An extract from George Clinton & The Cosmic Odyssey Of The P-Funk Empire by Kris Needs.
It is 1971 and George has just released Maggot Brain, considered by many to be the best Funkadelic album of all, managing to distil pounding hard rock, soaring gospel balladry, cranium-fried proto-metal and wigged-out cosmic psych into one devilish beast. Sadly, it marked the last time the original Funkadelic band would creatively combust in the studio together as rebellion brewed in the ranks, mainly over financial issues like back pay. But Maggot Brain was an awesome final shot, the high peak of Funkadelic’s early phase. As well as containing the most extreme example of Funkadelic’s experimental side, their ‘Revolution Number 9’ moment (after the Beatles’ surreal White Album collage), there was something else brewing here, something weirdly religious and potentially disturbing…
Maggot Brain sported apocalyptic sleeve notes from the Process Church Of The Final Judgement religious sect, whose preachings would grace the next few P-Funk albums. George was an avid reader of books on UFOs and mysteries like the Bermuda Triangle. Many of these were passed on to him by Ron Scribner (who George remembers attending Funkadelic gigs), who liked to wear a long white robe and introduced him to the cult. “They wore robes and big crosses and stuff. Being white, they looked really strange in all the places we went.” At first, the more spaced out in attendance thought that Jesus had arrived and started apologising profusely for their sins.
Started by Robert and Mary Anne DeGrimston in the mid-sixties as a Scientology splinter group, the Process Church was controversial at the time, but grew into a global concern. Its first headquarters were in an abandoned salt mine in Yucatan, Mexico, before they settled in New Orleans. By the early seventies, they had centres in Detroit and Toronto. Homing in on people’s emotional triggers and insecurities using Scientology’s E-Meter, they believed in ironing out mental traumas to bring out the individual’s subconscious goals and assimilate them into the group with a sense of calm and extended family camaraderie. (Later the E-Meter was replaced with the P-Scope, I kid you not.)
If that sounds quite harmless, the cult was accused of being a ‘black-caped, black-garbed, death worshipping church’ made up of the ‘mindless snuffed’, who believed they were visionaries warning of the coming apocalypse. It was a cult of contradictions, black- clad members sporting bling consisting of conflicting silver crosses and the Goat of Mendes as they worshipped both Christ and Satan (which prompted misunderstandings that they were a Satanic cult). They believed Satan would reconcile with Christ and the pair would come together to judge humanity at the end of the world, the former to execute Christ’s judgement. In their initial manifesto, the Process Church recognised Jehovah, Lucifer and Satan as the three great gods of the universe. Jehovah was the only recognised God, bringing retribution, demanding discipline, dedication and ruthlessness in duty, purity and self-denial (!). Lucifer urged followers to enjoy life, value success, be kind and loving and live in peace with one another. The Church believed that man’s self-centred qualities had brought Lucifer into disrepute, wrongly identified with Satan, who dealt with both the highest spiritual peaks and lowest levels of human behaviour, such as violence and gross over-indulgence. In between man and the three great Gods swarmed an entire hierarchy of lesser gods, super beings, angels, demons, watchers and guides.
The Process believed that all these patterns existed within everyone, but their main doctrine was the unity between God and Satan, opposites who, when united, would bring together Jehovah and Lucifer.
“In the conversations I had with George regarding the Process, there was never any grand plan that I can recall,” reveals Ron Scribner. “He saw those as things that related to him. They were in the same space in his mind as taking sayings and taking principles and putting them into music.”
In other words, these mysterious writings were just another element for George to play with, while also elevating the group further above normal black outfits. Believe it or not, some seriously believed for years that the Church was an invention because of the Process in the name – just George referencing his day job at the barbershop? – until closer study revealed it to be something that might have been considered a bit risky if he had taken it more seriously.
George admits that the huge quantities of acid being ingested at the time meant that they were goofing a lot of the time, diffusing any hint at being pretentious with surreal mirth. But what George and the gang found hysterically funny drove devout P-Funkers across the globe into research, speculation and even conspiracy theories.
“I guess we really did get loony and didn’t know it,” admits George. “I wasn’t no guru ’cause I’m still trying to get some pussy. I don’t want nobody taking me seriously like I ain’t... But I ain’t no fool either. I knew we made a big step. We came out of the ghetto, where you got to watch your back about everything. Now here I’m gonna take something that ain’t got no reality to hold onto whatsoever, but it felt good. It was a permanent smile on my face. I don’t regret that. I don’t regret nothing I did, if I did it. I try to find out what’s the best lesson I can learn from it. I look at anything like that; what is it trying to tell me? And if it’s something that’s hurtin’, I usually find out about it before it has a chance to hurt bad.”
Shortly after Maggot Brain was released, the heroin George protested about during its recording overtook acid and cocaine as drug of choice for the younger band members, as paranoia and semi-comatose inertia replaced their initial exuberance.
Tawl Ross departed in horrific circumstances in 1971 after participating over-zealously in a group drug-guzzling game involving Yellow Sunshine acid and pure methedrine. Billy recounted to Rob Bowman how the band used to play these dare games with drugs. That night in London, Ontario, he recalls George, Grady and Fuzzy taking about three tabs of acid each, while Tawl took at least six. While Fuzzy and Grady spat theirs out Tawl snorted line after line of methedrine.
“When the acid set in, he just started going wild with it. He was hallucinating so bad that I could see the hallucinations. I could see him sitting in the hotel room talking to his mother who had been dead for at least seven or eight years. I had a little acid in myself so I could actually see what he was seeing. I could actually see him leaning over a coffin talking to his mother and his mother leaning out of the coffin talking back to him... When we got to that gig Tawl was totally out of it and he stayed that way.”
An extreme casualty of the P-Funk lifestyle, Tawl was not to be heard of again until 1995.