Originally, "P-Funk" was simply a slang expression for two George Clinton bands with members in common, first Parliament, and then Funkadelic. The two groups often are referred to jointly as "Parliament-Funkadelic."
The breakout popularity of Parliament-Funkadelic also led to a broader application of "P-funk" to mean something in its quintessence, of superior quality, or sui generis, as in the lyrics from "P-Funk," a hit single from Parliament's album Mothership Connection:
"I want the bomb. I want the P-Funk. I want my funk uncut."
History of P-Funk
In the late 1950s, George Clinton and some others started a doo-wop barbershop quintet (called The Parliaments), but found very little success. During the 1960s, they added a backup band that eventually became known as Funkadelic. George Clinton, the leader of the group, ran a hair salon in New Jersey, and continued to do so until 1967, when the group's breakthrough single was released. By this time, the Parliaments had become Parliament (taken from Parliament cigarettes) and had added several new members, including Bill Nelson, Tawl Ross and Eddie Hazel.
Members of The Parliaments
Transition to Funkadelic
In the late 1960s, the group lost the rights to the name "Parliament" and became known as Funkadelic. Their sound gradually became less clean-cut and less firmly steeped in R&B music, and moved towards a psychedelia-influenced groove, heavily dependent on Jimi Hendrix, the MC5, Sly Stone and the Beatles, as well as the New Orleans early funk of The Meters and Lee Dorsey . As their sound progressed, it became thick and complex, loud, psychedelic and very rock and roll. Clinton's experimentation with new and original sounds meant that early Funkadelic had a small and devoted (racially diverse) cult following, but found widespread commercial success elusive.
Arrival of the Collins Brothers
Bill Nelson and Eddie Hazel left the group in 1972 due to financial disputes, and Tawl Ross left because of a bad LSD trip. William and Phelps Collins, two brothers who eventually became more widely known as Bootsy and Catfish, respectively, hopped aboard. Bootsy left after one album but rejoined later, while Catfish was an on-and-off member, who eventually played mostly for his brother's solo efforts. Bootsy brought a new sense of discipline to the group, as he had played with James Brown and was forced to dedicate himself to his musical growth. Both brothers were influential in the development of the P-Funk sound.
The Reemergence of Parliament
Parliament was reformed in 1974. In 1975, Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley joined Funkadelic, quickly followed by the return of Bootsy Collins and Eddie Hazel. The addition of Parker and Wesley added a new, jazzy dimension to the music. In 1975, "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker" became the first Top Ten single for the group, peaking at number five. Mothership Connection became the group's first gold LP. Clinton, meanwhile, moved from Westbound to Warner Brothers in 1977. Many of the original members departed, angry at Clinton becoming the owner of the name Parliament and that they had become his employees. Bootsy Collins formed Bootsy's Rubber Band, a wacky, bass-driven group, along with Catfish Collins, Mudbone Cooper , the Horny Horns and, at times, Bernie Worrell and Joel Johnson . Meanwhile, Michael Hampton replaced Eddie Hazel (who had joined The Temptations) as lead guitarist; Jerome Brailey joined, eventually becoming one of the most widely respected P-Funk drummers, and Glen Goins , a talented singer who did the lead vocals on many admired tracks, including "Mothership Connection" and "Bop Gun," also joined.
1977 brought Parliament its first #1 hit ("Flashlight") and marked the emergence of the lavish tours the group eventually became known for, involving huge spaceships landing on stage and elaborate props. Funkadelic continued releasing albums, soon scoring two #1 hits ("One Nation Under a Groove" in 1978 and "(Not Just) Knee Deep" in 1979), while Parliament scored another #1 in 1978 with "Aqua Boogie". The albums of the period had morphed into concept albums, with bizarre, spacy themes that carried elaborate and pointed political and sociological messages, and were usually linked between albums (see P-Funk mythology). The two most notable additions to the group during this period were Junie Morrison and Skeet Curtis . Junie in particular played several instruments, wrote, produced and arranged many of the most-respected songs on two crucial albums, One Nation Under a Groove and Motor Booty Affair.
