George Clinton: Berklee Online LIVE | Songwriting | Parliament Funkadelic | Q&A | 2017
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George Clinton: Berklee Online LIVE | Songwriting | Parliament Funkadelic | Q&A | 2017

February 26, 2020


This gentlemen behind me right here
is none other than George Clinton. He has been writing, recording and
revolutionizing music for six decades. With his band’s
Parliament and Funkadelic he has produced 40 hit singles, and
that’s not even counting samples. He is one of the most
sampled artists of all time, with over 2000 samples
of his music being used. And you can ask him questions
by going on social media with the hashtag Berklee Online live. And he is also a 2012
honorary doctorate recipient from Berklee College of Music. So I’m going to strap on the headphones
and chat with Dr. Funkenstein. How are you? How are you doing? Pretty good. I’ve been deflead, de-ticked,
I’ve got my rabies shot, and I’m ready to bury the bone. Awesome. So tell me a little bit about– I mentioned that you’re one of the
most sampled artists of all time, and in your book you talk about
the artists who sampled you, but what was the first awareness you
had of people sampling your music? The first awareness I had was
De La Soul, “me myself and I.” When that one came out they came to me
and asked me, you know, they wanted– I had heard lots of people rapped to
it, but I had never heard a record, you know? Even though The Sugarhill Gang
did one I hadn’t heard it yet. So De La Soul was the
first one I actually heard. Nice. And they were the first
one to pay me too. Do you, you know, do
you get itemized checks that say, you know, this is from this
sample and this is from that sample. We’re beginning to now. I’ve been fighting for years. But we’re beginning to
get checks from that now. Right. So what over your career has
been this the sample that is, like, netted you the most money? Do you any idea? That I got myself? Yeah. It would have been “me myself and I.” Oh, really? Yeah. The rest of them I
never got paid for them. Oh, man. That’s what I’m saying. Oh, wow, OK. It’s just now starting to pay off. Well, that’s good. Patience, patience and perseverance. Oh, no. You’ve got to have faith. And so all the Dr. Dre stuff, you
haven’t seen a penny from that either? Oh, no. We’re fighting right now to get
paid for “Straight Outta Compton.” Oh, man. So now, with the advent of sampling,
did that ever change your whole process for songwriting at all? Like, did that– hey,
here’s a good groove, maybe this will be a good
something somebody will sample. Did that ever enter your
mind in the writing process? Actually, I actually put out a record
called Samples Some of Disc, Sample Some of D.A.T. just for that purpose. Movies still do, you
know, that’s something– I go through the same procedure myself. I sampled a song that we made, I
sampled a new song that we made. Tell me a little bit about, I mean,
what we’re talking about today is songwriting. So tell me about your process. You don’t play an instrument. And how does the– you’re humming for the
musicians basically, right? Basically, we call it head session. Head stashing? Head session. OK, head session. Yeah. Just hum the part of the guitar player,
hum the part of the bass player, and then we get a groove going. Then for the melody with
the keyboard player, Owen. I mean that’s one way. I’m from old school, so I can, like, sit
down and write a song in my head first, and then after I arrange the old song. But since today is more
about hip hop, you know, I try to do what they do in
whatever time period were in. How does it vary from player to player? Will you be kind of a stickler for them? No, that’s not the baseline I was doing. It’s like this. Or will you be adapting to when they
play something slightly different? Both ways, both ways. If they can’t get what I’m saying
and they come up with a better lick, I’ll take that. We called it close enough for funk. You know, but then sometimes I have
to get one musician to interpret it for another musician, what I’m saying. Some of them can hear
me better than others. Do you find it varies, you know,
you’ve been in this business for so long and collaborating
with people for so long, and you work with a
lot of younger players now, like you worked
with Kendrick Lamar. Did you find that working with
some of the younger players, they have a different approach? Or is it just basically the
universal language of music? Basically it’s the
universal language music. You know, with hip hop they
just take whatever you do and make something out of it. I can just go in there and
start running my mouth, and they’ll be satisfied
before I get started. You know? They’re probably easier than
actually making commercials. Commercials they just 10 minutes, 15
minutes, that’s all the time you got. But hip hoppers will do
it even quicker than that. They tell me go in there do what you do. And I have to figure out, what do I do? How often are you writing? Well I’m just getting
back into it a lot lately. I’ve put the album out First
