By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — George Clinton and his Parliament-Funkadelic crew return to the Bay Area one last time as the funk maestro brings his farewell tour to the Mountain Winery Saturday.READ MORE: 2-Alarm Fire Burns At Concord Church Complex
Though he came after originators James Brown and Sly Stone, George Clinton has undoubtedly earned the title “Godfather of Funk.” Colorful, subversive and groundbreaking, Clinton fused rock and R&B in the ’60s, set the dance floor on fire with funk classics in the ’70s, helped usher in computer-driven new wave and was a cornerstone of hip-hop since the ’80s.
He started in the ’50s as a vocalist in New Jersey soul group the Parliaments, but Clinton soon relocated to Detroit to try to jump aboard the Motown gravy train. Though he did some songwriting work, the iconoclast took cues from acid-rock era giants Jimi Hendrix and Cream (not to mention the influence of Detroit rockers the MC5 and the Stooges) to make Funkadelic one of the first bands to bring together soul grooves, psychedelic guitar and an outrageous stage show. But despite the crew’s outlandish theatrics, Clinton also proved to be an astute sociopolitical commentator, addressing serious subject mater on the seminal albums Maggot Brain and the sprawling double LP America Eats Its Young.
By the mid ’70s, Clinton was leading both Parliament and Funkadelic from underground status to chart success and extravagant arena productions that put the group on the same strata as Earth Wind and Fire. Clinton’s excellent ear for talent also brought some of the best players in the business to his outfits including the late psychedelic guitar giant Eddie Hazel, keyboard scientist Bernie Worrell, and former James Brown sidement like Bootsy Collins, Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley. The subversive ringmaster and self-proclaimed Maggot Overlord shepherded his Parliament Funkadelic disciples to create classic hits like “P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)” “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” “Flashlight” and “Not Just (Knee Deep),” which would some of the most influential and heavily sampled music of the decade.
Combining humorous, satirical lyrics and space-age concepts with ferocious grooves, Clinton has remained an influential original throughout his career. Even as his solo star waned after early ’80s hits “Atomic Dog” and “Do Fries Go With That Shake?” Clinton’s songs were soon being sampled relentlessly by hip hop’s new guard (Dr. Dre and N.W.A, Digital Underground, De La Soul and Tupac to name just a few).
Though his live performances during the 2000s added loose-limbed improvisational element that took away from the bite of his funk, Clinton has returned to performing and recording with a vengeance since breaking a longtime addiction to crack cocaine. The funk maestro detailed his triumphs and tragedies in the revealing memoir Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? that came out in 2014 to glowing reviews. More importantly, Clinton and his collaborators issued the first new Funkadelic album in over three decades two years later.
A sprawling three-disc release that touches on the classic Funkadelic sound (soaring corrosive guitar solos, tongue-twisting vocals and scatological humor), First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate finds Clinton adding modern elements of hip-hop production and Auto-Tuned vocals to the mix. While Clinton announced earlier this year that he would retire from touring in 2019, he’s continuing with his modern renaissance with his first album under the Parliament banner in 30 years — Medicaid Fraud Dogg — that came out in the spring of last year.
The funk icon was also featured prominently in the latest season of Mike Judge’s animated Cinemax show Tales from the Tour Bus, which spotlit the twisted escapades Clinton and his band got caught up in during the ’70s (the band leader also served as a consulting producer and provided this season’s revamped theme song).
Clinton and company played new material and seminal hits when he and Parliament-Funkadelic played two sold-out nights at the Independent last December. For what appears will be the band’s final Bay Area appearance, P-Funk comes to the Mountain Winery in Saratoga Saturday with several other bands in tow including LA ska-punk-funk heroes Fishbone.READ MORE: 12-Year-Old Antioch Girl Shot Dead Inside Home; Suspect At Large
They might not be the biggest band to emerge from Los Angeles during the early ’80s, but the pioneering outfit Fishbone remains one of the most influential and eclectic acts to call LA home since first coming together in 1979.
Formed by a group young African-American teens who were brought together by their school district’s busing program, founding members the Fisher brothers (Norwood on bass and Phillip “Fish” Fisher on drums), singer/trumpet player “Dirty” Walt Kibby III, keyboard/trombone player Christopher Dowd and guitarist Kendall Jones were all from South Central Los Angeles. They met the group’s future frontman and saxophonist Angelo Moore when they were sent to Moore’s native San Fernando Valley during junior high school.
The band’s brash mixture of punk, ska and funk influences quickly helped Fishbone build a following as the group played punk venues around LA and established a reputation for high-energy stage performances as it became a fixture of the SoCal club scene in the early ’80s. Signed to Columbia Records, the group’s eponymous EP in 1985 became an underground hit and earned significant airplay with the infectious anti-war single “Party at Ground Zero” and the radio roll call tune “? (Modern Industry)” that name checked the call letters of several Bay Area stations.
While the band’s first full-length album In Your Face didn’t further elevate the band in the mainstream, it showed a growing political consciousness in the lyrics and polished the band’s amalgam of styles. A spot opening for the Beastie Boys on the Licensed to Ill tour helped introduce Fishbone to a far wider audience. They made a creative breakthrough with Truth and Soul in 1988, introducing heavier guitars on the crushing cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead” and the hardcore frenzy of “Subliminal Fascism” while showing of their funk chops with the explosive “Bonin’ in the Boneyard.”
The band’s next album — The Reality of My Surroundings in 1991 — stood out as their most ambitious yet and seemed to signal the breakthrough they had been working towards for a decade. With the addition of former Miles Davis musical director John Bingham on guitar and keyboards (who joined during the Truth and Soul tour), the band further established its status as arguably the best live bands of the era.
Inner turmoil would gradually splinter the band as the ’90s wore on, but Moore and Norwood Fisher would soldier on with a variety of collaborators who helped the band maintain its reputation as a fiery live act, including former Suicidal Tendencies guitarist Rocky George and keyboard player Dre Gipson. The crew saw something of a revival in interest after their fascinating saga was told in the acclaimed 2010 documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone.
Last year found Fishbone reuniting its classic-era late ’80s line-up with longtime stalwarts Norwood Fisher, “Dirty” Walt Kibby and kinetic frontman Moore once again teaming with Fisher’s drum-playing brother, guitarist Bingham and keyboardist/trombonist Dowd. This summit of modern and classic funk greats will also include an appearance by New Orleans group Dumpstafunk featuring Ivan and Ian Neville of the iconic Big Easy music family behind such influential groups as the Meters and the Neville Brothers. Miss Velvet and the Blue Wolf open the show.
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic
Saturday, Aug. 3, 5:30 p.m. $59-$325
The Mountain Winery