By Christian Thompson
It’s hard to believe that nearly 60 years have passed since George Clinton released his first single with his band, The Parliaments, a doo-wop group he formed in Plainfield, NJ, at the age of 14. That single, a succinct ditty by the name of “Poor Willie,” garnered a four-star review in Billboard magazine, but it wasn’t until 1967 that the Parliaments had their first hit with “(I Wanna) Testify,” a track whose blistering groove foreshadowed the radical, groundbreaking evolution that soul music would soon undergo.
The Parliaments success was followed a short time later by the dissolution of their record label, and, to avoid any legal disputes, Clinton created a new name for his group, the prophetically-titled Funkadelic, who would blend their rhythmic, soul influences with the sounds of psychedelic rock. A couple years later, when the legal bonds with his former label officially cleared, Clinton reincarnated his former band as simply Parliament, and throughout the ’70s he used both groups to alternatively explore both his funk and rock proclivities.
With Funkadelic and Parliament, Clinton proved himself as one of music’s greatest visionaries during the seventies, and consistently remained ahead of nearly anyone else working in the realms of rock and funk. Funkadelic’s 1971 album, “Maggot Brain,” still rocks with a prophetic intensity almost 50 years later, thanks in part to lead guitarist Eddie Hazel’s astounding fretwork throughout. Likewise, Parliament albums like 1975’s “Mothership Connection“ showed off Clinton’s ability to construct a groove that could vamp for eternity without losing an ounce of its dance floor prowess.
Even after the arrival of the ’80s, with genres of new wave and electro threatening to render the more organic jams of the seventies obsolete, Clinton remained quick on his feet. Not content with merely adjusting to the times, he released his first solo album, 1982’s electro-influenced “Computer Games,” and leapt over his contemporaries by a light-year. Much like his material from the ’70s, “Computer Games” has lost little of its freshness over the years, and its influence can still be heard in R&B and soul music today.
Last month, George Clinton revealed that this year Parliament will release their first album since 1980, titled “Medicaid Fraud Dog.” Its first single, “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me,” is a testament to Clinton’s ceaseless relevance. Featuring glitchy rhythms and a guest verse from rapper Scarface, it wouldn’t seem out of place on modern hip-hop radio. But more than that, it’s a welcome return of the danceable, quirky, and singular musical universe Clinton has been building on for more than a half century.
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic perform at Leesburg’s Tally Ho Theatre on Friday, Feb. 9. Advance tickets are $55; doors for the show open at 7 p.m.