You’ve Got to Shake the Gate. That has got me back into the spirit. And we’re doing a new album right
now, called Medicaid Fraud Dog. Like I said, in the last
album we had 33 songs on it. This one won’t be that long, but
it’s going have a lot of songs on it. Nice. With your own contribution
to writing, do you carry a notebook around with you? Or do you just save it all until
you’re there in the session? This phone I got in my hand right now is
the best thing that could ever happen. I can dictate it, and it can even
spell the words that I can’t spell. That used to keep me from writing a lot
of songs, I couldn’t spell the words. But with the iPhone– I’m with the phone period. You just say it and it
writes it down for you. Right. So when you are going back with those
words, how do you preserve the melody? Do you have a recording
device that you’re using? Or do you just look at the
words and know exactly– Yeah. I got a recording device on the phone. I could put it on the
notes, or I can sing it. But I won’t commit to
the melody too quick, unless it’s something really special. I’ll just do the basic atonal
type of melody just for the line. Then come back later on and
figure out what I was thinking. It’s interesting having seen
you play a number of times, and it’s just a celebratory experience. And then sometimes on record,
though, there’s more thoughtful, introspective works in there. I guess, how are you– when you’re writing, are
you writing for the stage or writing for the headphones? Well, basically, you try
to write for the stage. But it’s pretty hard
to come off, you know, on all of the Pro Tools and the digital
thing, you’ve got to do it so sterile that you can’t actually get down
on the tape, but you do on stage. We’ve always had that
problem over the years, trying to do what we
do on stage on record. It;s pretty hard to capture. So, all right, I’m going
to take a few questions now from the readers who have submitted. Alex Inquisidor
Weinstein wants to know– oh, this is what I was just asking. How do you balance between lyrics
that are fun and funky and lyrics with deep meaningful messages? I don’t distinguish between the two. They all seem funny to me, and knowing
how people could take something serious and that be funny to them or vice versa. So I’ll do it either way just
to be annoying sometimes. I’ll make something that sounds
serious be really stupid or silly, or the other way around. I was calling myself being funny
when I said, “free your mind, your ass will follow.” Then later on I started seeing
what people thought of it, and they made– oh, OK. I could see where it could be deep. But when I did it I
was just being clowny. You know, I would have somebody
that would interpret it for me and say no, that’s pretty deep. And then I got to go back
and act like I was deep. Well, it’s funny though. I mean– I’m not sure I believe
you that it’s all silly. You know, I mean, there’s like a
song like Biological Speculation, which that’s pretty deep, right? Yeah, but I was being funny again. You know? We could just be a test tube
bunch of people on the planet. I was, you know, biological speculation. We might not be all we think we are. And I know how deep, you
know, the insinuation is, but I was trying to be silly about it. Right. Well what’s the most serious
song you’ve ever written? Probably Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts. And I read most of that somewhere. So I just, like, flipped
the concept in my own head. And changed, you know, words and
thoughts I read somewhere in a book. I was really, seriously trying to
say that our minds are messed up. And we try to straighten things out
with our brains, and that’s messed up. So until we get that fixed,
you know, we won’t be able to straighten anything else out. But I really was in my
peace and love days then. Probably some good acid. What song would you say you
want people to remember you most by and quote the most? Would it be Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts? If You Don’t Like the Effect,
Don’t Produce the Cause. What line from that, in particular,
what would you want people to, you know, to see on a quote? “You say you don’t like
where you’re at, but you can make a change if you accept the blame. Stay in control of
your reactions, it will determine the effect of any situation. You have the power to negate
any awful cause and feelings that prohibits you to think.” That’s great. That one right there, I’m
kind of proud of that. Yeah, that is good. Again it seems a little bit
more meaningful than the goofing around thing that you
were talking about. I think I have to stop
being sarcastic about it. I still try to do it where it’s funny. So we’re about at the
halfway point, which is where we do a segment that’s
called stuck in the middle. So do you have a song that
you’re working on right now that you can’t figure
out where to go with it? Oh, man. One, the [INAUDIBLE] gave
me a concept, and I get– I called him up and he was
supposed to have been sick. I said, man, you sound good. He said, only you can
hear the hi in my hello. And I told him, I said, if you don’t
