Parliament-Funkadelic mastermind George Clinton, the man behind R&B staples like Flash Light and Atomic Dog, recently shed his signature rainbow hair extensions and ragamuffin getups in favor of a dapper new look. With his band’s stage props going into the Smithsonian and an honorary doctorate bestowed on his head, maybe it was time.
Rest assured, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee’s stage-sagging ensemble still arrives with 40 years of genre-defining funk in its back pocket.
He checked in from a tour stop in Houston. Here’s how it went:
Q. The hair extensions are gone and you’re wearing suits. Does this mean you’re growing up?
A. Every few years I need to do something to make it more interesting for myself. It’s getting a lot of attention, like the hair. The only problem is, at first people thought it wasn’t me.
Q. Do you ever walk by a mirror and think, who’s that?
A. I definitely do that. Samuel Jackson, Quentin Tarantino and Jamie Foxx came out to the show last night. They looked at the suit and said, What the ... you got on?
Q. Where do you keep the Mothership when you’re not on tour?
A. We gave it to the Smithsonian. ... We’re going to fly it for the last time in June when they open the rhythm-and-blues section.
Q. And the Berklee College of Music just gave you an honorary doctorate degree. Are you now officially Dr. Funkenstein?
A. It’s official. I never thought about no degrees, but I’ll take it.
Q. You’re always surrounded by so many people with instruments. What does George Clinton do to unwind?
A. I go fishing. It’s quiet as ... out on the water. Ain’t nothing out there.
Q. What is it about songs like Flash Light and Mothership Connection that keeps them fresh 40 years later?
A. We were playing jazz and classical in a funk atmosphere. We had so many styles of music it made everything we did funky. That’s what happened with us. Like King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer – what they were doing with rock ’n’ roll we were doing it with R&B music. They were so musical with the synthesizer, an instrument that’s usually a sound effect. And Bernie (Worrell) could actually play that thing. When I mixed all that together, we created something like jazz did, like Miles or Bird.
Q. You were just that far ahead of your time.
A. It sounds like what they’re doing with the techno. They’re just catching up.
Q. You take pride in the fact that you were born in an outhouse. What would have happened if you were born in a hospital?
A. I don’t know if I would have been this funky. I might have been too clinical. My mother told me I almost got wiped out.