One of my very first posts was about P-Funk, and their relation to the Dead (none at all except what I make up), and I hate to quote myself but no one else does: P-Funk and the Dead are different answers to the same question – What if we gave these [REDACTED] kids way too much acid and amplification? Put “working-class black kids from Jersey raised on soul and church music” in the brackets, and you get P-Funk. Substitute “middle-class white kids from Marin raised on jazz, bluegrass, and classical” and you get the Dead.
The Dead formed in a music store; The Parliaments (the group that would mutate into P-Funk) formed in a barber shop. Context is everything.
Otherwise: four-hour shows with twenty-minute songs blending into one another; nineteen people on stage; money stolen constantly.
Let’s see if I can do the history of P-Funk in one sentence: George Clinton and some guys, two of whom were named Fuzzy and Grady, got a doo-wop group together, but found little success at Motown and got their name stolen via some legal bullshittery, which George got around by naming the backup touring band for the vocalists Funkadelic–they were funky and psychedelic, y’see–and releasing a bunch of raw and acid-soaked records that sounded like Black Sabbath (with an emphasis on the black part); after winning the name Parliament back, George started putting out more soul and vocal-based stuff under that name (but only sort of: there’s guitars on Parliament records and ballads and harmonies on Funkadelic albums), and then Bootsy Collins showed up, and then George Clinton discovered crack and lawyers.
P-Funk is better thought of as “P-Funk”: besides the two main groups–which both had rather fluid lineups, anyway–there was Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and the Brides of Funkenstein, and The Horny Horns, and solo albums aplenty: it was all the same shit. It was the good shit: hell, it was the bomb, but everything had the same sound; it’s tough not to when everything is on The One.
And that’s where the philosophies of P-Funk and the Dead cannot be reconciled. “Everything is on The One” and “The One is wherever you think it is” can’t work together; it’s like quantum mechanics vs. classical physics: you have to choose one or another. (Although an argument could be made that it deliberately avoiding the downbeat, it’s emphasized just as much as playing it.)
Another point of diametric opposition is the singing: Parliament started as a doo-wop group, and most of the instrumentalists could sing their asses off, and the Brides were always around; there were easily a dozen people on a P-Funk stage who were the best singer you’ve ever heard. There were elaborate harmony lines that got passed around and call-and-responsed and counterpointed, and the vocals would slide up against the horn section nice and smooth; it was the bomb. In the Dead, Phil sang the high harmonies while the other two forgot the words. Later on, Mrs. Donna Jean would sing the high harmonies while the other two forgot the words. (I could write this sentence two more times.)
P-Funk only had about ten good years, and there won’t be a stadium-sized reunion for the 50th; the Mothership was left to rot in a scrap yard in Maryland. Nothings gonna bring them back.
Bernie’s not gone, yet; give him and his friends a listen tonight.