Saturday, February 17, 2007

Q&A: George Clinton (pt. 2)

Here’s the rest of that 1997 interview conducted by me, Larry Alexander and Thomas Stanley. We start with the Plainfield, N.J., barbershop that George Clinton operated during the 1960s, where he and his fellow Parliaments processed hair by day and harmonized by night.

If you live on the West Coast, check these dates for upcoming gigs. And for another sample of George's ’60-era pre-funk, check out “That Was My Girl” on my Vox music stash.
LARRY ALEXANDER: If I walked into your barbershop – first of all, what do I see?

GEORGE CLINTON: Ain’t no telling. (laughs) Ain’t no telling what you’d see. We had two or three older barbers who had their clientele, playing checkers and shit. Then we had the younger guys, who may be nodding, you know what I mean. Everybody in the town, damn-near, shot dope.

And it was a scholastic town too, which made it really weird. It wasn’t Newark, so they looked really weird, you know – one of the highest scholastic schools in the country, Plainfield High School was. They won the track meet in the Penn Relays almost every year.

But somehow, prior to ’59, somebody had come through there with real dope. Shit, I didn’t really know nothing but about reefer when I got there, and had just got that myself. I mean, “The Man With the Golden Arm” cured me of ever thinking about that as being recreation. That never appealed to me. Even though all the acid and stuff we were taking, that or angel dust never appealed to me at all.

Coke? Yeah, I’ve done my share, did my share, do my share, whatever. But all of it, I never got to the point – other than acid. I would’ve took acid forever if I could’ve. But it stopped working after while. Once it finish with you, it stop working. You don’t stop it, it stop where you just be up all night.

And then by ’70, there wasn’t really acid anyway. … When they started saying, “You wanna buy shit?,” it was over. Woodstock was the end of all of it. A lot of people think Woodstock was the beginning, but Woodstock was the first time you heard, “You wanna buy this?” Before that, it was, “Do you wanna share? You want to share this?” Woodstock, it was $20 a lid for weed, they had prices on ’em.

DAVID MILLS: Feeling how you do about heroin, is there anything you tried to do or say when you saw the younger band members getting into it?

CLINTON: I took the whole band to Toronto, all of them – Garry, Boogie [Mosson] and all them – to Toronto, ’cause we left [for Detroit], and we knew there was no way to watch ’em once we left. We took them to Toronto, and that’s where they stayed, that’s where they kicked.

’Cause there wasn’t no snorting [in Plainfield], them mugs was bangin’. Everybody was bangin’ there, that was all there was. It was deeper than New York. Plus, most of ’em was lame, so they really didn’t know what they was doing…. Thirteen and 14, girls and guys – did that one to death.

But we took them up there, and they pretty much straightened out for the most part. ’Cause there wasn’t too much up there to find. That pretty much kept them cool – from that one anyway.

ALEXANDER: So I come into the barbershop, you’re the man with the magic fingers, right?

CLINTON: I might have a girl in the back there. Somebody’s head might be burnin’, talkin’ ’bout “Get this shit out my muhfuckin’ head!”

We may have some counterfeit money in there we’re trying to color. Somebody sold us some counterfeit money, that’s why I said that. And for the last year and a half, we was coloring that shit with coffee. And spent so much of it in town that people started bringing it back to the barbershop, and we’d [say], “I don’t want that shit! We ain’t taking that shit.”

ALEXANDER: You’re the man with the magic fingers, though. How would you hook me up?

CLINTON: You’d get a fresh one to the front, with your head like that. You get a fresh one to the front – waves to the front. Like you see nowadays, but not hard.

ALEXANDER: How would you cook it?

CLINTON: Conkolene. Fry that muthafucka. Like they do with Soft Sheen, Aqua Sheen, all that shit they got now. Same thing, just put it on your head with a comb or brush, grease your head to death, then wash your head out while you pat your feet and holler.

