The Doctor is out: George Clinton stops by on the road to retirement

George Clinton, who announced he will retire in 2019, makes one of his final concert appearances at Lockn’ Festival on Friday.
Publicity photo George Clinton, who announced he will retire in 2019, makes one of his final concert appearances at Lockn’ Festival on Friday. Publicity photo

George Clinton is back. George Clinton is leaving.

In April, just three months after releasing “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’ Me,” a single from Medicaid Fraud Dogg, the first Parliament record in 38 years, Dr. Funkenstein announced he’ll retire from touring in spring 2019.

It marks the final phase of a career spanning five decades, two chart-topping bands, and a successful solo career. Clinton’s dabbled in movies and television along the way, and his music has influenced countless hip-hop, R&B, and soul musicians. His samples are ubiquitous.

Ahead of his August 24 gig at Lockn’, the Prime Minister of Funk talked to C-VILLE Weekly about drugs, touring, and our funk-free POTUS.

C-VILLE: So you’re pretty familiar with the Charlottesville area, right?

GC: We used to play there all the time—right near the university. What’s the group’s name that’s from there?

Dave Matthews Band.

Yeah, Dave Matthews. We used to play together all the time. I remember we played there the year Virginia and Florida State played. I’m from Florida—I live in Tallahassee.

Any wild stories from hanging around C’ville?

Oh, that was back in my crazy days. But the shows were always good. All I can remember is that it used to be really icy and snowy. We was all up in the snow.

Speaking of your crazy days, you’re sober now, yes?

My last eight years. Well, I got my medical marijuana card and my pipe, my papers. I keep that handy. But I’m 77 now.

How has the creative process changed for you since you got sober?

I got an album that just came out, Medicaid Fraud Dogg, and I definitely wrote that one sober. The one before that was First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate. That was while I was getting sober. But this one was completely sober. It actually feels just like the old days, back in the Mothership days. The response we’re getting from people about the album and the video has been amazing.

Can the Lock’n crowd expect new music or classics?

The last couple years we’ve been doing the new stuff, but you’ll see some of the old stuff. I just look at the people and figure it out right from the stage. We never have a set list. We have so many different people come to shows, different ages, nationalities, genders. You have to look at the audience and say, “they look like they’re feeling this way.”

So, we can improvise—we can play old hit records and jam ’em at the same time. It’s like a funky Grateful Dead.

Do you enjoy playing festivals like Lockn’?

Is that the one with Widespread Panic? Those are our boys. We love it. We’ve been doing it for years, back to the early days of Lollapalooza with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I feel like it’s getting better nowadays. The only good shows for a while were electronic music. Now I feel like there are a lot of bands that are coming back to the festivals.

How do you feel about the way music, specifically black music, has changed over the years?

You know, we did that record with Kendrick, To Pimp a Butterfly. He’s one of my favorites of the new style. I’m still into like Scarface and Ice Cube. But mixing it up with Kendrick was good. Right now, I also like Cardi B and a lot of the Atlanta music. I’m down with that because we did a lot of stuff in the ’90s with Outkast, and that seemed to be an outgrowth of the P-funk thing. Funk is in the DNA of hip-hop.

What is it about Kendrick that you like?

He’s artsy fartsy, like Prince did with rock ‘n’ roll, like Beyoncé with what she do. Kendrick is one of those perfectionists. He works night and day trying to get better. You can tell he puts work in and studies his craft.

Kendrick is also overtly political, and that was never really your thing.

We did it humorously. We were able to get away with a lot of things other people couldn’t because it looked like we were joking. I wasn’t preaching. I was just saying, “here is another point of view.” I tried to mirror the world around me. But I was non-partisan, too. I don’t want to lead nobody down the road and find out something different later on. You realize how much shit you don’t know when you get behind that microphone.

Any thoughts about the current state of politics or President Trump?

I don’t think about that dude. Any day now he gonna dance his way out of there. I just believe in the funk, and he ain’t got no funk.

What’s next for you after you retire from touring?

By the end of next year, I’ll be 78. But the band is in tip-top shape—they got it without me being there. I’ll still be recording, in the studio, keep recording the group, and doing TV and movies and stuff. Fishing.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Lock’n crowd?

Tell ‘em I said bring two booties, cause I’m gonna make them sick of me.

George Clinton & P-Funk

Lockn’ Festival

August 25

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