Greg Boyer: trombone
With music and theatrical concepts so far-out and wide-ranging that it's required multiple bands and literally dozens of albums and tours to work them out, George Clinton has become the prime innovator of all things funk, creating one of the most impressive bodies of work of any modern day bandleader. Clinton began his journey by forming a doo-wop group, The Parliaments, while growing up in New Jersey during the 1950s. During the 1960s as a staff writer for Motown, he honed his writing skills while paying close attention to the black musical innovators of the late 1960s like Sly Stone, James Brown, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. In 1969, Clinton began masterminding his Parliament/Funkadelic collective that would combine all these influences and go on to dominate black music during the following decade, scoring over forty hit R&B singles (including three number ones) and several platinum albums.
Prolific in the extreme, Clinton's constantly evolving line-ups would spawn many spin-off projects, but he began by pursuing two primary paths, Parliament and Funkadelic. Parliament was initially geared toward infectious booty-shaking dance music, while Funkadelic was more cerebral, featuring social and political commentary and drawing psychedelic rock influences into the mix. With many of the musicians identical to both outfits and with funk as the unifying element, there was a lot of style crossover between the two and they eventually merged into one massive touring outfit known collectively as Parliament-Funkadelic, more commonly referred to as P-Funk. Although several highly influential band members, like Bernie Worrell and Bootsy Collins had a revolving door policy and became legends apart from the collective, two of the guitarists featured here, Gary Shider and Michael Hampton, have been involved since the early 1970s and guitarist BlackByrd McNight and horn section members Greg Thomas and Bennie Cowan have all been on board since the late 1970s. Exhausting audiences to the present day with their relentless high energy funk as George Clinton & The P-Funk All-Stars, many of these supremely talented musicians that gravitated to Clinton have remained on board for decades now, a big factor in keeping their live performances so consistently exciting and musically potent.
Recorded by the Bill Graham Presents crew at the annual Laguna Seca Days festival in Monterey, California during the spring of 1995, this performance captures Clinton & The P-Funk All-Stars in all their unhinged glory, compressing what was often a three to four hour set into 90 minutes of pure primal funk. The first half of the set is a relentless barrage of high energy, beginning with "Cosmic Slop," propelled by the monstrous dual bassists Rodney Curtis and Billy Bass Nelson and peaking with a blazing guitar solo from Michael Hampton. Clinton and the band continue pumping up the audience with a phenomenal 17-minute workout on "Give Up The Funk", in which they incorporate several other familiar P-Funk themes, including the interactive chants "Ain't No Party Like A P-Funk Party" and "Tear The Roof Off," putting this massive audience firmly under their spell.
Following a smoking "Red Hot Mama" that has guitars blazing full force, things mellow out for a while, first with George Clinton delivering a monologue in praise of teachers that segues into the political commentary/proto-rap of "Dope Dogs." This is followed by Belita Woods delivering a great bluesy reading of the Otis Redding classic, "I Love You More Than Words Can Ever Say," that also features tastefully understated guitar work from Gary Shider.
However, the most penetrating musicianship is saved for last and over the course of the next twenty minutes, P-Funk deliver two mind-melting guitar-based compositions that provide Michael Hampton and Blackbyrd McNight each an extended showcase. This begins with the broken chords and relaxed groove of the late Eddie Hazel's masterpiece, "Maggot Brain," featuring nearly eight solid minutes of incendiary burn from Michael Hampton, who honors Hazel while playing simply mesmerizing lead guitar in his own right. With the audience thoroughly dazed, the band launch into one of their strongest newer compositions, the funky rocker "Fly On," which serves as a vehicle for Blackbyrd McNight to cut loose with some of his own blazing fretwork. Both of these contain explosive guitar performances that will clearly explain why so many guitarists hold P-Funk in such high regard.
As if to prove what an immense effect P-Funk has had on younger musicians, they close the set out by combining "Atomic Dog," and "Knee Deep," two of the most sampled songs in the history of hip-hop. This extended closer also features other themes surfacing throughout, including a spontaneous rap of "Rhythm & Rhyme." Freedom of thought and expression (as in dancing!) are the root elements here and by combining the two, this ecstatic closer proves exactly why P-Funk has remained vital and the group has achieved such remarkable touring longevity. Throughout the decades, Clinton and the P-Funk collective have remained true to the original premise; "Free your mind and your ass will follow!"