ALEXANDER: Would you jump on the bus for New York while I’m up under that motherfucker?

CLINTON: Yeah, you might get some of that. “I’m going to audition for my record thang at one of the record companies… I’ll tell my boy to comb you out. I put the waves in ya so you gon’ be cool.”

MILLS: We talked about drugs, we talked about counterfeiting. Did you ever pimp women?

CLINTON: Hell naw, I like pussy. Hell naw.

I mean, I’ve had a girl pay me like a motherfucker. But she was teasing me. She’d come in, lay the money down, “Here daddy.” If I wouldn’t go for it, she’d say, “I bet if I walk over there, start back to pick it up, I bet he’d get it.” ‘Cause they chose in Detroit. They’d choose you. You’re the one they want to be with.

And so, I was with ’em. Damn, I couldn’t turn the money down. But I like pussy too much. I would never – she would never sell no pussy. I’d be on top of it. Matter of fact, wouldn’t be none left to sell.

MILLS: I’m jumping around a bit, but can you tell me about Ed Wingate, who owned Golden World Records? He would give you ideas for songs to write, you and your songwriting partner Sidney Barnes in Detroit?

CLINTON: Oh, he’d wake your ass up in the morning with his new title. You know, he heard Martha Jean, this disc jockey on the radio, saying, “I’m into something I can’t shake loose, and I betcha!” And he – “We’re gonna write a soooong today.” He’d buy a piano and bring it, cut the doors open in the hotel and say, “We’re gonna write this song and get you up early in the morning.” (laughs)

But [Wingate] just took care of you so much, he paid you so much that you had to try it. And we was his team. I mean, we stayed at his house.

MILLS: There’s an important moment when you brought Eddie Hazel into the band. “Billy Bass” Nelson wasn’t cutting it on the guitar. In fact, Billy told us that some of the Parliaments beat him up and threw his guitar out of a window. Is that what happened?

CLINTON: They were like our kids. I mean, Billy – his mother gave me guardian over him, me and Ray Davis. We had guardianship; if we was gonna take him out on the road, we had to be his guardians.

MILLS: You had to sign papers and everything?

CLINTON: Yeah. And he was like a brat, brat, brat. So we did everything from spank Eddie to throw Billy out a room or something, or take his guitar or something. You know, like a little brother. So it was a lot of that going on.

I done seen Fuzzy or whoever, they’d make him so mad that he would throw water in their face. They would do the same thing to [him]. That was like your little brother getting on your nerves.

MILLS: Do you remember a conversation with Eddie Hazel having to convince him to join you?

CLINTON: No. “Ask my mother” is what he would always say. “You talk to my mother. She’ll let me do it if you and Ernie” – there’s another guy named Ernie used to work at the barbershop with me – “If y’all talk to my mother, she’ll let me do it.”

And one of the guys in the barbershop, one of the older fellas – Wolf – he was the one talked to Eddie’s mother for us. Well, I talked to her too. But he was the one, in the beginning, that tried to tell me that we should listen to this boy, this kid around the corner. ’Cause [Wolf] had a room at Eddie’s mother’s house.

MILLS: Billy Bass tells the story of a gig at the 20 Grand in Detroit. Berry Gordy was there with his whole family, his parents and his wife and his mistress and everybody else. And according to Billy Bass, you got naked and jumped on Berry’s table and said something like, “You can kiss my ass.”

CLINTON: No, naw, I ain’t do no kiss-no-ass. Naw, everybody tell those lies.

I was naked, probably. And I probably poured some wine over my head, then it dripped all down on my dick, and as I run across all the tables in there – I don’t know if Berry was there, but I know the family was there, and all his sisters – I would run up and down the tables, up the bar, and wine would drip down so everybody say it looked like I peed in everybody’s drink.

But I was too out-of-it to even know if I did it or not. I doubt it.


Anonymous said...

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Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks a lot, anon. Ken Tucker has been good to me since my journalism days. Bless his heart.