It’s been years since Artscape was able to pull in headliners like Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. After recent top billers like Matisyahu and Brian McKnight, it’ll be great to see a legend like George Clinton up on the Main Stage, even if the Parliament-Funkadelic founder, who turns 74 later this month, might have lost a step.
Clinton—who has abandoned his colorful dreads and frock for a more slick look—hasn’t slowed down much, career wise: Funkadelic released a 33-song triple album last year, “First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate,” and has collaborated with Kendrick Lamar, both on the Funkadelic album and on Lamar’s funk-infused recent “To Pimp A Butterfly.” He also wrote a memoir with the awesome title “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” In the book, he talks about butt-smoking stage crashers and the origins of the mothership (the set of 1951 sci-fi classic, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”—it’s in the Smithsonian now, by the way).
So at noon on a recent weekday, we caught up with a croaky-voiced Clinton from the road in Rochester, New York to see if we could coax any more stories from Clinton about his history with Baltimore and the state of funk in 2015. (Evan Serpick)
City Paper: How’s the tour going?
George Clinton: It’s going great, man. Pretty much everywhere we’ve been for the last three or four months has been sold out. The new album is out and being received well. Of course the book is out. And you know, it’s a great show.
CP: How has the show changed this go-round? It’s incredible how much energy you still pour into the show—is it getting any harder at this age?
GC: Well, we have a new sound. The new album we put out, we did a lot of stuff with my grandkids and kids at the studio. So, it’s a whole other sound. It’s a new sound, it’s a hip-hop sound, sorta working my backing tracks and my guitars over top of drums, over top of beats. So, I’m doing both old school and new school, rock guitars, and I’m doing the new sound that the kids know and dig.
CP: I heard you’re playing some EDM too.
GC: Yeah, that’s the one, [the remix of] ‘Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?’ with Louie Vega and Kendrick Lamar, Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis, that’s the single that just came out.
CP: And I saw that, at Glastonbury, you did a cover of Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk’?
GC: We had great fun on that stage. There’s gonna be a lot of that. Mark Ronson and Mary J. Blige. BAM—oh man that was fun. The record we just put out, it’s got a lot of that soul clap, a lot of collaborations with hip-hop, electronic music, and funk this year.
CP: Is ‘Uptown Funk’ part of your regular set now?
GC: It’s not part of our set, but you never know what’s gonna be part of our set. I probably will be doing ‘Uptown’ somewhere during the show. It’s whatever comes to me when I’m onstage.
CP: You’ve gotta feel pretty at home onstage at this point.
GC: I’ve never felt so at home onstage as I do now.
CP: You spent some time in Baltimore, right?
GC: Well, during the early ’60s, I lived in New Jersey. I used to have to come to Baltimore and Washington all the time for promos, sit-downs with the radio stations—Fat Daddy was one of the big jocks. I was in Baltimore a whole lot during the ’60s. But also, half of the band is from Baltimore. Starting with Gary Cooper, who was with Bootsy, “P-nut” Johnson, who’s with me now but started out with Bootsy, Dennis Chambers, “Skeet” Curtis. I could go on and on. It’s like coming home.
CP: I heard you used to rehearse in a studio here in town?
GC: I don’t remember the name of the studio, but yes. Matter of fact, I recorded one of my daughter’s songs there. One of my drummers, Guy Curtis, he was the engineer at the studio when we would rehearse there.
CP: Do you feel like funk is having a bit of a renaissance now?
GC: ‘Uptown Funk,’ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp A Butterfly”—all of it is funky for this era. ‘Uptown Funk’ is really pop, but it’s still funky. I’m glad that the word itself is being used like it’s supposed to be. And Kendrick Lamar, who is dabbling in some fresh doo-doo, and our new record, “Shake Ya Gate,” which has 33 songs on it, funk is in good shape right now.