write this song in a week or two, I’m going to write it. I said the line in the song, but I
never tried to write a song about that. Tried to write a song about that. Now have you ever tried to bring
that to collaborators and say, like, all right, come on, let’s do this. I have done that, yes. But with that one it’s
just not taken yet? No, I haven’t done it with that one yet. I probably got a couple
other ones like that. So here is a question, this is from
Phil Stracke, it’s a great question. He’s just basically paraphrasing
the title of your book, and so, George, ain’t that
funkin’ kind of hard on you? That’s his question. No, it’s not. Like I said, I was hard when I started,
I’ll be hard when I get through. But if you like what you’re
doing, it ain’t work anyway. I mean, I actually have
fun doing what I do. So no, it ain’t hard. Here’s one coming from Billy Z. Other
than sex, drugs, and rock and roll, what inspires you? Ain’t shit else left. What? I said, ain’t nothing left. No, I’m just joking. But when you get 76 years old,
kids, grandkids, great grandkids, stuff like that started inspiring me. If you haven’t been
inspired by it before then, but that started looking
appealing all of a sudden. You know, playing with the
kids and shit like that. Yeah. You have great great
grandchildren, right? Yes. I got them on the road right now. That’s great. Yeah. When I last saw you perform I think your
grandson was doing some rhymes, right? Three grandsons, three granddaughters,
and a daughter and a son. And are they all involved? Yes, they’re are all on stage right now. That’s awesome. That’s great. That’s what you saw. I bet when you first
started out you had– did you have any inclination that
you’d be doing it long enough to have grandchildren onstage with you? No, I never thought of it like that. But I also never
thought I’d quit either. That’s great. Here’s a question from black on
black, how do you challenge yourself as a seasoned artist. What is the next level? What do you graduate to? The new artist, it sounds
like he’s kicking my ass. As soon as I hear somebody doing
something I wish that I had done– I’m like the Energizer bunny. I start all over again. I didn’t do shit. That must be really
gratifying though to continue to be asked by people like Kendrick
Lamar, who are at the top of the game, you know, to collaborate. That’s what’s inspiring about it. When you hear somebody like
that is paying attention to you, you really want to get back in the game. Here’s a question from Janice
Hazel, what was your inspiration to incorporate the soul gospel sounds
of Philippe Wynne on Not Just Knee Deep? Oh, that one– Philippe just happened
to be in there that day. Oh, really? He just happened to be sitting there. He had wrote his verse up
while we were doing the– we were finished. He said, bub, sounds great,
but one thing is missing. I said what? He said, me. I said, well, go on in there. And he did just what
he did on the record. You said that was Janice
Hazel, she wrote that? Yup. Tell her, and our cousin too. He was also– Oh, wow. I didn’t even realize that this
person is related to Eddie Hazel. That’s great. OK. This is from Kim ward,
in your autobiography you wrote about the risks of
political songwriting a lot has changed in the music industry
since the release of “Cosmic Slop.” Do you think that artists are now able
to express themselves more freely? Well, like Kendrick Lamar
said, if you’re on the 30, he said he got that from Tupac. And, for real, that’s the way it is. You could probably do stuff like
[INAUDIBLE] young or something like that. But they do a lot of stuff that you
couldn’t have done back then either. Like public enemy, you can’t do
what they did no more either. But you can do what Kendrick
did, or what Jay-z just did. Which is one of the most spectacular
albums I’ve heard in a long time. Yeah, that “4:44?” Yes, god. He really peed on that one. You know, he’s my man, but
wasn’t on top of the list, but he busted in up there this time. Here’s one from Sargam
Sandreni, how do you re-compose a melody, as in what
is already out there. How do you make changes
and make it your own? Well it’s called your interpretation. You can’t own the song if
you just reinterpret it. You can do your own version
of it, and make it yours, which is what covering songs are about. You know, you have to do a
good job and be a stylist. Aretha Franklin is real good at that. She’ll take somebodies song and you
will swear you’ve never heard it before. Yeah. You mentioned being a stylist, and
I know that’s how you started out, styling hair. Is there any overlap there
with that sort of creativity? Yeah. The concept of doing hair put me in
touch with the concept of [INAUDIBLE].. You know, a cool cat so cool
that he can’t get his hair wet. You can’t have no fun– well, I use that imagery
and that whole concept– a lot of the problem is, you know,
it’s supposed to be cool songs. like Make My Funk the P Funk. That was joke talk in the barbershop. So yeah, I use a lot of the barbershop. And not only that, but in my appearance. A lot of it was anti-cool,
a lot of it was cool. “Funkadelic” we tried to be as
