George Clinton chats counterfeit money, smoking crack, and touring with Iggy Pop

The Mothership travelled through space for centuries before it landed on earth. From it, emerged one of the most formidable forces in modern music: George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. With their cosmic blend of psych-rock and soul, the group crafted something unlike anything else previously heard by human ears. The Funk.

For over forty years now, Clinton and P-Funk have been nesting their sounds in human brains, forcing people to shake their booties the world over. Though in 2019, Clinton (now aged 77) will embark on his final world tour. So ahead of his final Australian performances in April, we caught up with Clinton to chat about buying counterfeit money, smoking crack, pet piglets, and touring with Iggy & The Stooges.

This article appears in print in Happy Mag Issue 10. Grab your copy here.

Artwork by the incredible Irene Feleo. Check out her work here.

Before his final Aussie shows next year, we chat with P-Funk legend George Clinton about smoking crack, counterfeit money, and touring with Iggy Pop.

HAPPY: You’ve previously said that when old people call out new music saying “that’s not real music,” you go out trying to find that music. So first thing’s first, is there any specific music you’re enjoying at the moment?

GEORGE: I’m liking the trap music and West Coast funk music. You know, Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Cardi B. You know, all the trap music in Atlanta. There’s some good music out there. I don’t know the names of all of ’em, but there are a lot of good rock bands. My grandkids keep me up to date on what’s happening.

HAPPY: Going back to before you were doing music full-time, you used to work in a barbershop…

GEORGE: That’s right.

HAPPY: According to your book, it was during this time that you bought one million dollars worth of counterfeit money, which seems pretty insane. What were the circumstances that led to this?

GEORGE: Well, one night at the barbershop, we were closing up and these two kids came through the hood. You know, two white kids. We didn’t know ’em. They were like the three stooges, smacking each other around. They had got some counterfeit money, I think from their parents, and they wanted to sell it. So, I gave them $1800. And we had this money for about a year.

HAPPY: What did you spend it all on?

GEORGE: Mostly on sessions, but we were using it everywhere. We were using it so much in that town, that it started coming back to the barbershop. We were saying “we can’t take this… it’s no good.” What ended up saving us, was there was this undercover cop. He was looking for drugs, and he’d gotten real friendly with everyone in the barbershop because he’d been undercover for about a month. He wasn’t looking for the money, he was looking for drugs. And we were always teaching kids music at the neighbourhood centre, so he kind of felt sorry for us, and he gave us a warning. He said, “if I was ya’ll, I’d be getting rid of that money.” That was all he had to say to me.

HAPPY: How much did you have left over?

GEORGE: Oh, we had about $200,000 left. We gave that away. I think we sold it for about five or six hundred dollars. But before all that, I was cutting sessions in the studio. I’d say “I’ll give you a couple of hundred dollars for the session, or a thousand dollars in counterfeit money,” and most of ’em took the counterfeit money.

HAPPY: Since then you’ve gone on to do so many incredible things, and I find it really interesting that you were still smoking crack up until a couple of years ago. How do you feel your creative processes have changed since going clean?

GEORGE: Oh, well you’ve got so much time to do things. That’s the worst part of that whole ordeal. You don’t have time to do nothing else. So it felt like I was brand new when I got rid of that habit. I have all the time in the world to actually think about the music, and ways to reinvent myself, and all of that. So much time and energy. Plus I’ve had a good wife to help me through it.

HAPPY: Speaking of energy, you’re known for playing really long live sets. You’ve said previously that the longer a set goes, the easier it gets. Is that still the case?

GEORGE: Well it’s different for certain audiences. Because we play for everybody. For young kids, for people that knew us when they were in college, soul shows, R&B shows… it just depends on which one of them you’re playing for. If you’re playing for The Grateful Dead type fans, they’ll go all night and into the next day. Whereas if you play the R&B shows, you’re playing with somebody else, and you don’t get a chance to play for as long. I have to see the crowd when I get there, so I know what the setlist is gonna be.

HAPPY: So you still change the setlist based on the crowd every night?

GEORGE: Every night.

HAPPY: That’s pretty rare these days. A lot of bands have one setlist that they tour everywhere.

