By Karl Sörne | Photography Dave Barfield
“We were too black for white folk. And too white for black folks. But as time passed, more people got on board. By the time we released Mothership Connection we had a huge fan base. We’ve been one nation under a groove ever since.”
A few knocks and the piano being played with skill hard to comprehend stopped on the other side of the door. Danny Bedrosian, keyboard player for P Funk and classically trained pianist, greeted us with a huge smile. He beckoned us inside and into one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had. The air was thick as Dave and I moved through the studio rooms of the long standing home of Funk. Dense with memory and haze, passing objects and relics from days past, made in some fever dream that undoubtedly had a purpose at one point but had been since lost to time. Parliment’s studio was in a bit of an upheaval because of the planned move to a new building George was constructing on another piece of property, but the impression was even in the best of times it would take a bit of effort to recount all the memories now strewn about the area. One of the most notable being George’s original 1923 Chickering quarter baby grand piano that had new life breathed into it courtesy of the show “American Restoration”, colors being added to the harp on the inside to match George’s hair at the time.
A few turns and we enter the room that houses the Neve mixing board and you will have to forgive me as I geek out a bit about that. Rupert Neve founded his company Neve Electronics in the early 60’s and is largely credited with the creation of the modern mixing board. Neve boards are a work of art in and of themselves and anything written here can not do justice to the skill and beauty involved in their construction. The aesthetics of the board are amazing and matched point for point by their ability to capture sound. The proof is in the pudding as they say because many of the modern masterpieces that we enjoy were recorded on Neve boards, Parliament Funkadelic obviously among them. My meager efforts as a board operator have given me enough perspective to recognize that I am standing in a room with more than one legend, though only one of them can answer questions so I locked my knees, forced myself to refocus and get return to the task at hand.
George Clinton rose to greet us as if we were already friends which was a fantastic preview of how the rest of our time together would be. He was quick to laugh and credit others for his success. He was an open book about his battles with addition and how he drew inspiration from achievements, either his or others. “A mountain is all about point of view ya see”, George said. “So climbing that mountain takes the same amount of effort for everyone. What’s at the top is what gets me excited.” Whenever something happened that someone wanted to celebrate, George uses that as fuel to keep him going, describing also a near death experience that shook him to the very core. At 76 years old, it is amazing to witness his stamina and love of what he does continuing to push him into new material, even as he announced his retirement from the touring circuit next year, Parliament releasing it’s first new single in 28 years in January of this year off of the album Medicaid Fraud Dog which is now available for purchase. Everyone close to him has countless stories about his persistence, sneaking suspicions that he would return to the live stage and in keeping people honest and good to themselves.
“I started as a tech for P Funk when I was in College. Just a kid and by a random accident I was suddenly on stage playing keyboard because I had learned all the songs on my own time”, Danny Bedrosian explains while deftly playing a distractingly good melody on George’s piano. “But George wouldn’t let me drop out to come on tour. He said finish school and there will be a place for you. That stuck with me. George genuinely cared for everyone who was close to him. All of us are family.” The connections run deep, which becomes apparent after only minutes of speaking with all present, and was true all the way back to the beginning. One such moment spawned one of my favorite urban legends about George that he confirmed to be half true on a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything. The tale goes that in order to get the stellar guitar performance out of Eddie Hazel on the album Maggot Brain, George told him to play the first half of the album as if his mother had died and the second half like he found out she was still alive. The first half of the story is true and gives a small window into the level of intimacy among the members of all the projects surrounding George.
On the topic of those projects, it is easy to get lost in the breadth of his work. 23 albums across multiple acts with scores of EPs, singles and producing credits, George has created some the most iconic tracks of the last 60 years and inspired countless others by infecting them with the funk. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 with 15 other members of Parliament-Funkadelic, he is one of the few considered to have shaped funk into what we know it as today. If anyone had earned the right to act as his accomplishments would dictate it would be him, but, as described before and confirmed repeatedly by everyone else in the room with us, he is quite the opposite. The first to admit his faults and shortcomings, it would seem he believes all of his success has come in spite of him and because of those who have surrounded him over the decades. More than anything, his desire to thrive on the spirit of Funk and what it means to not only him personally but us a culture keeps him creating and playing.
A characteristic of spanning that much time while remaining a public figure and inspiration for modern artists is to watch society heave and shift as it roils with change and adaptation. George has watched the reception of his unique sound modulate over the years and along with it the attitude on what is and isn’t ok. “We were too black for white folk. And too white for black folks. But as time passed, more people got on board. By the time we released Mothership Connection we had a huge fan base. We’ve been one nation under a groove ever since.” Much like the growing members of Parliament itself, as more and more people contracted the funk, it became apparent that they were resonating with the culture. Parliment developed into an outlet of unification, people coming together regardless of difference in order to find the funk that was being served.
Before we knew it the hours had flown by and George had another engagement to get to, his granddaughter’s recital no less. He excused himself and thanked us for chilling with him. Danny was kind enough to continue our conversation where we discussed his various projects and interests which are staggering in their own right. Too numerous to detail here but rest assured they will be covered in future editions. When asked about his relationship with George and the bands, he recounted quite joyously the unique and wonderful experience and touring with them has been. “George is very much a band leader. He is controlling the ship that we are all crew for and the audience is a passenger on. If he likes what you are doing on a given night he will tap you on the shoulder for a solo and you take off. It makes every show unique in that way. No song is the same twice. There is no replacing George. You just do your best to live up to his standard and honor the legacy he created.” Whether it was a story from the road, recording and tweaking a song to find new depth or planning a show set list, the common theme was a constant expansion of the energy and connection between all of them that had taken on a life of its own.
I know that music can mean a lot of different things to people and a group like P Funk even more so because of the many faces it has had over the years. I can’t speak to those personal experiences in broad sweeping verbiage because that is a fools errand and to try and relay what it means to me doubly so. What I can speak to is what I observed and encountered at his studio that day. I saw a man who had done and was still doing right by a lot of people. I saw a band that even after decades of performance and work still played together with fervor and passion. I saw the evidence of years of strife and success, impacting us as a culture, and a man at the center of that who had cultivated a group of people glad to have known him. Who knows what next adventure lies in store for George, but I do have a vision of how it will end. The mothership will be full of happy faces, loving family and plenty of Doctor Funkenstein’s prescription when it departs this little blue planet finally decides to go back to Sirius.