dirty as we possibly could be. Diapers, and diapers, you
know, that kind of thing. Here’s a question coming from Bennett
Varsho, and he sent along a video actually of him giving
$10 to a guitarist who is standing on the street
busking to play “Maggot Brain,” and the guy did it. But anyway his question is, in Cleveland
you kept the crowd going for 20 minutes after they pulled the plug, what is
the longest you’ve done that for? For about 20 minutes and they
turned the electricity back on. We did it in Philadelphia– we did in Philadelphia
about 20 to 30 minutes. And people wouldn’t stop, so we
just banged on and kept singing. Here’s a question from Stephen Zackos,
being one of my biggest inspirations, I’ve always wanted to
ask what advice you can give to an aspiring Funk drummer. Keep it on the one. Keep it on the one. You know, but– the only way I
could say to anybody aspiring to do anything really is, do the
best you can and then funk it. As far as the Funk, like, where
do you reach for the Funk from? Like when you say, and Funk it, like,
where is that metaphysical place? Just let go, like, use the
force Luke, just let go and jam. And just settle back. Don’t try to show off. Just get in the pocket
with everybody and jam. Funk can take over itself. Let’s see. Here’s another from– this
one’s from Duwan Brown, are we ever going to see all of
the living members on stage again? All the Funkadelic and Parliament
all stars who are still alive and not playing again? I’m sure you will. I’m sure. That happens every now
and then, you know? But everybody’s got their own things. A lot of them and not
here with us anymore. But like you said, the remaining ones,
we come together every now and then. Here’s one from Carlton
Solomon, who, in your opinion, is really bringing the Funk today? I think you answered that with Kendrick
and Jay-z, but is there anybody who, outside of the hip-hop scope, and just
straight up Funk, who’s doing that? Well, I guess you would call
Flying Lotus, the Thundercat, that crew is, you know– they’re jazzy. But they got, like, the
freshest Funk because they’re mixing it with the DJ scene. So you got the best of both
worlds, a band and a DJ. They had a lot to do
with Kendrick’s album. Yeah. As far as you’re currently in that
movie that Flying Lotus has done, are you hearing a lot
of feedback about that? Don’t watch it while you’re eating. Right. That’s what everybody says. Did he have to ask you
twice to be in that? Or were you right away? Well, no. It’s funny because he– I’m always talking about got that
doo-doo, got that shit, you know, the doo-doo chasers, the band,
so I’m familiar with the concept. Talking shit. So you were on board right away then? Yeah. But, you know, hell yeah. Aliens coming out my ass, yeah. I could go for it. Is there ever anything that you are
asked to do, collaborative wise, that you just wouldn’t do? Oh, there’s a few of those. Yeah? I don’t even want to talk about them. Well, moving on then. OK. Here’s another question
from Jason Landry, having worked in the music
industry for quite some time, is there something you wish you learned
early on in terms of music education could have helped you today? The drugs didn’t work after
the first time or two. So in the spirit of the
less serious things, I have a silly question to ask of you. Can you guess why once a week
for the past 20 or 30 years or so, I get a flashlight
in my head when I’m taking the garbage to the curb? Flashlight? Yeah. Damn, I don’t know. I can’t answer that one. It’s trash night. Oh, it’s trash night. Anyway– That’s pretty funny. Trash night. Every week without fail, it’s garbage
night, and then it’s like, trash night. I had to do something
like that [INAUDIBLE].. I did that with Gonzo. Yeah. What did you and Gonzo do? I said it was a flash some– to me. It was something like– I forget what it was. I got to look it up again. Yeah. Well, look that up. Well George, thank you
so much for your time. And, you know, keep on keeping
on, and thank you so much. Roof. Roof. Thank you. Thanks. OK. Thank you. Thank you all very much for
tuning in, and a special thank you going out to Chrissy Walter,
Josh Chagani, Jesse Borkowski, Kayley Kravitz, Tim Scholl, Jana Jackson,
Mike King, Debbie Cavalier, everybody at Berklee Online really, and Benji
Rogers and George Clinton himself.

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  1. This man has been one of the greatest influences in my musical life. I’ve never sampled him, I learned to play through listening to his musicians. I would love to write with Mr. Clinton.

  2. it sucks he signed away his publishing under the influence of drugs. that demon Armen Boladian took advantage of him

  3. Concert I saw my first concert at the age of 12 and now I'm 54 and George Clinton still got by head-bobbing never get old Funk will never get old

  4. I am the same age and of the same era as Mr. Clinton. I get it , the interviewer is 40 years younger, he has his baggage, I have mine, but Jesus, this kid passed over a lot of history and people. Missed chance.

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