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George Clinton keeps funk flame alive

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George Clinton appears at Stern Grove this weekend with Parliament Funkadelic. (Courtesy photo)
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“Everybody wants a piece of the funk,” says George Clinton.

The 75-year-old bandleader’s claim will be borne out by multi-generational multitudes swarming for a piece of ground at Stern Grove on Sunday to witness the current iteration of Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic ensemble.

“We can’t just let it fall away and disappear into history, just like all the other music,” says Clinton, by phone from his home base in Florida.

Clinton and the infectious electronic funky sound he helped integrate in pop music have no need to fear obsolescence.

Though his Parliament group began with mid-1950s doo wop, and Funkadelic started as a late ‘60s Afro-grunge aggregation of electrified instrumentalists, the amalgamated group nicknamed P-Funk survived its peak popularity in the late ‘70s and was heavily sampled by later hip-hoppers.

Earlier this year, Clinton was joined by two generations of rappers, Ice Cube and Kendrick Lamar, on a music video, “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?” That rhetorical question also appeared on the cover of Clinton’s memoir, published last year.

The giant sci-fi “Mothership” prop, which started out stage shows for P-Funk 40 years ago, is to be berthed at the Smithsonian Museum.

“The hardest thing about funkin’,” insists Clinton, “is actually fighting the corporations who wanna own it, trying to own the history of the group, and keep it from being relevant.” He’s referring to a protracted series of suits and countersuits, some involving Bridgeport Music, a Michigan music publishing firm which Clinton claims forged documents to deprive him of his rights to financial benefits of his creation and to restrict his sharing his material with other musicians.

“Tear the Roof Off,” a new documentary by sometime actor Bobby Brown, which screened earlier this month at the SF DocFest and the San Francisco Black Film Festival, includes a history of P-Funk that painted Clinton in less than glowing colors.

“I don’t know anything about it, though I heard talk about it,” he says. “It ain’t the one with everyone talking like they’re mad, is it?” Informed that there’s a strong element of negative testimony, he responds, “It’s someone trying to stop this momentum we got going.”

Clinton’s counting of his blessings includes the declaration: “I’m over drugs, I don’t take no pain medicine.”

The interview is interrupted by the arrival of his band, which, like his fans, spans generations. “One of the guitar players, and several of the horn players, go back to ‘78,” he says. “My son is a guitar player and sings, seven are my grandkids, and they’re hip-hoppers, they make the beats and stuff. Basically what the act is, is generations of characters, some catgirls, some just weird. It really is like theater.”

IF YOU GO
George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic
Where: Stern Grove, 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard, S.F.
When: 2 p.m. June 26
Admission: Free
Contact: www.sterngrove.org, (415) 252-6252

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