By the end of the 1970s, George Clinton’s P-Funk empire was crumbling.
By the end of the 1970s, George Clinton’s P-Funk empire was crumbling. A combination of financial and artistic grievances led to a series of high-profile departures from the group: first went singers Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins, Calvin Simon and Grady Thomas, followed by singer/guitarist Glenn Goins and drummer Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey. These deserters weren’t shy about making their acrimony for their former leader known; Brailey’s new band, Mutiny, made their debut in 1979 with the none-too-subtly-titled Mutiny on the Mamaship. As for Haskins, Simon and Thomas, their approach was even more blatant: in 1980 they put together their own backing group, decamped to Jerry Goldstein’s LAX Records and released a new album, Connections & Disconnections, using the Funkadelic name.
It’s unclear exactly how this renegade Funkadelic expected to get away with such an audacious move; perhaps, as three-fifths of the original Parliaments lineup, they simply felt that they had as much right to the name as Clinton did. But whatever their intentions, swift legal action from Clinton’s camp ensured that the “new” Funkadelic’s first album would also be their last. Today, Connections & Disconnections remains the undisputed black sheep of the P-Funk catalogue, held in roughly the same esteem as the Doors’ post-Morrison catalogue.
That reputation is understandable, if not fully deserved. It’s true that Connections & Disconnections resembles nothing so much as the work of a better-than-average P-Funk tribute band: boasting impressive enough musical chops but lacking even a modicum of Clinton’s madcap invention, the absence of which is sorely evident from the very first track. Previous P-Funk albums under Clinton had led with dizzyingly conceptual conceits: a visit from an extraterrestrial, cunnilingus-performing personification of funk; a transmission from a liberated black Washington, DC of the near future; an introduction to Funk Atlantis from an anthropomorphic dancing worm. By contrast, Connections & Disconnections opener “Phunklords” can only muster up a series of clichés: “We can’t wait to get to your town, just to lay that funky rhythm down/ ’Cause we gonna bump, we gonna freak, we gonna give your feet a treat/ Dancin’ to a rockin’ beat.”
When the substitute Funkadelic—let’s call them Faux-kadelic—attempt to weave their own version of P-Funk mythology, it comes mostly in the form of thinly-veiled digs at their erstwhile leader. The aforementioned “Phunklords” makes reference to “a ship of fools who had a captain that changed the rules”; the multi-part epic “The Witch” is still more on the nose, dramatizing the group’s escape from a grasping harridan who “laid the rule/ For her to win, us to lose” and celebrating their hard-won independence with a rousing chorus of “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead.” It’s hardly a stretch to detect a defensive tone in closing track “Who’s a Funkadelic?”, which answers its own question—unhelpfully, as it turns out, in a court of law—with an optimistic, “You, you, you, you.” But it takes real gall for three of the guys who brought “Dr. Funkenstein” to life to come up with a medicinal metaphor as bland as “Call the Doctor”—particularly when the arrangement stops just short of plagiarizing “Do That Stuff.”
As a Funkadelic album, Connections & Disconnections is an undeniable failure, reducing the weirdest and wildest of the ‘70s funk groups to the anodyne level of Con-Funk-Shun or mid-period Kool & the Gang. But judged on its own merits, it isn’t wholly without its charms. The album has long appealed to the sampling set, with drummer Ben Power Jr.’s opening beat on “You’ll Like It Too” cropping up frequently as a breakbeat in ‘80s hip-hop, most notably Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul.” Nor is that the only groove worth flipping: almost every song on the album has at least one or two standout moments, from the title track’s ersatz-Bernie Worrell keyboard line to the fiery Santana-esque guitar leads of “Come Back” (later replaced on digital versions of the album by the inferior “Funk-a-Disco”). It’s also impossible to overstate just how great Haskins, Simon and Thomas sound; even if their songwriting falls well short of the “real” Funkadelic’s standards, their acid-fried doo-wop harmonies remain a potent ingredient in P-Funk’s stylistic brew.
The idea of a Funkadelic album without George Clinton is of course prima facie ridiculous, and Connections & Disconnections isn’t a strong enough album to overcome that impression. But it nevertheless makes a case, almost in spite of itself, for a definition of P-Funk that extends beyond Clinton’s long shadow. Without a doubt, the self-proclaimed “Phunklords” needed Clinton’s wild-eyed vision to make truly great music—that much is obvious both here and in their later, non-copyright-infringing incarnation as the Original P. But it’s just as true that Clinton needed collaborators like Haskins, Simon, Thomas, Goins and Brailey: a hard truth that would be borne out by his increasingly self-indulgent solo albums of the 1980s. As the legal conflicts that tore the original group apart continue to rear their ugly heads—most recently, as of this writing, in the form of a lawsuit for unpaid royalties filed against Clinton by the estate of Bernie Worrell—it remains as important as ever to question the myth that P-Funk was the invention of a solitary genius. Not everyone, of course, can be a Funkadelic; but if Connections & Disconnections proves anything, it’s that no one man can lay claim to the title either.