Berklee Today

George Clinton Drops In

 
  George Clinton, substitute teacher
  Photos by Nick Balkin

On March 2, students in David Cowan's P-Funk (Parliament-Funkadelic) ensemble received a surprise visit from George Clinton and Gary Shider, two original members of the legendary 1970s funk band for which the ensemble is named. While the students had no idea they would have guest instructors, Cowan had been tipped off about the event that was arranged by MTV for the March 20 episode of their mtvU series "Stand In." Other guest professors at universities across the nation appearing in the series have included Cameron Diaz, Bill Gates, Senator John McCain, Sting, and others. (For more information, visit www.mtvu.com/on_mtvu/stand_in.)

Answering a knock on the door, Cowan let Clinton and Shider in to greet the slack-jawed seven-piece band that had been working on a P-Funk groove. "I guess I'm your substitute teacher today," funk master Clinton told the disbelieving class. "I don't know what I'm gonna teach you, but you might just learn something."

The band played "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?" "Nappy Dugout," and "Standing on the Verge of Getting It On." Clinton and Shider gave tips on perfecting the groove by shouting instructions and giving hand gestures. Shider even strapped on a Stratocaster to play with the band and give direction to the two guitarists on their parts. Clinton helped the group smooth its groove and coached the players on resisting the temptation to overplay. "I know you wanna throw some fills in there," he said. "Don't do it." At one point, Clinton stopped the music and asked the band to play "Standing on the Verge" at half speed. "Real funky, he intoned. "Don't get louder."

 
Clockwise from the left: P-Funk members George Clinton and Gary Shider with students Christina Kenny and Greg Sanderson  

Vocalist Christina Kenny, drummer Adam Deuplisea, keyboardist Ryan Williamson, bassist Brad Fell, guitarists Joseph Kollar and Christopher Duddy, and saxophonist Greg Sanderson did learn lessons they won't soon forget. "[George] let us know to keep some space in between the grooves, because that's what funk is all about," Kollar told a reporter for Berklee.edu. Duddy called it the "pinnacle of my Berklee experience so far."

After working with the band for a while, Clinton and Shider sat for a question-and-answer session. Topics ranged from Clinton's work producing the Red Hot Chili Peppers' album Freaky Styley and questions about the connection between funk and hip-hop. "I think funk is the DNA of hip-hop," Clinton stated. He recounted his associations with hip-hop stars Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. After the session was over, Clinton quipped, "I saw the next P-Funk All-Stars in that room today."