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Funk pioneer George Clinton at 75: 'I still get butterflies in my stomach'

At 75 years young, funk music innovator George Clinton joins AirTalk to talk about his coming show at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, September 17, 2016.

At 75 years young, funk music innovator George Clinton joins AirTalk to talk about his coming show at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, September 17, 2016.

The show is described as happening “on its own space-time curve... an epic night of sounds from the Brainfeeder trust.”  

Clinton, his Funkadelic and Parliament bandmates, along with Flying Lotus and more will celebrate the evolution – and revolution – of beat-minded music, from electronic and deconstructed jazz, to futuristic R&B and instrumental hip hop.

On AirTalk, Clinton talks about his collaboration with Compton-artist Kendrick Lamar, and his hobbies outside of music including fishing.

Interview Highlights

Do you still get excited about going into the studio or getting on stage?

Clinton: Oh, yeah. I still get butterflies in my stomach. It’s like, we’re just getting started.

When you started getting sampled so much by hip-hop artists, did you see that as paying tribute to you, or did it at all rub you the wrong way?

Clinton: No, I was glad. I saw it as a way to reinvent myself. I was glad to hear “Me, Myself and I,” by De la Soul...Public Enemy... all the different people who sampled because I knew that was the way to keep the funk alive, and that’s why I’m so close with all of those artists.

How do you feel about being the elder statesman? Now, people look at you of with artistic reverence, how do you feel about that?

Clinton: You know, I don’t care how they look at me as long as I get the chance to funk. Whatever it takes for me to stay in the game, I’m up in there and don’t bother me.

One of the things I love about your work is the humor. You make me laugh, along with making all of us move. Are you naturally a funny person or do you have to think of the funny titles and lyrics?

Clinton: Somebody told me that recently. I didn’t think I was being funny.

C’mon, “Brides of Funkenstein?”

Clinton: I guess it is funny. But you know, if it ain’t no fun, it ain’t worth doing it.

I try to be stupid if I can, stupid is a prerequisite in having fun. When you get stupid, that’s when it becomes fun. And I hate to be preaching, even if we say something that sounds a little profound, people don’t want to hear it if you’re preaching to them. So like, “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow,” that sounds like a pretty basic thing, but it’s true.

When you’re not working, what kind of lifestyle do you live?

Clinton: I go fishing, I feed the birds in the backyard. I had my fun over the years; I did all of the rock-n-roll things you do as a rock star. I’m 75, so I can actually chill out now and still be cool. But I’ve probably always been pretty boring at home if you don’t dig fishing and stuff like that. When I get on stage I turn up, but off stage, I ain’t getting paid to act a fool.

There’s a line in your memoir that came out a couple of years ago, and you described P-Funk as, “We were too white for black folks, too black for white folks, and that’s exactly how we wanted it.” Was that conscious?

Clinton: Oh, believe me, we definitely intended to do that. Everybody comes to the show now, black and white, old and young. So I don’t even have a set list until I get out on the stage and see who’s out there. I have to check the audience before I tell them what songs we’re going to play. You know, because I have to be mindful that we have a big audience of black and white; it took so long to accumulate the audience because like I said, we were too white for black folks and too black for white folks. But as it grew and grew, we got the P-Funk audience, and now they’re all different colors, ages and genders.

This story has been updated.

This interview was edited for clarity.


George Clinton,  American singer, songwriter, bandleader, and music producer; a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, he has been cited as one of the foremost innovators of funk music, along with James Brown and Sly Stone 

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