GEORGE: Well we’ve done this for so long, that they’d get tired of you if you played it like that. People have been seeing the group for so many years. Even the same song won’t sound the same if you see us on any given night. It all depends on the crowd and who’s playing.

HAPPY: Throughout the years, a lot of people have compared Funkadelic to The Stooges… which seems like a pretty strange comparison.

GEORGE: The Stooges. Well, we both had our first records out together. So they compared us a lot right from the get-go. They were touring their punk thing before it really became a big thing, and we had a few guys in the band who were really into that too. Tawl Ross and I, we pretty much were going in that direction. So they kind of related us with The Stooges.

HAPPY: You spent a fair bit of time touring with Iggy… which I can imagine would’ve been a pretty wild experience.

GEORGE: Oh yeah, that was always crazy. Creem Magazine, which was the rock n’ roll magazine, they had stories in there that Iggy Pop and I were gonna get married. That was back when he was cutting himself up with glass, looking like a chicken walking across the stage. And I was running around in a diaper. We had a lot of crazy times.

HAPPY: Do you think that touring with Iggy changed the way you approached music at all?

GEORGE: Well the thing is, I think we probably had more of an impact on them. Because we were already really psychedelic, and by the time we met them, we were really pretty crazy. I think they had a lot to do with what punk rock became.

HAPPY: Now, I’d really like to talk about your pet piglet, Officer Dibbles.

GEORGE: (Laughs)

HAPPY: How did you end up with this pet?

GEORGE: Well, I was going to buy a skunk at first. But we couldn’t get the skunk neutered, so we ended up getting a pig. I always liked pigs. This pig was so smart. He’d answer the phone, he’d watch Green Acres. The kids would take him to school for show-and-tell. We even took him to Europe with us.

HAPPY: Do you have any favourite memories of Officer Dibbles?

GEORGE: Oh yeah. We took him over there [to Europe] and the people liked him so much they let him ride in first class. He was walking up and down the aisle, with all these kids playing with him. When we got to Europe, we were meant to be playing the Albert Hall with Frank Zappa, but the show got cancelled. So, we went over to The Albert, to this statue. We had this donkey, like a jack-ass. So as we went up to the statue, this donkey shitted all down the steps. Dibbles was such a ham, that anytime somebody else got any attention, he’d run into the middle of it and start showing off. So when the donkey shitted, Dibbles walked into the middle of this crowd of people and squatted down. His shit was like pee shit – all watery. I would let people feed him a lot. He went right there on the steps, right next to the donkey.

HAPPY: Over the years, funk has gone on to influence so many other genres. What do you think it is about funk music that has made it so enduring?

GEORGE: It’s that element that makes you shake your booty. It’s any dance music that makes you want to get into it with your ass, and most dance music has that. That’s the part of the music that is the funk. So if they ain’t got that in their song, they’re gonna sample it and put in there. Now it’s pre-programmed in your drum machine, in your keyboards. So anything that makes you shake your ass is gonna be funky.

HAPPY: You’ve recently announced that next year you’ll be retiring from touring.

GEORGE: November next year.

HAPPY: Was that a decision you’d been thinking over for a while?

GEORGE: Yeah I’ve been thinking about it for a while. This past year, I had a pacemaker put in. Even though I feel brand new now. Now it’s time for the movies – the stories about our lives and all the characters. People have been offering us movies on all the superheroes of the funk. Dr Funkenstein, Starchild, The Dope Dogs… all these characters. It’s time for us to make movies and animations about that stuff. I’ll be busy still making records.

HAPPY: Next year, you will be playing your final shows in Australia. So finally, what’s the last impression you want to leave on Australia?

GEORGE: We’re going to tear that shit up. It’s gonna be rockin’. I want it to be insane. It’s gonna be like church. I don’t care if it’s a white crowd, a black crowd or whatever… it’s gonna end up like a church in there. People will be up dancing and singing. Even in Japan or Moscow, wherever we go, it’s the same.

Catch George Clinton live at any of the following dates:

18th-22nd April, 2019 – Bluesfest, Byron Bay
20th April, 2019 – Enmore Theatre Sydney
25th April, 2019 – The Forum Melbourne

Grab tickets and info here.


This article appears in print in Happy Mag Issue 10. Grab your copy here.