Funkadelic’s George Clinton on Shake the Gate, Recording With Kendrick Lamar
"The technology movin' fast," Clinton says, "but funk can be around anything that comes through."
Photo by Will Thorne
George Clinton has fought so many lawyers, he can smoke a spliff rolled in a writ of habeas corpus and still know every word printed on it.
For decades, he has fought for legal and monetary justice over song copyrights that he says were fraudulently signed out from under him and then exploited for the gain of multinational corporations and the elite thieves of the entertainment business.
Keep in mind, George Clinton and his various bands are some of the most sampled people on the planet and architects of some of your favorite sounds in pop and hip-hop. Here's what the Dogfather of funk had to say about his new album, recording with Kendrick Lamar, the decision against Pharrell, Robin Thicke, and "Blurred Lines" in the Marvin Gaye lawsuit, his own fights over intellectual property, and the greed conspiracy against songwriters.
New Times: Yo, George. How you doing today?
George Clinton: Pretty good, I'm in Miami right now, passing through the airport on my way to London. I live in Tallahassee, so I'm close to home and I'll be glad to be at the Deauville Beach Resort for the Winter Music Conference.
How is your fight over your intellectual property rights going?
That's what the fight is all about. You saw what happened to Pharrell with that "Blurred Lines." I disagree with that decision. I bet they didn't have that bass line written on the lead sheet. I am sure that they didn't put the bass line on the lead sheets of rhythm and blues records back then to get the copyrights. They would only put the melody for the lead vocals. If the bass line was written on the lead sheet, then fine, but I don't think it was, and I know that most of them wasn't, because I started out with Jobete and I know how they did business. And the same lawyers that sued Pharrell is the same ones that have been stealing my shit from Bridgeport. They were trying to sue on behalf of me when even I didn't believe they should be doing so. They pretty good at what they do.
Those motherfuckers are in a conspiracy against you!
Right. Exactly. They got a conspiracy going on and they got a few judges in their pocket too. That's how they pull it off. And they're trying to set a precedent, but that interpolation is bullshit.
Can you go back to the lead sheets and explain how that works?
In terms of documenting the bass lines, that came about because of hip-hop. It used to be it didn't matter if it was on the copyright. Most rock 'n' roll or rhythm and blues records only copyrighted the melody of the song, unless it was somebody like Burt Bacharach with his instrumentals. But most bass lines are basically the same, just slowed down or speeded up. Everybody would just rely on their ears, nothing was written, you could just listen to the melody and know what it sounds like. And for that reason, it wouldn't be noted on the copyright paper. Most people didn't copyright bass lines, just lyrics and melody. A lot of bass lines sound alike. In my opinion, the song just sounded like the other song.
So you don't believe they copyrighted the bass line?
I don't believe they did. We didn't do that in Jobete. They really didn't do that in R&B. They really didn't do that with the musicians at Motown. Those bass lines would have been written by the musicians and they fought like hell to keep musicians from claiming anything on copyright.
How far do you go back with the Miami sound?
I always been down with that since the old days. I used to record at Criteria, back in the old days. Henry Stone days. Herman Lubinsky. The Schwartz Brothers. But you know I got a new album, Funkadelic's Shake the Gate. And I got a new Parliament album out by the end of the year. I got a new Kendrick Lamar record too. That's exclusive.
Who you gonna have with you on stage for WMC?
Me and some background singers and musicians and the DJ. And we gon' be jamming and rocking and funking and dancing.
What about the soul music history of Overtown?
Oh yeah, back before I was doin' funk music when I was doin that old. I wanna testify!
You ever go fishing down here?
I used to go fishing out of the Miami Marina off the same boat they used in the TV show Miami Vice. I used to take that boat out to Bimini with Bootsy Collins and we used to go hang out. All that "Aqua Boogie" was done out there.
Did you make a giant crack rock out of a handful of cocaine you grabbed in a house in Miami and didn't smoke it till the end of the Atomic Dog tour?
That was it! Yeah. And when George H.W. Bush was speaking at the Sheraton Four Ambassadors about the War on Drugs, I walked right in the lobby past all the security with all my cocaine and they looked at me and said, "Yeah, he looks alright." I even got past the dogs. But I was cool with dogs. I've always had a special relationship with dogs.
So your Miami connections run deep.
Yeah, I used to be down there. And then Luke used to come up to Tallahassee and see me back in the day. We're one nation under a groove. That's the whole thing.
How does that go back to the early days of electronic dance music?
I did a lot of that shit. Like me and Thomas Dolby from London. Look him up. He did that "She Blinded Me With Science." That's pretty much like techno to me.
And you're known to always keep up with the new shit, right?
Whenever something new comes out, I don't care what they trying, I figure it out. The technology movin' fast, but funk can be around anything that comes through.
What is the importance of booty shaking?
I mean, it's therapeutic. Without that, you'd be sick. You got to have some butt shaking. And there's nothing in the world like listening to music with a bunch of people.
George Clinton and WMC's 30th-Anniversary Party. As part of the Funkified Poolside Get-Down Jam. With Louis Vega, Soul Clap, and others. Presented by Vagabonds-at-Large and Vega Records. Noon to 10 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, at Deauville Beach Resort, 6701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-865-8511; deauvillebeachresort.com. Admission is free for WMC passholders. Tickets cost $30 to $40 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up.