P-Funk — George Clinton’s confabulous mutating fusion of science fiction, animation, whimsy, agitation, and the bodacious, bootilicious, redemptive might of FUNK — is profiled tonight at 10pm in the documentary film PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC: One Nation Under a Groove, on the PBS series Independent Lens.
After forming the Parliaments as a doo-wop group in Newark, NJ in the ’50s, Clinton took a severe left turn in the late-’60s as he began to split his time between the heady, meaty, elastic brews of funk and horn-based soul (Parliament), and funk and rocking psychedelia (Funkadelic) that became jointly known as P-Funk. Eddie Hazel’s mind-blowing guitar brought Funkadelic to a rock crowd, particularly on the trippy early’-70s classic “Maggot Brain.”
Other seminal members were keyboardist-arranger Bernie Worrell, and brothers, bass-master Bootsy and rhythm guitarist Catfish Collins. Catfish and Bootsy joined in ’72 fresh from the James Brown Band where they were instrumental on a host of hits such as “Super Bad,” “Sex Machine” and “Soul Power.”
Bootsy became crucial to P-Funk not only for his thumping bass, but also his attitude, honed from his stint with the Godfather of Soul. “We’re the tightest band, the tightest, funkiest mothers you ever want to meet,” he says in the film. “To be funky is one thing, but to be tight and funky, that’s what we learned from James.”
The classic mid-to-late ’70s period produced indelible fonky smashes “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up),” “Up For the Down Stroke,” “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker),” “Get Off Your Ass and Jam,” “Flash Light,” “Aqua Boogie,” “One Nation Under A Groove,” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep.”
Clinton developed a mythology, exuberantly illustrated on album covers by Pedro Bell, about brothas from another planet who came to liberate earth from the restrictions of Puritanical morality and unfunky music. It was a concept that allowed P-Funk’s fans to transcend the confines of their neighborhood and imagine themselves as citizens of a much larger universe.
At PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC shows, this mythology was realized in highly theatrical stage shows, which Clinton called “funk operas.” They featured elaborate and outlandish costumes and the landing of a space ship onstage –the Mothership — from which Clinton would emerge as Dr. Funkenstein, dressed in full pimp-from-outer-space regalia.
Parliament and Funkadelic formally disbanded in the early-’80s, but George Clinton’s successful “solo” career (“Atomic Dog”) provided the impetus behind an ongoing series of reunions and tours under the P-Funk banner which, after pausing slightly for inducton into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, continues to this day.
In an attempt to create a film reflecting the P-Funk holistic thang, filmmaker Yvonne Smith used animation to create the special sequences and virtual environments. Inspired by a P-Funk lyric, she created the “Afronaut,” a cartoon character from outer space who descends to earth from a new millennium version of the Mothership and serves as the film’s host and narrator. The Afronaut’s voice is provided by comic and actor Eddie Griffin.
The film includes interviews with the original Parliaments — the late Ray Davis, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas and Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins — which take place in a “virtual barber shop,” reminiscent of the group’s early years in the ’50s and ’60s doing hair and singing doo-wop in a New Jersey hair salon run by George Clinton. The barbershop and the various environments in which George Clinton appears, were created in digital animation. In addition to the Parliaments, the film also features original interviews with George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Garry Shider, Dawn Silva (a Bride of Funkenstein), and other key P-Funk band members and staff.
Other musicians interviewed include Rick James, Ice Cube, Flea and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, De La Soul, Shock G (“Humpty Hump” of the Digital Underground) and Nona Hendryx of LaBelle.
All that is left to say is, “Free your mind, your ass will follow.”