Life Lessons of Funk With George Clinton and Bootsy Collins

One of the highlights of SXSW this year didn’t come as a surprise performance or corporate-sponsored free booze and food orgy. It was a scheduled panel with George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and keyboardist Bernie Worrell.

george clinton finding the funk

George Clinton at the 'Finding the Funk' panel at SXSW. Photo by Matt Crawford.

The “Finding the Funk” panel, complete with moderator Arthur Baker (executive producer of a new VH1 documentary Finding the Funk), Lumar LeBlanc (drummer/vocalist for Soul Rebels) and Novena Carmel (Sly Stone’s daughter and a member of Wallpaper.) was exemplary of the best SXSW has to offer.

For more than an hour, the panel discussed the roots of funk in front of an audience of about 100 people and its transition from Motown (where Clinton started as a singer and songwriter) and James Brown (Collins played bass in his band) to the intergalactic ass-shaking, acid mind-funk that Clinton championed starting in the 70s. By the end of the panel, it was basically a three-way conversation between Clinton, Collins and the audience.

At 71, Clinton still performs often with Parliament Funkadelic. He headlined a capacity show at SXSW with Erykah Badu and he stops at Yoshi’s in Oakland for a three night-stand starting Wednesday.

george clinton finding the funk

George Clinton, Arthur Baker and Bootsy Collins at SXSW. Photo by Matt Crawford.

Some Highlights from the panel:

• After the release of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Clinton and the Motown musicians he was working with at the time were so impressed they recorded their own version of the album. It was never released.

• “Knee Deep,” Clinton’s favorite track form his catalog, has more used more than 60 singers. The song, which is more than 15 minutes long, had so many parts, the final product is the same four minutes repeated four times with different parts making the final mix.

• For years, Clinton didn’t take advantage of royalty opportunities from samples used in early hip hop tracks. He’s currently in court suing for royalties from record labels, who he says also unfairly charged the hip hop artists using the samples. “It’s getting good,” he says.

The first royalty check he voluntarily received was from De La Soul after that group’s hit “Me, Myself and I,” which sampled “Knee Deep.”

• Until Parliament Funkadelic saw its first mainstream success in the 1970s, Collins named Clinton “president of the No Pussy Club.” Clinton says it was probably because of his LSD habit and his pre-dreads hair style, which included male genitalia shaved into his head. Clinton says his luck changed after the band got its first big check from a record label. He told everybody to buy a house or a car. “Most people bought a car,” he says. “I bought a spaceship.”

• The Mothership stage prop used in Parliament Funkadelic tours starting in the 70s is currently parked at the Smithsonian and will be on display in 2015, according to Clinton.

george clinton finding the funk

Novena Carmel and George Clinton at SXSW. Photo by Matt Crawford.

• While recording, Clinton said he would often watch children hanging around the studio while different parts were played. If they were tapping their feet, he knew he had something good. If not, it was time to work on the part some more.

• “We pooped on everything and put it all together,” says Clinton, describing the origins of his music.

• Maggot Brain was so distorted and unconventional, sound engineers didn’t want to put their name on the record.

• There’s funk all over modern music. Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” is one of the tracks that got a nod from Clinton. “Mystikal, that stuff is as funky as you’re going to get,” Clinton says.

• On modern funk: “Every generation will have its own angle on the dangle,” says Collins.

• Will the musicians on stage ever reunite to perform live? “I’m horny for that,” Clinton says.

SEE MORE: Photos from SXSW 2013.