George Clinton: “Just put everybody in the mix”

December 31, 2023
Guest Photography by Josh Fee

He enters the room like nobody else — with energy and confidence that only a true legend like him could possess. Today, we are going to discuss his latest fashion collaboration with Canadian fashion designer John Fluevog.

George Clinton‘s career has been remarkable. A renowned American singer, songwriter, record producer and bandleader, his Parliament-Funkadelic collective developed an influential and eclectic form of funk music during the 1970s. Subsequently, Clinton launched his solo career in 1982 with his Computer Games album. He would go on to influence 1990s hip-hop and G-funk.

Along with James Brown and Sly Stone, Clinton is regarded as one of the foremost innovators of funk music. In 1997, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, together with 15 other members of Parliament-Funkadelic. In 2019, he and Parliament-Funkadelic received Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards.

We met during his trip to Toronto earlier this fall, to attend shoe designer John Fluevog‘s renowned Flummunity Fest. Clinton sat down with FAJO for an exclusive chat about his music, art and fashion preferences: over the decades and now.

HANNAH YAKOBI: How was your trip here?

GEORGE CLINTON: Oh, it was lovely. I’m sleepy. We had a show yesterday, in New York, down on the Hudson River. So, we stayed up all night. So, I’m still …

HANNAH YAKOBI: Recovering?

GEORGE CLINTON: Yeah. Recovering! (laughs)

HANNAH YAKOBI: Fair enough. So, the first question I wanted to ask you is: you once said that styles come and go, and I’m curious, what is your style now? How would you describe it?

GEORGE CLINTON: Oh, wow. I’m probably free now. There’s always been mixed styles of all the different generations. I can mix them up and get away with it. It’s like the music we made, I’ve learned a long time ago: just put everybody in the mix. And I do that with style too. I was a barber, so I was used to watching the styles change and having to fix hair to match the styles. I got used to styles coming and going and, like I said, I’ve been around so long, I’ve started repeating some of them, knowing that they’re going to come back eventually anyway, so I jumped the gun every now and then. (laughs)

HANNAH YAKOBI: You’ve said before too that you have a routine where you get up every day at 7 a.m. Is there something that you always do every single day in addition to that?

GEORGE CLINTON: Well, when I’m not on the road performing, I’m painting. That’s my new habit. I’ve been doing it for a long time, but when the pandemic started and everybody was looking for something to do, I was so proud of myself that I had something that interested me. Then it got really big, you know, and all of a sudden that was relevant, as they say. And so I mixed both the music and the art. And actually, it’s like a brand new life song. I was enthused: like hell, keep doing it.

HANNAH YAKOBI: Do you play certain type of music when you paint?

GEORGE CLINTON: I just recap a lot of my old copyrights. Proud to get them back and just listening to them, knowing they are mine now and I can use them. I listen to them a lot while I paint.

HANNAH YAKOBI: How do you name your paintings?

GEORGE CLINTON: A lot of old sayings out of songs, you know. We had songs that were 10 minutes long: a lot of one liners, jokes and things. And that’s become a big thing in this TikTok world, where they use quickies, they take lines out of the songs. So, I just start taking them back and use them in the paintings. Free your mind. Besides, with the merch. We learned that we can put those on the shoes, and John [Fluevog] making these shoes reminded me of when I used to live here, in Toronto. I used to live in Mississauga. All over the place, in late ’60s and early ’70s.

HANNAH YAKOBI: That’s amazing.

GEORGE CLINTON: So, seeing these shoes, I had platforms in the ’70s that I got from Master John on Young Street, like in ’71. And my wife, she didn’t even know anything about it. And now, she got every shoe, she’s a groupie for Fluevog!

HANNAH YAKOBI: I see! You mentioned that you’ve been touring…

GEORGE CLINTON: We live on the road.

HANNAH YAKOBI: Exactly. So, how does it feel, you know, to still be on the road and then do these things in between? How do you find the time?

GEORGE CLINTON: I feel kinda special. (laughs) I just did a record with Drake. It keeps me in the mix. Did one with Kendrick a couple of years ago. Being able to bring on the passion of the music and all that. I’ve been down with Snoop. So, I guess they keep me in the mix. And just being able to be friends with all the artists: I feel proud of myself.

HANNAH YAKOBI: That’s great. You love music but you also love colour. What attracts you to it?

GEORGE CLINTON: (leans over and quietly says) I’m colour blind!

HANNAH YAKOBI: That’s right! So, how do you get attracted to items?

GEORGE CLINTON: I used to cut hair, so I can see fades and textures. So, that’s the way I feel. I can see the value in the shades. And if I don’t know what it is, I wanna know what the colour is. With some things, you have a parameter of what colour it could be. But, you know, I write on the paint tubes: “yellow”, “green”, “blue”, and my grandkids come and take them and switch them.

HANNAH YAKOBI: (laughs) The labels?!

GEORGE CLINTON: They switch the labels!

HANNAH YAKOBI: Oh no! How old are your grandkids?

GEORGE CLINTON: I got great grandkids too. My grandkids are like 15 to 30 something.

HANNAH YAKOBI: So, it’s the younger ones who are switching the labels?

GEORGE CLINTON: It’s all of them! All of them grew up and took turns at it.

HANNAH YAKOBI: (laughs) What do you think makes a great outfit?

GEORGE CLINTON: One that people say: ‘What the hell you got on?’

HANNAH YAKOBI: I love that.

GEORGE CLINTON: You succeed. Especially if you can do it with some kind of confidence, like you know what you’re doing. It works. If you are proud of yourself, ’cause I went outta my way. Like I said, I was a barber, and we saw Doo-wop in the ’50s. So, it was about matching suits, ties and everything. Motown. That’s where we was at. Once that got played out in the late ’60s in psychedelic and hippies. They made new rules, things that clash could go together, prints that didn’t match went together, colours that didn’t. So, I stretched it out. I wore diapers, I wore sheets. You know, I wore stupid things just to get a reaction. And I got pretty good at it.

HANNAH YAKOBI: I guess my last question is: what attracted you to collaborate with John [Fluevog]? It’s the second time you’ve collaborated and you’re also participating in the festival. And, today, you are wearing those shoes that you designed together!

GEORGE CLINTON: I was sold on the shoes out of Toronto here, Master John. They made the platform boots in the early ’70s. I was into those platform boots and, you know, they are on the album covers we had. And that’s what I was attracted to. So, I said, I know those heels. I know that style. Oh yeah, I can do this again!


Story by Hannah Yakobi

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