|hey man...smell my sample
George Clinton believes his music wants to be free. Or at least affordable and accessible -- so sample away.
From 1970 to 1982, George Clinton ruled the urban dance floors. Mixing blues with earth-shaking bottom, cosmic consciousness, and some of the best guitar leads in dance music, he gave birth to funk. And those grooves aren't all locked up in some record company's royalty vaults: Clinton owns many of his unreleased master tapes.
After a recent break from the music biz and the road, Clinton and his Allstars, as many as 20 of the 40-odd artists who have at one time or another passed through Clinton's bands, are again rockin' the house. In the latest instance of everything-old-is-new-again, the 50ish Clinton and his Allstars is one of the bands showcased in that vaudeville tour of all things new and alternative, Lollapalooza '94. At a recent club date, a few gray hairs showed among the rainbow-colored braids, and Clinton's giant robe was decorated with '90s-style graffiti, but his singing still carried the crowd all night long.
Clinton believes that his music wants to be free. Or at least affordable and accessible. His new releases, including a liberal dose of early grooves from unreleased live or studio versions of hits, come with a simple set of instructions for licensing in every box.
Long before digital sampling came around, people were copping the pure funk from albums by various incarnations of Clinton bands: Parliament, Funkadelic, P-Funk, and Brides of Funkenstein. Most R & B artists of the mid- and late-'80s reflected Clinton's beats in one way or another. When rap and hip hop came of age, Clinton started hearing his stuff everywhere. "Man, the weirdest place I heard my stuff was in a Vernors Ginger Ale commercial," he says.
Clinton had always been an outspoken supporter of the sampling in the rap and hip hop scene. So he was surprised to find out that his name (probably as author of the song) was on a complaint filed by Bridgeport Records against Terminator X (Public Enemy's DJ) and Sony for sampling "Body Language" as recorded by Parliament. Terminator X & the Valley of the Jeep Beets had been selling for about a year when Bridgeport's complaint was filed in January 1992 citing "Wanna Be Dancin' " as the infringing composition.
"So, [they] sampled this song that didn't make any money for us and didn't make any money for Bridgeport," Clinton says. "Suddenly its makin' money for Sony, and Bridgeport's suing. Sony's all worried and it's all over MTV. So I called Chuck and Flava and we got on CNN and I told 'em I didn't care. I did it for Chuck and Flava. I did it for hip hop."
As a result of the disagreement over ownership of the rights, thecomplaint by Bridgeport against Terminator X and Sony was dismissed in April 1992.
But this battle royal will continue; it all comes down to money, natch. In this case, money from licensing fees for using the samples. It's common for recording companies to charge big fees upfront for artists using samples from previously released material and then to charge royalties. For many struggling artists, those upfront fees are insurmountable.
"That old way's like sharecroppin'," says Clinton. "That's Snidely Whiplash shit. Some guy laughing and saying, 'But you must pay the rent.' Clinton twirls an imaginary handlebar mustache. "I love the new stuff, and I want to see what people do with my music."
Clinton's new policy levels the playing field: to use his samples, everyone from Arrested Development to the high-school rapper with a 600-cassette release goes through the same process. No upfront money from anyone is required. Artists just fol-low the instructions, send Clinton a copy of the new release, and pay an industry-standard minimum fee per copy sold -- "A few pennies," says Clinton.
Clinton's licensing process is designed, in part, to keep him in touch with new artists. By getting a copy of every piece that uses his stuff, he keeps an eye on a new generation of musicians and producers. The low cost ensures that everyone is happy.
No down payment and low royalties mean struggling artists can use authentic Clinton without going bankrupt. And Clinton knows that if he makes his stuff this accessible, no one else profits by bootlegging it.
"When you get my stuff you get different mixes, new stuff, all samples that you know are really my sound," he says.
Clinton has released several CDs and box sets already in the past year, and as many as ten CDs will hit the stores by the end of '94. They include some entirely new material, like Hey Man ... Smell My Finger. "Sample Some of Disc, Sample Some of DAT" is a series of licensed CD sets of full phrases from old Clinton compositions. There are never-before-released studio tracks as well. The new CDs will also feature live sets and alternative mixes from Clinton's "Chocolate City" heyday. Meanwhile, Clinton has produced several CDs this year as part of the "Family" series-- solos by recording artists in Clinton's Allstars or former Clinton bands.
Clinton's eye isn't just on CDs; his vision of the multimedia future will allow wannabe music makers to download the entire musical history of George Clinton right into their living rooms. The ideal, he says, would be some type of interactive TV channel or digital network that gives a musician the equivalent of all Clinton's bands just waiting
to jam the night away. The technical part, how it all gets done, doesn't matter to Clinton -- he just wants to see it happen.
So who knows what the future will bring and how widely Clinton's rhythm and rhyme will spread? The beat that filled the streets in the late '70s may be the sound that blasts on the information highway of the '90s. Imagine plugging your MIDI controller-of-choice into your set-top terminal and tuning into, or logging onto, the George Clinton Channel. Maybe it'll boot up with a mighty "SHIT, GODDAMN, GET OFF YOUR ASS AND JAM!!!"