George Clinton on funk, touring and staying relevant at 75

The legendary singer is seeing his star on the ascendant with a new tour, new albums and a supergroup keeping him on the straight and narrow

As a major architect of funk, George Clinton deserves a place in music history alongside James Brown and Sly Stone. His work, later remixed and reworked in a string of snatched hip-hop samples, injected inventive energy into the 70s with his albums as leader of the Funkadelic and Parliament outfits.

While he grew up in New Jersey, he was born in North Carolina and Clintons southern heritage still has a striking influence on his work.

Im a country boy! he says to me in Texas, as he trucks across the country for a small tour. Were getting ready to go out to LA now: in Houston today, leaving tonight, to go to San Diego. Its the holidays, so theres going to be a lot of partying between now and the new year!

At the age of 75, Clintons star is still on the ascendant. Hes currently preparing an album for independent record label Brainfeeder, co-produced by founder Flying Lotus and also boasts recent collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and the formation of an Afrofuturistic pop supergroup called Woke.

Since kicking harder drugs around the turn of the last decade, Clinton has been performing with renewed vigor. Before a more recent spell in the hospital, he would sometimes take a back seat at his own gigs, hardly delivering the lead vocals, often leaving the stage, and possibly having trouble keeping up with his own legendary tendency towards epic, three-hour-plus shows. Even so, those gigs still cooked, despite any lessening of leader presence: Clintons sprawl of players and his extended team of singers and rappers always took care of the funk.

Its been great, lately, he continues, loaded with enthusiasm. We were just in Hong Kong and Singapore, and it was phenomenal. Theres a lot of creativity going on right now. Im getting re-enthused about doing this! Its gradually evolving because the Shake the Gate album [2014s extended Funkadelic return] is really just now taking off, Aint That Funkin Kinda Hard On You, with Kendrick and Ice Cube. The video did real well. Now, a version of that song is nominated for a Grammy in the electronic music category.

In recent years, Clinton has returned to a sharper involvement, intensifying the powers of his posse to an even greater extent, as they feed off his manic enthusiasm. Hes slimmer now, imbued with the staying power to stand onstage for most of the set, and is even jumping up and down at key pumpin junctures of each show. The psychedelic locks are now sheared, and Clintons dressed like an urbane gangster (or possibly a jazz musician). Hell take lead vocals on many of the songs, and his voice sounds less raw and hoarse than it did a few years back. During the last few days, hes even returned to a 1970s silver-spangled throwback costume, looking more like Sun Ra than his recent self.

The Clinton output has always been confusing, in terms of the divide between bands. Theoretically, Funkadelic immerse themselves in fuzzed guitar freak-outs, while Parliament tilt towards the dancefloor, but much of First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate, although released as Funkadelic, could easily be Parliament material. Sometimes it seems as though Clinton himself is undecided over where any given songs might appear.

Were putting out a Parliament album in April, he says. Itll probably be 19 tracks. Medicated Frog Dogs [or quite possibly Medicaid Fraud Dog] is almost finished, and were just getting started on the Brainfeeder now. MFD, were going into mixing, weve just finished putting horns on a lot of the stuff, we just got laying the tracks for the other one. I have a few collaborators with me, Ive worked with a lot of old members of the band, like Junie Morrison, who did One Nation and Knee Deep with me. Sly Stone is on there, Fred Wesley and Pee Wee [Ellis], of course, the Horny Horns. Were pretty much closing MFD down, now, because we got too many tracks already.

A mention of Sly Stone quickens the blood-flow: Im gonna see him in a couple of days, Clinton enthuses. We did a lot of stuff, and were gonna pick out which ones were gonna use. Hes gonna get a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys, so Ill probably be there for that

Once in LA, Clinton will be spending time with Flying Lotus, preparing the Brainfeeder album. Itll probably be all kinds of ways, he says, referring to the ratio between fleshly band members and electronic construction. Were putting that together right now. Were just getting started. Ill put myself in his hands, whereas with Parliament Funkadelic I usually call the shots, but this one, Im gonna let him call the shots. Therell be lots of different people, lots of his friends and lots of my friends. Weve said were gonna do it, and well figure out how were gonna do it as we go along.

The next month, starting on 16 February, Clinton will open a much bigger run, the Mardi Gras Madness tour, which will stretch until 4 March. The P-Funk lineup is ever-evolving, but will not feature the return of lead guitarist Michael Hampton, who wasnt on the last tour. Not in the near future, says Clinton. But hell be back sooner or later. Different band members do different things and go different places. Blackbyrd [McKnight] has been back with us this last couple of years, and hes the main guitarist now. Ricky Rouse is not there now, either.

The expectation is that his upcoming Las Vegas New Years Eve show will tend toward the more epic end of performance duration. Sometimes they [the venues] wont let us do the long set! Were ready for it anyway, because were going to have most of the shows to ourselves, the whole three or four hours. Thundercats opening up the show this weekend, so well probably do a lot of that stuff together. I did a movie with Lotus, its coming out in February. Its about an hour long. Its really weird, I cant even describe it.

For Clinton, staying relevant is also down to his family, who play a big part in what he does. I got my grandkids, my kids, my daughter and granddaughter, and a couple of their friends from the studio, Clinton says. Theyre pretty much on the spot now, theyve been with us for the last year and a half. Im really feeling it this time, as my grandkids are just getting into the business. On the record Im doing quite a bit of singing. Theyve got me feeling good about myself. I let the kids write some for me, and I write for them. My son Tracey wrote a lot of this stuff. I end up trying to mix it between what the bands about, and what theyre about. I recognise that this is their generation, so I try to merge the two, and we do it together.

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic play this weekend in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. The Mardi Gras Madness tour starts on 16 February 2017

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