The Original P
Along with frontman George Clinton, Ray Davis, Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins, Grady Thomas, and Calvin Simon started up the band the Parliaments. Named after their hometown of Parliament, New Jersey, they dropped the “s” soon after being signed to their first label, for fear of being sued by Parliaments Cigarettes. The original members of Parliament stayed together — joined by Bootsy Collins and a rotating cast of superstars of the funk scene — until the late ’70s, when internal troubles and problems with their label (Westbound) caused Clinton to form P-Funk, a slightly wilder, harder version of Parliament.
Davis, Haskins, Thomas, and Simon made one last record together under the name the Funkadelics (with a large disclaimer on the cover stating that George Clinton had nothing to do with the project) that bombed (as in stunk, not “da bomb”). Afterwards, Haskins went on to become a minister and release a gospel record ( The Sound of Gospel , Westbound Records), while the other members faded into relative obscurity. That is, until last year, when Westbound announced the rebirth of Parliament, minus George Clinton — who the band’s manager claimed had actually had very little to do with the Parliament “sound.” While somewhat active on the tour circuit, the hype that was given to the formation of the Original P (the original cast, minus Clinton) has fallen far short of expectations. When I did this interview last summer, the band seemed convinced that they were about to take over the world with their upcoming new album (of which I’ve heard nothing since), and a little peeved that they were being interviewed by anything less than Spin or Rolling Stone .
What were the origins of the Parliament funk sound? Who were your inspirations in the beginning?
Grady Thomas : Well, everybody has different inspirations. I got my inspiration from James Brown, The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips.
Calvin Simon : At the time we were doing it, “funk” wasn’t even a word. Late in the ’50s and early in the ’60s, there were a lot of doo-wop-type groups, which is what we were doing at the time, we were playing for the black schools and on streetcorners, just anywhere. We were playing together in a doo-wop group — along with George Clinton, who isn’t with us now — but we all were singing in doo-wop groups with other people, separate of the Parliaments, as well.
With the revival of funk among today’s younger generation, are you benefiting from increased back catalogue record sales?
Grady : Well, not necessarily us, but some people, who shall stay unnamed, sure are. But still, enough young people have kept us alive, kept our hope alive, through fan letters over the years. The music and the old people and all the young people who have supported us have protected us from the real world, and given and left us enough that we have this opportunity to take our act back out on the road and put this new album together. A lot of people, when they hear some of those bands on the radio covering our material, they think it’s all new songs, but they don’t realize that we, P-Funk, Parliament, we were doing those songs 20-30 years ago, and that these new people have just turned them into rap songs or just put a new beat to them.
Do you feel that you were treated fairly or unfairly by the media during Parliament’s existence? It doesn’t seem like you got a lot of attention from the mainstream media back then.
Calvin : Well, we had a lot in the main media, but they were mostly focused on George Clinton, because he was the lead singer at the time. A lot of the media focused on him.
I know that Clinton gets a lot of credit for being responsible for Parliament and the Parliament sound. How much of Parliament’s repertoire was born from collaboration?
Grady : There was always collaboration during the sessions. But when it was over, and the credits came out on the records, Clinton’s name was seen a whole lot more.
That was what I thought. I knew you all were with Parliament for 20-30 years–
Grady : Ever since ’59…
It just seems strange that some of the key members of the band wouldn’t get as much credit as the frontman. It seems like some of the members of Parliament had ties to James Brown.
Calvin : You mean Bootsy Collins? He was James Brown’s bass player for a little while. Originally, it was Calvin, Fuzzy, Ray, George, and Grady — that was back in ’59-’60. That was the original Parliament, or the Parliaments, at that time. It was the five same people all the way up until the middle of the ’70s. And then after the middle ’70s, you started to hear more about George Clinton. And that was around the time that Bootsy came in, around ’71-’72. We actually started up around ’55, but we were also all in different groups until ’59, when we decided that the Parliaments was our main group. Parliaments cigarettes came out around that time, and they were bigger than us, so we changed our name to Parliament. We took the best things out of all the groups we were all in and merged them into one and stayed together as Parliament. There was a Parliament group before we all got together, but they were all local yokels from New Jersey. When Parliament hit the big time, it was us five.
Is this the first recording project you’ve all done together since the Funkadelics?
Calvin : Yeah, this is the first, at least so far as getting anything out to the public.
You guys have been on Westbound for a while now, haven’t you?
Grady : Yeah. Funkadelic and Parliament were both on Westbound.
Have they been good to you, as far as labels go?
Grady : That subject is debatable. We could talk about it, but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.
What are you guys doing when you’re not playing music?
Grady : Eat chicken, play racquetball, golfing, eat ice cream, hang out with friends….
I know Fuzzy Haskins became a minister for a little while. Was that something that you had wanted to do for a while?
Fuzzy Haskins : No, I just reached a crisis point in my life and God delivered me from a lot of trouble. I was doing lots of drugs and screwing my life up. I still loved music, but I stepped away from it for about 10 years, and now I’m back in the music. I still love the Lord, I still attend church. Another thing I wanted to mention about the new album that’s coming out is that not only is it funk, but it has a contemporary gospel song on it, and it also has a couple of love songs on it, for a change — something you can dance with your loved ones while you’re listening.
Do you have anything you’ve been dying to say about the new album that hasn’t been asked yet?
Calvin : We’re very excited about what we’ve been doing and are looking forward to going on tour, and we still believe in the funk! We’ve never stopped believing — it’s as natural as breathing! We think that our new single, “What’s That Shakin’ Behind You Like That” is really going to shake the ladies up.
You all have kids, right?
Calvin : Kids? We’ve all got grandkids now.
So what do your grandkids think about having such ornery old guys in their lives?
Ray Davis : They love it. They’re all musicians in our bands now.
Grady : We’re going to be up there playing for the people until they have to wheel us up on stage. We’ll be standing up there, singing, propped up on our walkers before we quit.