MTV EMAs 2017
George Clinton Remembers David Bowie: 'The World's Gonna Miss a Hell of a Creator'
David Bowie's death on Sunday (Jan. 10) after an 18-month battle with cancer -- just two days after releasing his final, critically acclaimed album on his 69th birthday -- has left the music world reeling. But Bowie didn't just touch one genre; throughout his extensive, five-decade career, he largely defied categorization, reaching into rock, punk, funk and soul among many other musical meanderings.
One influential artist in his own right who has repeatedly hailed Bowie's creativity is George Clinton, the outlandish funk pioneer who led his bands Parliament and Funkadelic into the stratosphere. Clinton was more than a fan: Bowie's trek through the funk world inspired one of his biggest hits, "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" from Parliament's iconic 1975 album Mothership Connection, and led to a memorable shout-out to Bowie on that album's "P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)."
As the world mourns David Bowie, Billboard speaks with Clinton about his first time meeting Bowie, the similarities between their theatrics and more.
I wanted to ask you for your thoughts on David Bowie's death.
I heard you was calling about the David Bowie thing. Aw man, the world's gonna miss a hell of a creator, a hell of a performer and person. I didn't know him personally, but I met him a couple times, and he's a hell of a creator. I got a lot of inspiration through the things he did.
Do you remember the first time you met him?
It was The Cheetah or something like that, in New York, back in those days, I do know that. It was Andy Warhol or somebody's party -- I forgot who all was there -- but I used to always think how much they reminded me of each other. [Laughs] But like I said, we're gonna miss him. I remember Diamond Dogs; that was back in the days when we was experimenting with outside theatrical concepts. I remember thinking, wow, he and I were on the same page at the time, because I was all about aliens and everything else. And when he did The Man Who Fell to Earth, I actually was getting ready to do something with the guy who had done that, and I was only going to do it with them because I liked the concept. But yeah, we're gonna miss him. Hell of a talent.
You've spoken in the past about how much he influenced Mothership Connection --
Yeah, that actual song, "Fame," the feelings on that record -- they did the James Brown accent on the one, they hit it so hard. So when I heard him do that on "Fame" I thought, "Oh yeah, wow... 'Weee want the funk, get up off that funk, weee need the funk.'" [Laughs] You know, just that serious accent. James would do it in the music, and that was one of the times where [Bowie] did it with the vocals. He did it real light, but on the one. So yeah, I borrowed that one and it worked very well. [Laughs]
Was there anything about your stage presentation that he influenced?
Well like I said, we were on the same theatrical page on the same time. It was kind of confirmation that what we was doing wasn't that crazy. Because after the rock opera Tommy and Sgt. Pepper's and the musical Hair, that was the realm that everyone was in. But he animated it the same way I thought of doing it with Funkadelic. We wanted to take out the artists' names and put characters in it, and he did the same thing with his. So I thought that we were pretty much on the same page at the same time.
What stuck out to you about him as a person?
I mean, good vibes is what I got from him. From what I got out of his work and all the people that worked with him, it leaves a real positive vibe. When you see what appeals to somebody, he's one of those people who seemed like he'd be pretty easy to get along with. I just had a lot of admiration for his work. Last week, we lost one of the members of the P-Funk family, Ron Ford, and we was mourning that this past week. We pray for the rest of the people that are in bad shape right now, because there's a lot of them. You just pray.