ON THE ONE: When James Brown invented funk by blending gospel and R&B vocal styles with syncopated rhythm and pushing the bass and drums to the forefront, he created a lasting and far-reaching array of musical innovation and influence. Perhaps the most essential of these innovations was the concept of playing on the one. By shifting the emphasis and having all the musicians meet back and come down hard on the first beat, Brown propelled the music with an infectious dance quality.
When a young bass prodigy named Bootsy Collins left Brown's band, he took with him this valuable lesson from the Godfather of Soul. Already a flamboyant character in his own right, Collins found Brown's music too restrictive and sought to broaden his musical base, incorporating wild stage dress with an attitude that all music offered something to the funk mix.
While all of this was happening, George Clinton was creating his own unique musical universe. Originally the leader of a doo-wop band named The Parliaments, Clinton had taken that band and mutated it into a genre-bending mix of any and all musical styles that caught his fancy. (Why not have a soul ballad with bagpipes or acid-rock guitar?) Like Sly Stone, Clinton's music was unconcerned with acknowledging the lines between black and white music--getting people to move and have fun was the goal.
When Collins and Clinton did meet, there was an immediate bond between the two. Like all great musical innovators, Clinton was always receptive to new ideas and influences. When Collins came under the Clinton umbrella (whose ranks were steadily growing, including offshoot bands like Funkadelic and the P-Funk All-Stars that included many of the same musicians), he brought with him the teachings of James Brown, primarily playing on the one.
From then on, the funk hit the fan. The Parliament/Funkadelic family continued to grow in size, ambition and outrageousness.
Clinton and Collins (along with a host of similarly innovative musicians like the late Eddie Hazel on guitar and Bernie Worrell on keyboards) threw out any remaining inhibitions to create a rolling funk juggernaut. A slew of excellent albums (Maggot Brain, One Nation Under A Groove, Uncle Jam Wants You) built the P-Funk aesthetic where cartoonish personas and costumes met with science fiction and psychedelic imagery, all the while creating an irresistibly danceable music.
Much of the P-Funk legend grew from the bands' colossal live shows. At any given time, a Parliament/Funkadelic show could feature up to 40 musicians wearing everything from diapers to space-pimp suits and stage sets that bands like Kiss could only dream of. All the while, the overwhelming spirit was one of fun and celebration.
Continuing through the wasteland of Disco, Clinton eventually could not sustain the entourage through the '80's, a decade which saw him put out a successful solo album (Computer Games, featuring the hit single "Atomic Dog") and collaborations with, among others, Warren Zevon. Then he laid low for a while.
With the emergence of rap and its ensuing explosion in popularity, Clinton's innovations were once again being paid due respect. Along with James Brown, Clinton's music is by far the most sampled by rap artists (some, like Snoop Doggy Dogg, have made a career out of directly lifting P-Funk's keyboard sound and album graphics, while unfortunately ignoring the lyrical message). This year has already seen the release of a reunited P-Funk album, Dope Dogs, and, in one of those happy miracles, Clinton and company will appear on Thursday, March 14, at The Outback, 296 N. Stone Ave. Tickets are $23 and are available at The Outback. Doors open at 6 p.m., with the show starting at 9 p.m. This will be three-and-a-half hours of continuous un-cut funk--free your mind and let your ass follow. Call 622-4700 for information.
LAST NOTES: The Rialto Theater, 318 E. Congress St., presents Chris Duarte at 9 p.m. Saturday, March 16. Rolling Stone magazine has dubbed Duarte "The next Stevie Ray Vaughan." Listen to his album Texas Sugar and you'll know why. Tickets are $5, available at Hear's Music and Zia Records. Call 795-1420 for information.
On Tuesday, March 19, The Mermen stir up psychedelic waves of surf guitar at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. A cross between Dick Dale and Sonic Youth, this trio re-defines ocean-influenced music. Cover is only $3. Call 622-8848 for information.
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