 19 and be right on time with ‘em. With pop music you can look on Disney channel and see what’s gonna be next with the pop sound. The same thing happens with street music. Mumble rap, I heard it when it first started, after the Lil Waynes and the Drakes and the Kendricks, that’s what’s next. They have a whole bunch of that in Atlanta and they can do it with any subject, always have been able to, cuz they into dancing at a real early age. You can tell what’s gonna be the new thing by 14.
George Clinton performs with Fishbone tonight at The Observatory, 8 p.m., $25. For full info click here.