Signal Path Podcast: George Clinton
Listen to the latest SIGNAL PATH podcast with GEORGE CLINTON, the funk legend and leader of the groundbreaking Parliament and Funkadelic music collectives.
Hear the stories behind the sounds. Join Zakia Sewell as she meets world-renowned sonic innovators to explore those defining moments that influenced how they think about sound.
Episode 057: George Clinton
Listen to a very special episode of Signal Path with George Clinton. Zakia speaks with the man who revolutionized music and helped bring the funk to planet Earth.
Zakia Sewell: So we're going to be talking through your career and it's always nice to start at the very beginning and your early influences. When did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician?
George Clinton: Wow, when I first realized that I wanted to be a musician? That was probably when I heard Frankie Lyman, like in 1957 or somewhere around there, singing ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love?’, and seeing the reaction all the little kids were giving, the attention they were giving. I wanted to do that, to do that, get a record like that! That was like in 5th, 6th grade. When I started Parliament, I knew immediately that's what I wanted to do and it's been consistent in my head all my life.
So tell me about your first group. They were The Parliaments, right? This is before you became Parliament proper?
Tell me about those early days and what was the music like and where are you rehearsing?
You know, over there, y’all would call it Northern Soul. A lot of our records from that period are pretty popular in the Northern Soul type of music. The Parliaments, ‘I Want To Testify’ and ‘All Your Goodies Are Gone’, ‘Look At What I Almost Missed’. A whole bunch of those songs. We were doo-wop group first, writing love songs, crying on my bending knees to the ladies and that whole trip. And that was the beginning. It was called doo-wop. We were part of that generation. Rock ‘n’ roll when it first started. We were doo-wopping at that particular time.
I love that it was a pathway to the ladies, to making the ladies swoon.
That was a theory back then. Get down on my knees for you, begging, pleading. All your rap was to the ladies and vice versa.
Tell me about when you landed a job at Motown. You started off as a songwriter, is that right?
We started out just singing doo-wop, but then when Motown came around, by 1959, Smokey (Robinson) was the hero. He was writing songs for The Miracles and the Temptations and Marvin Gaye, right away, he was my hero. I wanted to do that. Luckily they opened up a publishing company in New York. Miss Gordy, Ray Gordy came in, she was looking for a team of New York writers to do the East Coast version of Motown. They hired me into the group. As a group, we auditioned to be singers and we also did the songwriting and production for them on their demos in the New York area. That was the best place you could have been, that was like the greatest college in the world. You had Holland–Dozier–Holland, Berry Gordy himself, Smokey, Norman Whitfield. You had so many great producers, the producers were the stars, the label was the star. If you were anywhere around Motown, people wanted to talk to you. All my life I wanted to prove I was worthy of having come through there, so even with Parliament Funkadelic, that was our version of Motown, if it had continued on into the ‘70s with the Rock bands that were coming out of Europe, mostly. The Led Zeppelins and The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. If Motown would have kept going and we would have been that side of the company, that would have taken care of that.
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Host: Zakia Sewell, Producer: Alannah Chance, Creative Producer: Joshua Thomas, Creative Lead: Ty Stanton-Jones, Music: Yip Wong, Agency: Commune