The multiple influences of an iconic band
The influence of P-Funk on G-Funk is quite obvious. Therefore, what’s the point of writing an article about it, one might ask? Well, the obvious sometimes deserve to be discussed to understand all the reasons, all the subtleties and all the details. But also because P-Funk didn’t only influence G-Funk but also Hip Hop as a whole, and we all tend to forget that. To understand how P-Funk has influenced G-Funk, and Hip Hop, we will look at the origins, musicality and philosophy of the former.
“The roots of P-Funk in psychedelic music”
P-Funk is more or less a sub-genre of psychedelic funk. More or less, because at the base the term refers to the two bands led by the legendary George Clinton, for the abbreviation of Parliament-Funkadelic. Two bands very close in style, with a number of common musicians and composers, but with a subtly different musicality and concept. Even if P-Funk has never really been a sub-genre of Funk, it has by force of circumstance managed to impose itself as such. The distinctive style of the two groups marked a whole generation in the 70’s, a sub-genre of psychedelic Funk with its own concept and philosophy, which itself influenced other sub-genres of Funk a little later.
However, if G-Funk borrowed a lot from George Clinton, the leader of P-Funk himself borrowed a lot from his Funk predecessors. George Clinton indeed perfected a sub-genre and knew how to reappropriate it in his own way, but the bases of the musicality of psychedelic Funk go back to other groups and artists. We won’t dwell on the birth of Funk in the early 60’s, of which one of the pioneers and founding fathers is James Brown, more fundamentally Soul, and with a slight Jazz tendency.
This psychedelia was born in the Rock in the middle of the Sixties, in particular within the Californian groups. It will be taken up by artists like Frank Zappa and especially Jimi Hendrix with slightly more Funk tendencies. Even if Jimi Hendrix remains more anchored in the Rock, with the usual markers of the genre, he will be one of the biggest sources of influences of the P-Funk period. If George Clinton took directly this psychedelic universe, the innovations of Jimi Hendrix in the handling of the guitar will be another source of inspiration. The use of amplified and saturated sounds and distortion effects to modify the tone, in particular with Fuzz, Octavia, wah-wah or Uni-Vibe pedals, are also found in part in the sounds of P-Funk.
The influence of Jimi Hendrix is far from being the only one. Sly and The Family Stone are one of the great architects of psychedelic Funk with musical markers much more common for Funk while integrating this euphoria and the electronic side of Jimi Hendrix. But unlike Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone will keep the influence of Jazz and Soul with the use of brass, which makes them a Funk band without hesitation. Albums like Dance To The Music, Life, Stand or There’s A Riot Goin’ On are among the founding albums of psychedelic Funk and were a direct influence in building George Clinton’s P-Funk.
“An innovative style of Funk with multiple influences”
George Clinton’s influences in building his own psychedelic Funk that could be called P-Funk are certain and identifiable, but that doesn’t take away any credit from what he was able to build. He certainly drew inspiration from his predecessors, James Brown’s Soul, Jimi Hendrix’s electrically saturated guitar innovations, and Sly Stone’s psychedelic Funk work, but George Clinton was able to reinvent the genre in his own way by reincorporating all of these elements with two legendary bands. It’s not for nothing that fifteen of Parliament-Funkadelic’s musicians have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
I mention George Clinton a lot since he is the leader of the band, but the other musicians must also get their merits. Bassist Bootsy Collins, guitarist Eddie Hazel, who was very influenced by Jimi Hendrix, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, saxophonist Maceo Parker and trombonist Fred Wesley all contributed to George Clinton’s work. It would be complicated to name all the musicians of Parliament-Funkadelic as they are so numerous, but they all contributed as musicians but also and especially as composers and influences for the main ones of them.
The style of the two bands together is the work of its musicians. They contributed to create the electric musicality with influences at the same time Soul, Funk, Jazz and Rock, which allowed to create this psychedelic funk so typical of the two groups. They made a thick and fat Funk with heavy and chopped sounds with a massive use of synthesizers and electronically modified voices while keeping the more traditional instruments of Funk and Jazz. However, they know how to keep the relative delicacy of Soul always with a form of psychedelia. It is difficult to convey the complexity of Parliament-Funkadelic’s music, as the different albums of the two groups each have a distinct and evolving style throughout their respective discographies, sometimes even to the point of disco influences.
“The P-Funk mythology”
If the musicality of the groups could evolve, the philosophy of the two groups remained more or less the same during the years with a guiding thread, although slightly different according to the two groups. Parliament had a slightly more festive and afrofuturistic tendency while Funkadelic was more psychedelic and conscious, this distinction is also felt in the musicality, the first being more fundamentally Funk and the second slightly more Rock. This philosophy has become so iconic that we even talk about the P-Funk mythology. And if the musicality is also the work of the musicians, the mythology of the group is much more carried and inspired by George Clinton himself.
Parliament-Funkadelic’s philosophy is obviously intimately linked to psychedelia. The eccentric clothing style of its members, in particular George Clinton, Bootsy Collins or Diaperman, is the first unconventional element of the group. Beyond that, they have a surreal style with many references to science fiction, Mothership Connection is the best example with a concept based on the escape in the space. George Clinton had this will to put black men in unprecedented situations, and in particular in space. This is the second pillar of the P-Funk mythology: Afro-centrism and Afro-futurism.
Even if George Clinton’s philosophy seems very conscious with a form of vindication of the rights of black Americans, it also has a much more ideological aspect, in a much more abstract sense. Parliament-Funkadelic mixes spiritualism, sociology, cosmology with theories, usually invented, and an absurd and satirical narrative. The use of different characters and concepts within the albums allows the band to draw up its theories while implementing its philosophy. The diversity of the different albums would deserve a longer look at each of them, and that would probably be the best way to understand the philosophy of P-Funk in more detail. But it is not the object of the article.