GEORGE CLINTON, the Godfather of Funk, is taking it easy. Last month he went to the doctor thinking he had vertigo and discovered he needed a pacemaker. They popped it in and he was home in no time. ‘We back at it,’ laughs the 76-year-old leader of the Parliament-Funkadelic collective — a man up there with the late James Brown and Sly Stone in the funk royalty stakes.
Although he and his band tour a lot, and give it their all on stage, George relishes his peaceful home life in Tallahassee, Florida, where he’s lived since the late 1990s. ‘I live in the country,’ he says. ‘It’s nice and quiet. I stay out of trouble, sittin’ looking out of the back yard at the birds, chillin’ in the countryside, going fishing. I fish a lot.’
Officer Dibbles, the pet pig the band toured with back in the day, is long gone — but a cat called Yin Yang is eyeballing him as we speak.
It’s a world away from some of the crazy days he’s experienced over the five decades of his career. One story in particular still makes him chuckle. It was 1976, and he and his band were playing a gig at the University of Oklahoma in support of their album, Mothership. During a song called The Girl Is Bad, a woman ambled up the aisle, eventually getting on stage while smoking a joint. Then she took her overalls off.
‘She had no drawers on. She was butt naked,’ says George in his deep Southern drawl, before laughing naughtily.
‘She took another hit of the joint, scooted around, bent over and put the joint up her butt. Three smoke rings came out, and people started screamin’ and stompin’. We weren’t able to do the show from then on because we were laughin’ so much.’
While George’s home life is chilled, keeping up to date with the music scene still gets him going. It always has. He started out in a doo-wop band in his teens, then became a staff songwriter for Motown in the 1960s.
In the 1980s he was producing albums for the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bootsy Collins, and the following decade hip-hop artists, including Dr Dre, started sampling his music.
Whether as a solo artist or with his bands, all named on a variation of Parliament-Funkadelic, he’s released dozens of albums, his most successful songs including Atomic Dog, Do Fries Go With That Shake and Loopzilla.
‘Nowadays, they’ve got the hip-hop, electronic music and that Dirty South sound,’ he says, when asked about how his own music has developed.
‘You have to be attuned to what is happening. I’ve done that three or four times, watching styles come and go. I can always incorporate styles into whatever’s going on. You have to learn how to participate in that, keep that old style together.’
There are so many family members in his current band (at least five grandchildren, as well as his son Tracey AKA Tra’zae) that it’s a challenge to nail down the exact number, but he loves having them around, bringing fresh sounds and rapping skills to the live act.
Because the whole set up is so diverse, he sees it as more of a play than a band.
And while he may be slowing down, and no longer in possession of those colourful trademark locks, this groovy old dude from North Carolina still lights up when describing the joy of funk.
‘It gives you the freedom to let go of all the pressures. You can let go of everything and be yourself, to hang loose. You can be all right with everybody. It’s funky to be able to change. The funk is whatever new comes along.’