For Funk Master George Clinton, Playing At Okeechobee Fest Is A Chance To Introduce New Audiences To The Genre He Helped Create
The legendary George Clinton is bringing the funk to the 2017 Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival with hits like “Flash Light,” “Atomic Dog,” “Aqua Boogie,” and “One Nation Under a Groove.”
Best known for disheveled rainbow dreadlocks, madcap stage antics, and an intergalactic persona, the “Godfather of Funk” will be among 100-plus artists taking the stage at the second annual Bonnaroo-like campout at Sunshine Grove from March 2-5.
Having worked with the likes of Tupac Shakur, Outkast, Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and Michael Bolton, the 75-year-old—who rose to fame as the head of Parliament-Funkadelic in the 1970s—still maintains his characteristic, otherworldly attitude when it comes to talking about his work.
“Funk is one of those communications that can be transferred through all kinds of mediums and senses that we don’t even use yet,” he says.
He would know. Clinton began his music career in 1955 with the doo-wop group The Parliaments, before going on revolutionize R&B in the ‘70s by melding it with the ‘60s acid sound of artists like Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. Through this mixture of genres, Clinton’s trademark style of funk was born.
In 1997, his Parliament-Funkadelic group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Prince, who credited Clinton with being one of his greatest influences. In addition to collaborating with the late singer, Clinton recorded on Prince’s Paisley Park label after expensive legal battles with Bridgeport Music forced him from his 200-acre Michigan farm to Florida in 1996.
“It was good for me,” Clinton says of his move to Tallahassee, “because I was able to be out here in the country and re-invent myself.”
Recently, Clinton has collaborated on Kendrick Lamar’s 2016 Grammy-winning album “To Pimp a Butterfly” and Louie Vega’s 2017 Grammy-nominated “Louie Vega Starring...XXVIII.”
And while six degrees of separation would likely link Clinton’s pervasive influence to every nook of the music world, he does have a favorite, long-time funkster.
“Sly Stone,” he says. “Because we had so much fun musically — and doing other crazy stuff that we had no business doing.”
One crazy incident occurred on Clinton’s birthday in 1996 when world heavyweight champion boxer Evander Holyfield and a giggling 16-year-old Chelsea Clinton surprised him backstage at his concert in Atlanta. “She wanted to start a cake fight,” he says, laughing at the memory.
Clinton recalls holding a hot crack pipe behind his back as the president’s daughter, surrounded by Secret Service, descended on him for pictures. “I’m like, I have a pipe in my hand, I need to shut up and be quiet.”
But with age comes wisdom, and, for Clinton, no regrets. “You get older and you feel a little ashamed, but she wanted to meet the band, and it was funny,” he says. “But the crack, I finished with that about six years ago. I don’t regret stuff that I’ve done. It’s just part of growing up.”
Taking the stage prior to Clinton at Okeechobee will be the hard-rocking teenagers from What You Know, or WYK, a Miami-based band grounded by the percussion of Nic Collins (son of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer Phil Collins).
For the rising stars, it’s a chance to play alongside music royalty.
“He’s something else,” Nic Collins says of Clinton. “He’s the father of all funk . . . It’s such an honor to be playing before him, because he’s such a big deal in the music world.”
So far, the fledgling WYK has mostly played indoor arenas and music festivals, including the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Collins’ native Switzerland.
“We’re kind of nervous,” Collins says of playing at Okeechobee, which draws an estimated 30,000 people. “I hope that once we get up there it’ll be fine.”
Hoping to achieve success based on what they know, not who they know, Collins is quick to emphasize the stylistic contributions of each band member, citing co-founder and bassist Yannick Weingarten’s classic rock influence on what he calls the band’s Red Hot Chili Peppers-inspired mixture of hard rock, funk, blues and R&B.
“I don’t want to be remembered as just being Phil Collins’ son,” he says. “I kind of want to be remembered as being my own musician.”
Beyond WYK, Clinton continues to proselytize a new generation of musicians to his eclectic brand of Afrofuturism and emotive grooves.
“I’m having fun playing with these younger musicians,” Clinton says. “I look for when kids start doing new music and try to get in touch and work alongside of them.”