GEORGE CLINTON & THE COSMIC ODYSSEY OF
THE P-FUNK EMPIRE
Book excerpt by Kris Needs
Musician/author/radio host Kris Needs filled a gap for funksters recently with a bio about Uncle George Clinton and the P-Funk mob, who only have an oral history to their name on bookshelves otherwise. Though Uncle George himself is coming out with his own bio later this year, Needs' book fills an important gap as a critical overview of the Maggot Overlord's career with some especially unique perspective about P-Funk's influence on the UK music scene.
Below is an excerpt that covers the history of the groundbreaking Funkadelic song (and album) "Maggot Brain," including how it was hatched by Dr. Funkenstein and the late guitar genius Eddie Hazel.
Needs' bio is now available at Amazon and discerning bookshops everywhere.
Released in July 1971, there are many who consider Maggot Brain to be the best Funkadelic album of all, managing to distill the band's pounding hard rock, soaring gospel balladry, cranium-fried proto-metal and wigged-out cosmic psych into one devilish beast. Sadly, it marked the last time the original Funkadelic band would creatively combust in the studio together as rebellion brewed in the ranks, mainly over financial issues like back pay. But Maggot Brain is an awesome final shot, the high peak of Funkadelic's early phase.
Their third album in 18 months, it fared less well than its predecessors and stalled outside the Billboard Hot 100 by eight places. However, the album was popular within the black community, reaching number 14 on the R&B chart.
Maggot Brain was George's first serious comment on the crisis enveloping the Vietnam War, which was spiraling out of America's control. "We had to realize that our brains and minds – were fucked up themselves," he asserted. The title is derived from Eddie's (Hazel) nickname, but there's also been a story about George finding his overdosed dead brother Robert's decomposed body in a Chicago apartment, the cracked skull inspiring the song, title and scary African woman's zombie head on the cover. George later rebuked that one, declaring "It's not that gory!"
The time-stopping ten-minute title track is one of Funkadelic's most renowned statements, featuring Eddie Hazel's searing guitar traversing a stairway to hell as the closest he got to generating the spiritual catharsis achieved by his idol Hendrix. His performance was described by writer Greg Tate as providing Funkadelic's 'A Love Supreme.' Once, when I was listening to 'Maggot Brain,' it occurred to me that Eddie would have recorded this shortly after Jimi's death and maybe this was his own personal requiem to him. "Eddie claimed that he had some Jimi Hendrix spirit in him," said Sidney Barnes. "He really did. That's why he's not with us anymore, because the truly genius like that, they're tormented. He had too many demons, and he couldn't get away from 'em."
"I listened to Jimi a lot," Eddie told Guitar Player manager. "It was very uncanny that our styles were alike, but that is what I was hearing inside. I wanted to make the guitar an extension of my singing. My style is really like a solo vocalist guitar."
The often repeated tale about Hazel's stellar performance had George telling him to imagine that he had just been told his mother had died then finding out it wasn't true- all on super-strength Yellow Sunshine acid. Before the guitar gently ease in upon the haunted riff, George intones his litany: 'Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time/For y'all have knocked her up/I have tasted the maggots in the minds of the universe and I was not offended/For I knew I had to rise above it all, or drown in my own shit…"
"It really is a cosmic song," said George. "When we first did it, the whole band played on it but I just didn't use anything but him and the other guitars. All I had to do was tell him to think of something sad. He said, 'Oh man, motherfuck this, why don't you think of something sad?' So I was suggesting any stupid thing that was totally horrible. Well, he was feelin' it now."
When mixing, Clinton left the first take's tour-de-force guitar reverie unencumbered by the rhythm section, who can be heard trying to sketch a loose groove in that version, which was included on the Ace reissue. "I had four junkies; they decided to go to sleep right there on the session," he recalled. "So I had to make a record out of whatever I got… But the rest of the band sounded like shit! So I faded they ass right the fuck out and just let Eddie play by hisself the whole fuckin' track."
Eddie played his solo in a pentatonic minor scale in the key of E, putting it through a fuzz box and Cry Baby wah-wah pedal, glazed with dub-style delay. The late Gary Shider wells up with tears on the One Nation Under a Groove documentary as he declared 'Maggot Brain' to be "the sound of a brother crying his soul out. Maggot Brain is a state of mind… to get you out of a heroin mood, okay? The way I understand it, George put Eddie in the middle of a whole bunch of amps; just surrounded him with amps and said 'Play'.
"Billy and Tawl came out with the chords that night. Those chords are minors against majors. They said you couldn't do that but they proved it all wrong. So I just say there and got hypnotized into this. Eddie just had to sing hisself on guitar."
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