According to George Clinton, the chief architect of funk, the definition of the style is "to do the best you can in life, and after that, funk it." Considering his reputation, though, it's a little ironic that Clinton's first band was a doo-wop-style group modeled after Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
But a change in musical taste soon birthed Parliament, which was quickly followed by Funkadelic.
A melding of rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel and psychedelic rock, these bands' music was highly innovative at the time. Each group had a distinct identity and alternated releases into the late '70s on a variety of labels, with Clinton dividing his time between the two.
Now, at almost 70 years old, Clinton is still touring. In advance of his Thursday night performance at South Side Music Hall, we had a chance to kick it with the always colorful artist and talk about Bootsy, Motown and how he's still keeping it funky at his age.
What's your best Bootsy Collins story?
Oh, I have a good one. He did a song called "Pinocchio Theory" in 1977. It was all about if you fake the funk, your nose will grow. I didn't know for years that the dirty motherfucker didn't know who Pinocchio was! He thought Disney was stealing his ideas! [Laughs.] He thought, "I came up with that!" I was like, "No, no, no. He's been around for years."
Why isn't Bootsy touring with you?
He's still doing music in Cincinnati. He's waiting until things get really hot, then he'll probably hit the road with us. But I ain't no fair-weather funkster. There ain't no chance of me not touring.
You were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. What has made Parliament Funkadelic a permanent part of music history?
Damn, well, we've had enough time to do all kinds of music. We took advantage of that, from rock 'n' roll to doo-wop to pop to rock to Motown to the kind of rock 'n' roll we did at the end of the '60s. That was Funkadelic. We did stuff with Sly Stone and Bootsy, then moved on to hip-hop in the '80s and the '90s.
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When you first started out, you were trying to make it in Motown. What took you from doo-wop to funk?
Evolution. We always try to change. We pay attention to whatever new is coming out. We found a way to pick up on the kind of music kids love and parents hate. We've been lucky enough to use that as a barometer. Our shows are like a circus now. We have grandchildren and great-great grandchildren all coming out to the shows. I have a granddaughter in my band.
At nearly 70 years old, you're still going. How do you find the motivation to keep touring?
Well, funk has its own built-in energy. It starts you up when you want to sit down.