Known to fans as P-Funk, Parliament-Funkadelic is an ever-morphing collective of musicians founded by singer and songwriter George Clinton. Originally it was comprised of two groups, the first being the Parliaments — a Doo Wop group that came together in the late 1950s in the back of a New Jersey barbershop where Clinton straightened hair. The second was an ad-hoc backing band for the Parliaments, assembled by Clinton in the early 1960s, that by 1967 had solidified under the name Funkadelic.
As the mad genius behind P-Funk, Clinton – a former staff writer for Motown — drew inspiration from the wellspring of Soul, Funk, Rock and freestyle experimentation that drove the late 60s music of James Brown, Sun Ra, Sly & the Family Stone, and Jimi Hendrix. Clinton’s first hit for the Parliaments came in the summer of 1967 with “(I Wanna) Testify.” After a contract dispute, the group’s name was changed to Parliament, and by 1970, both Parliament and Funkadelic had released a series of albums.
The 1971 album Maggot Brain, featuring keyboard prodigy Bernie Worrell, defined Funkadelic’s early vision: Clinton’s hallucinogenic lyrics painted a lurid, dystopian picture of the black ghetto experience, while the gritty, groove-based music merged Hard Rock and Funk in ways that hadn’t yet been heard.
Between 1972 and 1976, Funkadelic – its ranks swelled by new recruits including bassist William “Bootsy” Collins and singer/guitarist Garry Shider — released six albums and Parliament released four. Although the same core lineup of musicians played on both groups’ albums, blurring the lines between them, the conceptual intent behind the outfits differed at first. Parliament was considered more commercially accessible R&B, and later albums featured horn lines that were absent from the guitar-heavy Funkadelic.
As way-out as they were, P-Funk broke through to mainstream success with a string of hits in the 70s. Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” became a million-seller in 1976; “Flash Light” reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1978. That same year Funkadelic scored a hit with the title song from One Nation Under A Groove.
Such later P-Funk albums reflected Clinton’s growth not only as a bandleader and songwriter, but also as a forward-thinking idealist. For him, the guiding principles of The Funk embraced universality and Afrofuturism — an ongoing socio-political commentary, never too serious but still heartfelt, that invited anyone to “ride the Mothership” into outer space if they could just “free their mind.”
Known for marathon sets, the group began selling out U.S. arenas in the mid-70s, culminating in the 1976-1977 P-Funk Earth Tour. But as the costumes, stage props, and budgets turned increasingly outlandish, so did a hard-partying lifestyle that took its toll. Some key members quit; others passed away. Clinton eventually retooled P-Funk into the P-Funk All-Stars, which showcased a younger crop of musicians. He also recorded a series of solo albums, beginning with 1982’s Computer Games, which yielded the smash “Atomic Dog.”
Clinton’s shrewdness as a tastemaker served him well in the early 90s, especially when it came to recognizing P-Funk’s connection to Hip Hop. While other established artists either sued samplers of their work or charged exorbitant fees, Clinton embraced the idea,aligning himself with artists like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, who introduced P-Funk to a new generation. In 1994, the recalibrated P-Funk All-Stars joined the Lollapalooza tour and released the album Dope Dogs. Two years later, Clinton announced a new album and “Mothership Reconnection Tour” that reunited him with Worrell and Collins.
Since then, George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars have continued to tour the world. Legacy-wise, P-Funk has left an indelible imprint on the history of black American music, and exerted a profound influence on such bands as Fishbone, Outkast, Living Colour, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and countless others.