George S. Clinton
George S. Clinton
Well, this all started out as a simple fishing expedition, and ended up taking four months and a lot of twists. One of my favorite things about writing SoulTracks is the ability to give "props" to underrated artists and forgotten Soul albums. And that brings us to George Clinton. No, not that George Clinton. I'm speaking about George S. Clinton, an artist you've probably never heard of, but whose music you've undoubtedly heard.
Back in 1977, I read a favorable review in Rolling Stone of a 1974 album by the George Clinton Band called The George Clinton Band Arrives. Comparing the group to an early Hall and Oates, the magazine labeled it a solid early-70s sampling of blue-eyed soul. Intrigued, I looked around for the album. Unfortunately, the disc hadn't sold well and was already out of print, and so it took me a couple of years to ultimately find it -- in a dive used record store in St. Louis. And the Stone was right: Produced by Jerry Fuller (who also produced Al Wilson's classic "Show and Tell") Arrives was a fine genre album -- more Tower of Power than Hall and Oates -- with a real pop/soul sensibility and a number of gorgeous hooks. From the radio friendly "Hold On To Your Lady," to the piano ballad "Fine Line" and the soulful slow cut "Nothing In This Whole World," it was a disc full of solid tunes. The band sounded great, too, with the horn section playing a key role in providing a sophisticated backing to the generally upbeat material.
Around the same time I purchased the album, I began to hear Clinton's name popping up as a songwriter on the albums of a number of other Soul artists, including Tavares ("We Fit To A Tee" from In The City) and Michael Jackson. Then, as far as I could tell, he disappeared. And that's where this story begins....
Early in 2004 I decided to write a story on The George Clinton Band, and began trying to find Clinton. Problem is that with a name like George Clinton, he was tough to locate. Most internet searches led me to the Parliament/Funkadelic George Clinton, and most references to The George Clinton Band Arrives were from confused critics wondering how the famous funkster could have released something so, well, white. Finally, I received what I thought was a break: an anonymous internet bulletin board posting indicated that the artist on Arrives was a "George T. Clinton" who later formed the rock group Crackin' and then opened a recording studio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Then came the bad news: I found a story that George T. Clinton had died in 1986 of cancer. I tried for the next month to get confirmation from a number of people in Louisiana about Mr. Clinton, but came up empty.
Ready to write an unfortunate eulogy on SoulTracks, I decided to do one more round of searching to confirm Mr. Clinton's unfortunate death. Then the breakthrough came. I found another web snippet that indicated that there were three George Clintons, with the George Clinton Band's former leader being George S. Clinton. Within five minutes I found pages and pages on George S. Clinton, and a few days later was talking to the man himself.
George S. Clinton was raised in Tennessee and attended Middle Tennessee State University. He played in a number of local bands, occasionally sneaking (against his parents' wishes) to gigs in Memphis, where he fell in love with Soul Music. As is the case with many aspiring artists, he moved to L.A., and his songwriting skills landed him a job as a staff writer for Warner Brothers, where he provided songs to a number of popular Soul artists. Convinced by a Warner exec that he should become a recording artist, Clinton formed the George Clinton Band (5 piece horn section, 5 person rhythm section and 3 backing singers) and, using a handful of demos he had originally intended for other artists, scored a deal with ABC Records. The result was The George Clinton Band Arrives. Though the album received generally a favorable response from those who heard it, promotion was difficult. The sheer size of the band made touring prohibitively expensive, and at the same time the wheels were beginning to fall off at ABC Records, which went out of business a few years later. Ultimately, the album died an undeserved death. And though he received offers from a number of hot Soul Music producers (including Tavares' producers Lambert & Potter) to cut a solo album, Clinton stuck with his band, which didn't release another record and ultimately split up after 2 years.
While he may have lost the opportunity for a solo album, his loyalty to the band did provide him with an unexpected opportunity that changed his life. At a George Clinton Band concert in Southern California, comedians Cheech and Chong were in the audience. After the show they approached Clinton about possibly writing the score for their first feature movie. He did, and a new career was born. The Cheech and Chong opportunity led to many others, and over the past three decades Clinton has been one of the leading songwriters in Hollywood, responsible for scoring more than 80 theatrical and TV movies as well as video games. His most popular works were likely the three smash Austin Powers movies, starring Mike Myers, and the three Disney Santa Clause movies. He has also become a sought-after lecturer and instructor on songwriting. In 2012 he was named the chair of the Film Scoring Department at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Clinton admits that he rarely receives questions about The George Clinton Band -- most of the attention has been on his career as a soundtrack writer -- but he remembers the period and the music fondly. And his time as a Soul writer and singer came in handy in 2002, when he worked on the last of the three Austin Powers movies, Goldmember, with Beyonce. It took Clinton full circle, bringing him back to the 70s Soul sound that was the basis for Arrives and, as he jokes, gave him his "first opportunity to use wah wah guitars in 20 years."
By Chris Rizik