ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's time for another episode of Play It Forward, where artists tell us about their music and the musicians who inspired them. On our last episode, we spoke with Angel Bat Dawid, the improvising musician from Chicago who told us about her connection to the pioneer of funk, George Clinton.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
ANGEL BAT DAWID: First of all, I come from a Funkadelic, Parliament household. Every day probably of my life, my father played anything from Funkadelic, Parliament - our road trips, everything. He was a hero of my father, you know? The music is just so good, you know? Like, George Clinton always did his own thing. And those have always been the musicians that I have looked up to the most. He was just the ultimate arranger, producer, know how to put things together, all the elements.
SHAPIRO: Well, we're going to go to George Clinton next. So what would you like to say to him?
BAT DAWID: I just want to let you know that you are such a great inspiration to me. You showed me how to be myself. Like, I'm strong in my individuality because of you. You're one of the most ingenious musicians, composers of our lifetime. Thank you, George Clinton.
SHAPIRO: And George Clinton joins us now. Welcome to Play It Forward.
GEORGE CLINTON: Wow. Thank you for having me here.
SHAPIRO: How do you react to what we just heard from Angel Bat Dawid?
CLINTON: Wow, I got to get the butterflies out. I'm old as hell, but I still feel good when you hear somebody...
CLINTON: ...That appreciates you with that kind of soul in their voice.
SHAPIRO: That's so sweet that that still gives you butterflies after all this time.
CLINTON: Oh, yeah, you and my ham (ph).
SHAPIRO: (Laughter). What's it like to hear that you're not just influencing a musician working today but, like, literally multiple generations? Her father was a huge fan of yours.
CLINTON: Well, I mean, that was our intent, you know? We started out back in the '50s and early '60s.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEART TROUBLE")
CLINTON: (Singing) Worry angel's got a hold on me.
When stuff like "West Side Story" was out - you know - and Broadway-type songs.
CLINTON: So I always had that theory in my head that I didn't want just to be a singing group of musicians. I wanted to be a thing. That's why we called it Parli-Funkadelic-ment plan, you know? We thought that we did it like that.
SHAPIRO: You mean you wanted to be theatrical?
CLINTON: We wanted to be theatric, so it lasted years, not just for the Top 10. That's why I aimed it for it to last so long. So...
CLINTON: ...That gave us a lot of room. We didn't have to be whatever the Top 40 was doing. But then again, we could do that if we felt like doing it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T MISS WHAT YOU CAN'T MEASURE")
FUNKADELIC: (Singing) Grief has got a hold on me. I can't think for myself. It's all because that woman of mine making love to someone else.
SHAPIRO: So Angel Bat Dawid talked about how you always did your own thing. Can you tell us about a time that that was especially difficult?
CLINTON: Oh, yeah. In the early '60s because we changed so radically with Funkadelic, I realized Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and all of that was coming. Rock 'n' roll was getting ready to take over. And that sounded like the music my mother used to listen to, just played loud.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) And you went, like, more freeform, more radical.
CLINTON: Yeah, more bluesy, you know?
CLINTON: We just named the group Funkadelic and went to the rock 'n' roll psychedelic era.
(SOUNDBITE OF FUNKADELIC SONG, "FREE YOUR MIND AND YOUR ASS WILL FOLLOW")
CLINTON: Whoa, ha, hey, of Funkadelic, "Free Your Mind Your Ass Will Follow" (ph).
CLINTON: And it worked out pretty good.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREE YOUR MIND AND YOUR ASS WILL FOLLOW")
FUNKADELIC: (Singing) I'ma (ph) having no mercy.
SHAPIRO: Where do you hear the descendants of P-Funk in the music of today?
CLINTON: On the nerve of certain people that do their own thing. You can feel it, you know? Most of the time, it's the nerve for them to do whatever they're doing.
SHAPIRO: Interesting. So it's not necessarily like they're doing a new version of funk. It's that they are doing something new in the same way you were doing something new.
CLINTON: That is funk. Funk is whatever it need to be to give you that freedom, you know, to let go and try that, whatever you're doing. You being funky when you just let yourself go and freestyle or whatever you want to call it.
(SOUNDBITE OF FUNKADELIC SONG, "DO THAT STUFF")
SHAPIRO: I'm curious - you know, you're not just famous as a performer but also as an arranger, as a producer, as the leader of Parliament-Funkadelic. And so talk to us about how you bring out the best in other people, your collaborators, the artists you're working with.
CLINTON: I push whatever it is they're doing. I give them that gratification, what you're looking for when you're playing that hype men give you. Your ego is - it's a better performer than you are most of the time.
CLINTON: That's the time you can really use it. You just - it's a hard time putting back where you belong after that, but you need it in the studio onstage and performing. At least I do.
SHAPIRO: So how do you do that? Like, what do you say when you do?
CLINTON: I just feed off of people, you know, appreciating and responding. And so when I see somebody playing a solo, I'll take the mic, even though it's going to drive the engineer crazy and go put it on the speaker. It's loud, but, you know, that's the energy. The person usually end up playing 10 times better 'cause they're getting that approval. And everybody's participating, and everybody's happy.
(SOUNDBITE OF FUNKADELIC SONG, "DO THAT STUFF")
SHAPIRO: All right. Well, George Clinton, it is your turn to play it forward. So tell us about an artist who you are thankful for.
CLINTON: OK. Constance. She have the group Miss Velvet And The Blue Wolf.
(SOUNDBITE OF MISS VELVET AND THE BLUE WOLF SONG, "SUPER BON BON")
SHAPIRO: OK. So this is Constance Hauman. She has this band called Miss Velvet and the Blue Wolf, but she's also an opera singer.
CLINTON: I found that out a year and a half later after we've been on the road for almost a year and a half. She opened up for us at B. B. King's in New York. We've been working together almost two years all through Australia, Europe, everywhere. But I had no idea, again, like I said, about the opera part of it till somebody said Constance sing opera herself. And I said, yeah? And they showed me a video. And I'm like, oh, my God. What?
CLINTON: I had to call her and say, you didn't tell me about this.
SHAPIRO: OK, so just for comparison, let's listen to her group Miss Velvet And The Blue Wolf, which you've collaborated with. She's on keyboards here.
(SOUNDBITE OF MISS VELVET AND THE BLUE WOLF SONG, "BAD GET SOME")
SHAPIRO: And then let's listen to a track of her singing opera as a soprano.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CONSTANCE HAUMAN: (Singing).
CLINTON: That's phenomenal, blew me away. So, I mean, I was already proud of the fact that we had worked together, but then it was like a whole new thing now that I'm seeing that she's got all this talent. So when they asked me to do this show, that's the first - that popped out of my mouth before you finish telling me what it was about.
SHAPIRO: Well, we're going to go to Constance next. So what would you like to say to her?
CLINTON: I'm ready to hit the road again. Are you ready to hit the road again?
CLINTON: We got some unfinished things to do. We was right in the middle of recording some of the shows live when the pandemic started. So tell her I'll see her in outer space.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Funk legend George Clinton, architect of Parliament-Funkadelic, thank you so much for talking with us.
CLINTON: Thank you, man. Thanks for having me.
SHAPIRO: And we'll talk with Constance Hauman on the next episode of Play It Forward.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
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