The P-Funk family multiplied in the late seventies, and albums were released under the names The Brides of Funkenstein, Parlet, Bernie Worrell, Eddie Hazel and the Horny Horns . Meanwhile, the tours became ever more and more elaborate and expensive, resulting in dire financial straits. In 1979, Funkadelic launched the Anti-Tour, scrapping much of the lavishness. Dennis Chambers , Blackbyrd McKnight and the P-Funk Horns joined the group.
The 1980s and 1990s
In the early 1980s, the group's popularity declined and many members quit. Parliament's final album came out in 1980, and Funkadelic's in 1981. George Clinton battled financial problems and addiction, but soon managed to launch a solo career in 1983, launched by a #1 single, "Atomic Dog." In the mid-to-late-80s, funk died down in popular consciousness, but its influence on hip-hop, then a minor, cult genre of music, grew. P-Funk soon replaced James Brown as the most often sampled artist in hip-hop, and G Funk (a major sub-genre including Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg and N.W.A.) has P-Funk samples as a defining characteristic. The P.Funk All-Stars was formed in 1983, and went on tour in the mid 1980s. Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell both released successful solo albums in the late 80s, and managed to keep thriving solo careers.
Funksters of Special Importance on the Development of the P-Funk Sound
George Clinton has been, since its inception, the driving force behind the development of the P-Funk sound. Though he may be remembered today more for his rainbow hair and outlandish costumes than his music, his influence on generations of musicians has been remarkable. Clinton's artistry encompassed more than mere entertainment. In an era of growing black awareness, political ferment, social protest and societal upheaval, Clinton, like scores of his contemporaries (Curtis Mayfield/The Impressions; the Temptations; Donny Hathaway; Censored page; Edwin Starr; Oscar Brown, Jr. ; TheStaples Singers /Swingers; The Voices of East Harlem ; Nina Simone; etc.) took African-American popular music (long concerned with issues of social, political and economic justice) to new levels of political outspokenness, public visibility and artistic accomplishment, tackling such complex subjects as the Vietnam War and the War on Drugs with intelligence and awareness.
Bootsy was a versatile bassist, capable of playing many styles, He was adventurous and original in his playing, and has become known as a legendary virtuoso of the bass guitar. He also made a substantial impact as a songwriter and uncredited guitarist and drummer on several studio tracks. Like many of Clinton's bandmembers, he is also known for his outlandish stage wear, especially gaudy glasses.
A strong rhythm guitarist, versatile like his brother, Catfish Collins' ability to lock onto a groove and keep it going through the epic live jamming the group is known for has made him one of the most influential rhythm guitarists in musical history. He was able to keep a stable rhythm, thereby allowing Worrell and others to go off on musical crescendos while keeping the music stable and grounded.
Eddie Hazel is considered one of the most influential guitarists in musical history. Though he was never as flashy as many others, his playing was always intense and unconventional. "Maggot Brain," a twelve-minute solo, is widely cited as an emotional masterpiece of the guitar. He wrote many of the guitar riffs for the band, and did some singing as well. Along with childhood friend, Billy Bass, Hazel developed psychedelic funk rock, mixing blues, rock and roll, soul, Motown and pop music.
Of all the Funksters, Shider is probably the greatest vocalist of the group. He performed leads on many of their most famous songs ("Cosmic Slop" being particularly notable).
Bernie Worrell, keyboardist, was added after the release of their first album. He deserves a special mention as an especially important influence in the early development of the P-Funk sound. Even before officially joining the group, he helped out on many of the recording sessions. Eventually, he became responsible for many of the musical arrangements, and produced most of the later albums.
See also: List of P Funk Members
- George Clinton's Official Web Site
- the Motherpage (includes an excellent FAQ)
- P.Funk portal (with many interviews, discographies, photos, and links)