If like me, you like your funk pure, un-cut and nasty, then you are aware of funky dealer, Dr. Funkenstein, defender of the pleasure principle, George Clinton. From a babershop quartet in Michigan to creating a universe that is P-Funk, George and Co., (Parliament Funkadelic, The Horny Horns, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Bernie Worrell, Kid Funkadelic, Mike Hampton, The Parlets, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Junie Morrison to name only an sillimillimeter out of a killameter) have seen some serious action. George was in London recently and Clash magazine caught up with him. I have heard about the book he is putting together, detailing his trials and tribulations especially when it comes to the ‘record business’ and the shady lawyers, publishers and managers that have fleeced him and his co-horts for more than a pretty penny. He’s fighting back though, and fighting hard, as detailed right off the tip as you’ll see from the interview.
George Clinton – Clash Interview (in full)
We’re thrilled to meet the lysergic genius who, along with James Brown and Sly Stone, pioneered that dirty bastard offshoot of soul we call funk; the psychedelic wizard who masterminded Parliament and Funkadelic, and coined the term P-Funk to define the very genre he conceived; the bear-like bandleader that wrote ‘One Nation Under A Groove’, ‘Cosmic Slop’ and ‘Atomic Dog’, and laid himself open to sampling by anyone who required a deep groove, including Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac and, more recently, Earl Sweatshirt. But, things go distinctly pear-shaped barely 20 seconds into our conversation.
A question about George’s first forays into the business as The Parliaments, a doo-wop group in New Jersey, is our opening gambit. But just as George’s memory begins to happily regress, we are rudely interrupted by his manager, who storms into our serene studio set-up brandishing a laptop, and asks Clash to excuse ourselves.
After several awkward minutes of shuffling around in the next room, trying politely not to hear the raised voices, we return to our interrogation seat. George is visibly irate. The conversation, he tells us, was with his lawyer, who was calling from a US court to update his client on the latest developments in one of many active suits George is involved in. Exploding with frustration and intent on being heard, this topic dominates the majority of our interview time, as George goes on to explain the reasons behind his wrath. And it gets complicated…
“If I could start all over, but with what I know now…” George sighs, shaking his head. “It’s hard to say that to a kid who wants to sing and wants to play instruments – you’re so hyped to go do it that shit don’t usually matter. You have no thoughts about it. You know people are crooked – you hear that all the time – but you don’t [think you’re gonna get screwed].”
He’s entangled in battles to retain the publishing rights to his own songs, to prosecute the lawyers who stole them off him, to uncover monies due from sampling royalties, and to extricate himself from a conspirational network that plagues his every turn. It’s no wonder he needs to let off some steam.
“Today, they try to take everything: your image, your road [touring income], your intellectual properties… They want it all!” he rails. “But they can’t own it no more because of this copyright recapture law that’s in Congress now.”
The law of which he speaks is actually the Copyright Act of 1976, which began to take effect in 2011, and is intended to allow artists to reclaim copyrights that may have been licensed elsewhere after 35 years. Authors have a five-year window in which to file termination notices – Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and The Eagles have all done so – and is also applicable posthumously to heirs of the author. As long as the work was not “made for hire”, i.e. created for a paid commission, the right of termination cannot be waived.
Clinton was successful in retrieving ownership of four Funkadelic album masters – ‘Hardcore Jollies’ (1976), ‘One Nation Under A Groove’ (1978), ‘Uncle Jam Wants You’ (1979), and ‘The Electric Spanking Of War Babies’ (1981) – but then faced another nightmare when the lawyer he entrusted to protect them and collect royalties from subsequently signed the rights over to himself.
George, then in the throes of a debilitating crack habit, which he’s since beaten, was initially unaware of the deception. “That was his job to do, to protect those!” he says. “He took advantage of [my drug habit]. But that does not matter: they’re still mine, and he still did what he did. [That call I just took] was him asking me would I drop the malpractice case, because I’m suing him for that. He’s trying to get all the money I got from everywhere, every source. I paid him a million dollars – he went to court one time for me. Never did shit. But I made sure that I stopped [smoking crack] just so that I would have the energy for the big fight.”
The “big fight” involves not only getting the rest of his music back, but also ensuring that everybody involved with writing for and with George gets what’s owed to them, and guaranteeing all future earnings. The trouble lies with the fact that the labels George is chasing have formed a complex coalition with the same lawyers representing his former publishers and, ultimately, an association to some of the judges hearing the cases.
“They’re actually compiling these fronts of defense!” George exclaims. “Every time we get ready to fight somebody and look up, it’s one of the two lawyers that’s defending them! So it’s actually a big conspiracy. My label is called The C Kunspyruhzy, because I see conspiracy. I’ve been saying that for 10 years now. In all these court cases that’s what I’ve been saying: I see conspiracy. That’s the only thing I can do, because before, I was on crack, so I knew I couldn’t make any sense high. So I made an effort for that reason alone – I mean, I needed to. I was sick, I wasn’t paying attention, and my body was wearing out because I’m 72. But I knew if I could change my habits there I would catch ’em off guard. And I think I did.”
Recruiting a team of trusted investigators, George has mapped out an FBI-style RICO chart – connecting the dots of all the offending adversaries – and promises to spill the beans in his forthcoming autobiography. He holds particular contempt for his former publishers, Bridgeport Music, who – aside from the fact that it’s claimed they won his publishing illegally – have concealed payments they received as the result of suing artists that sampled Funkadelic’s music.
“One of the people who worked for Bridgeport, [name redacted], they did a lot of their slimy shit against everybody, but the company didn’t take care of them, so they turned state’s evidence on them,” George reveals. “So I went to Switzerland, where they live, and got their deposition. [Name redacted] told us everything this guy did, and I’m putting that in the book. And then the other lawyers that they’ve paid along the way – judges, lawyers…
“So much has happened over the years with samples of those songs, that it’s the same judges and lawyers, and they just got happy on getting paid that they got sloppy as hell. Now, they still may be powerful enough in Congress and all that, because they lobby like hell, that they can override everything we got, but it’s gonna be in that book forever.”
Continue at Clash