Parliament

Biography

Parliament was a funk band most prominent during the 1970s. Parliament and its sister act Funkadelic, both led by George Clinton, began the funk music culture of that decade. Parliament was known originally as The Parliaments, a doo-wop vocal group based at a Plainfield, New Jersey barbershop.

The group was formed in the late 1950s and included George Clinton, Ray Davis, Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, and Grady Thomas. Clinton was the group leader and manager. The group finally had a hit single in 1967 with “(I Wanna) Testify” on Revilot Records. To capitalize, Clinton formed a backing band for a tour, featuring teenage barbershop employee Billy Bass Nelson on bass and his friend Eddie Hazel on guitar, with the lineup eventually rounded out by Tawl Ross on guitar, Tiki Fulwood on drums, and Mickey Atkins on organ.

During a contractual dispute with Revilot, Clinton temporarily lost the rights to the name “The Parliaments,” and signed the ensemble to Westbound Records as Funkadelic, which Clinton positioned as a funk-rock band featuring the five touring musicians with the five Parliaments singers as un-credited guests. With Funkadelic as a recording and touring entity in its own right, in 1970 Clinton re-launched the singing group, now known as Parliament, at first featuring the same ten members. Clinton was now the leader of two different acts, Parliament and Funkadelic, which featured the same members but were marketed as creating two different types of funk.

The Parliament album “Osmium” was released on Invictus Records in 1970, and was later reissued on CD with non-album tracks as both “Rhenium” and “First Thangs.” “Osmium” featured a mostly psychedelic soul sound that was more similar to the Funkadelic albums of the period than to the later Parliament albums. The song “The Breakdown” was released separately as a single, and reached #30 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1971. Due to continuing contractual problems and the fact that Funkadelic releases were more successful at the time, Clinton abandoned the name Parliament until 1974.

Following “Osmium,” the lineup of Parliament-Funkadelic began going through many changes and was expanded significantly, with the addition of important members such as keyboardist Bernie Worrell in 1970, singer/guitarist Garry Shider in 1971, and bassist Bootsy Collins (recruited from the James Brown backing band) in 1972. Dozens of singers and musicians would contribute to future Parliament-Funkadelic releases. Clinton re-launched Parliament in 1974 and signed the act to Casablanca Records. Parliament, now augmented by the Horny Horns (also recruited from James Brown's band) was positioned as a smoother R&B-based funk ensemble with intricate horn and vocal arrangements, and as a counterpoint to the guitar-based funk-rock of Funkadelic. By this point, Parliament and Funkadelic were touring as a combined entity known as Parliament-Funkadelic or simply P-Funk (which also became the catch-all term for George Clinton's rapidly growing stable of funk artists).

The album “Up for the Down Stroke” was released in 1974, with “Chocolate City” following in 1975. Both performed strongly on the Billboard R&B charts and were moderately successful on the Pop charts. Parliament began its period of greatest mainstream success with the 1975 concept album, “Mothership Connection,” the lyrics of which launched much of the P-Funk mythology. The subsequent albums, 1976’s “The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein,” 1977’s “Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome” and 1978’s “Motor Booty Affair” all peaked high on both the R&B and Pop charts, while Funkadelic was also experiencing significant mainstream success. Parliament scored the #1 R&B singles “Flash Light” in 1977 and “Aqua Boogie” in 1978.

The rapidly expanding ensemble of musicians and singers in the Parliament-Funkadelic enterprise, as well as Clinton's problematic management practices, began to take their toll by the late 1970s. Original Parliaments members Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, and Grady Thomas, who had been with Clinton since the barbershop days in the late 1950s, felt marginalized by the continuous influx of new members and departed acrimoniously in 1977. Other important group members like singer/guitarist Glenn Goins and drummer Jerome Brailey left Parliament-Funkadelic in the late 1970s after disputes over Clinton's management. Two further Parliament albums, 1979’a “Gloryhallastoopid” and 1980’s “Trombipulation” were less successful than the albums from the group's prime 1975-1978 period.

In the early 1980s, with legal difficulties arising from the multiple names used by multiple groups, as well as a shakeup at Casablanca Records, George Clinton dissolved Parliament and Funkadelic as recording and touring entities. However, many of the musicians in later versions of the two groups remained employed by Clinton. Clinton continued to release new albums regularly, sometimes under his own name and sometimes under the name George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars.

Clinton continued his P-Funk collective in the 1990s and 2000s, with a revolving stable of musicians, some of whom remain from the classic lineups of Funkadelic and Parliament. The rock-oriented sound of Funkadelic has diminished, as Clinton has moved towards more of an R&B and hip hop sound. In 1997 the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Filmmaker Yvonne Smith of New York City-based Brazen Hussy productions produced “Parliament-Funkadelic: One Nation Under a Groove”, a full-length documentary about the groundbreaking group, which aired on PBS in 2005. As of 2008, Clinton was at work on a new Funkadelic album for his new record label. In November 2008, Westbound Records released “Toys,” a collection of Funkadelic outtakes and demos from the “Free Your Mind and America Eats Its Young” era. Critical reception of the album has generally been positive.

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