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BLACK MUSIC MONTH: MOMMY, WHAT'S
A FUNKADELIC?

Prior to the explosion of funk bands in the 1970s, a singer-songwriter in his late 20s decided to relaunch his doo-wop group, The Parliaments, and infuse it with the new Black aesthetic of funk. George Edward Clinton, born in a Kannapolis, N.C., outhouse in 1941 (so the story goes), knew funk when he smelled it. A minor songwriter for Motown in the late 1960s, Clinton got his first taste of success with “(I Wanna) Testify,” a 1967 Parliaments hit. He sang the track solo, rounding out the soul song with session players. For touring, he enlisted guitarists Eddie Hazel and Tawl Ross, bassist Billy Nelson and drummer Tiki Fulwood. A label dispute ensued, and Funkadelic rose from the ashes of the contractually enjoined Parliaments.

1970’s Funkadelic and Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow, both largely defined by the guitar histrionics of Brooklyn-born Hazel and classically trained keyboardist Bernie Worrell, played off the psychedelic rock revolutionized by Jimi Hendrix and the soulful lyricism of Sly Stone. Orchestrator Clinton stood at the center of Funkadelic’s many lineup changes through Maggot Brain (1971), the politically tinged America Eats Its Young (1972), Cosmic Slop (1973) and Standing on the Verge of Getting It On (1974). Fresh from James Brown’s band and full of lessons about landing on the one, bassist William Earl “Bootsy” Collins and guitarist Phelps “Catfish” Collins joined Funkadelic in ’72—after lending funk to JB classics like “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing,” “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” “Soul Power” and “Super Bad.”

There was a dark, raunchy, insurrectionary and often despairing energy to the early Funkadelic recordings on Detroit’s Westbound label, roiled by the PTSD of Vietnam, racism, poverty and smack. But after this division of the P-Funk superstructure inked to Warner Bros., it eventually morphed into an engine of funk-rock uplift, with jams like “Good to Your Earhole,” “Let’s Take It to the Stage” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep” serving as paving stones toward Funkadelic’s apotheosis, “One Nation Under a Groove.” That 1978 triumph, from the album of the same name, became a manifesto for countless creators and disaffected kids of all colors and kinds—and a utopian vision of community cohesion through the almighty groove.

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