by Chris Stevenson
Thursday nite July the 16th, George Clinton came back to Buffalo (a city he and his band have invaded countless times) and gave thousands of onlookers a sonic attack to be remembered. The free concert at the downtown Square started two hours later than scheduled, but if you know anything about Clinton, that’s early (caught them in ’93, they were later than that). By the time I got off the train and heard the roar of the crowd, I knew it was on. Parliament/Funkadelic started off with “Funkentelechy” and like a streak of lighting another P-Funk extravaganza blasted off.
No, George didn’t bring his funky U.F.O. but most importantly he brought some veterans from back in the day; Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton (not exactly the 16-year-old wonder-kid anymore, but still badasshell), even wore the bridal gown on the first few songs while piercing our eardrums with his guitar. The new young protegee; guitarist/bassist/percussionist/keyboardist RonKat Spearman. was also present displaying his amazing skills And though I can’t believe I slapped hands with a guy wearing diapers, who else could it be but George’s present longest tenured musician Guitarist/Songwriter Gary “Starchild” Shider, (Shider joined Parliament back when they were on Invictus Records) vocalist Michael “Clip” Payne and of course Clinton pretty much rounded out the longtime-veterans accompanied by a large cast of relative newcomers; Spearman, Bassist Lige Curry, Carlos “Sir Nose” McMurray and Gene “Poo-Poo Man” Anderson and a fleet of singers and musicians.
One of the more pleasant aspects of the show to me was how some of the songs actually sounded like the studio recording. This was true for “One Nation Under a Groove,” “Up For the Down Stroke,” “Cosmic Slop,” “Atomic Dog,” and “Hit it and Quit it.” Your pointman worked his way up through the throngs of Devil-sign waving fanatics and stationed himself near a stack of amps for most of the evening. I mean, I knew George was going to let his guitar-dogs out after the climax of “Bounce to This” and “Cosmic Slop,” but once Hampton ditched the gown and returned for the 15-minute guitar solo “Maggot Brain” in regular street gear, I knew the heavy metal was going to thunder. Only hardcore old-schoolers understand how Funkadelic-led by the immortal Eddie “Maggot Brain” Hazel, Lucius Tawl Ross (lead & rhythm guitars), Micky Atkins (organ), Bill Nelson (bass) and Ramon “Tikki” Fullwood (drums) preceded Ozzy Osborne, Kiss, Marilyn Manson and rivalled Led Zeppllin, Osborne’s Black Sabbath, The Mother’s of Invention and Jimi Hendrix.
A blast from the past; the late-great Eddie Hazel and Mike Hampton bang out “Maggot Brain.”
Deeper still was the R&B group known as the Parliaments who-according to a radio interview I conducted with author/hip hop historian S. H. Fernando-signed a contract with Motown back in ’62. This was comprised of young Clinton (he was reportedly 15 when he formed the group during the ’50’s) and several of his buddies (“Fuzzy” Haskins, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas, latter day ex-Temptation Ray Davis etc.) from his barbershop days in Jersey. During the period between Motown and Revilot, Parliament had at some point included some teenage instrumentalists and eventually joined a label formed by Motown’s most successful songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland; Invictus. This was during the psychedelic era, Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone and the Chamber Brothers and even jazz trumpeter Miles Davis were either already doing this new underground rock or fusing rock and R&B (or jazz in Davis’ case) to form funk.
George had his boys primed and ready as they followed the blueprint of their alter-ego Funkadelic; even making themselves available as an Invictus house-band on 2 albums by Ruth Copeland, and 1 by Chairman of the Board (“The Skin I’m In,” recorded in ’72, released in ’75) during the period when George was using a lot of strings and harps for Funkadelic’s amazing 2-album set “America Eat’s It’s Young.” I used to tell my buddies back then, that even though singing groups were still popular, the ’70’s was going to be the era of the bands for black music. I was right. Even the Isley’s became a band.
Westbound Records, which carried Funkadelic from the late ’60’s to late ’70’s, had a studio known for a flat sound quality. When Clinton replaced Atkins with the phenomenal Bernie Worrell; a classically trained keyboardist, it added color that helped mask over the flat acoustics. Worrell’s performance on “America” was uncanny and it was the first album that featured the Collins brothers; Bootsy (bass) and Phelps (guitar). George would add some horns to the band and would use them exclusively for upcoming Parliament albums. By this time they signed with Clive Davis’ Arista Records (Casablanca ’74), eventually plundering James Brown’s band again for more musicians later (Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley).
Clinton and his boys had something for everyone that Thursday and some hearing loss for this writer that lasted well into the next day. “Pussy” (the song OK) and “Red Hot Mama,” sealed the deal. After the show “Clip” Payne told me he goes deaf every night (Payne’s been singing for P-Funk for 32 years). You know what? It’s all good, I’d do the same thing over again.
Chris Stevenson is a syndicated columnist, this is a reprint of a 4/29 article in the Buffalo Challenger. Respond to him at the link below