Sly Stone's Birthday Party/Funk Convergence at Zanzibar Features George Clinton and a Brother Johnson
By Daniel Siwek
How much funk is enough funk? No, it's not a trick question, the only answer is "there is never enough funk," especially when its been fied up (as in funk-a-fied) by Sly Stone and George Clinton; the Trade and the Mark of the genre. But here's another question: Would you trade-in all of your hang-ups and everything that could be behind door # 3 for just five minutes of funk? Ask that to the group of people who made it inside Silverlake's Little Temple last month for the Sly Stone Variety Show. The show was over in all of 300 seconds - thus it was immediately dubbed the "Five Minutes of Funk" - because of a random health department shutdown, but everyone who was in the house got to see longtime friends Sly Stone and George Clinton get down like it was somebody's birthday. Sly's daughter, Novena Carmel, also the booker of Little Temple and Zanzibar, vowed that the party would resume at Zanzibar on a more appropriate date -- the funk legend's actual birthday, Sunday night.
The question was in the air: what mishap would interfere with this gig? Would the L.A. River flood the club? Would, James Brown forbid, something terrible happen to Sly and George on the way to the show? Or would Sly change his mind about performing? Carmel not only acknowledged the nervousness, she milked it for full dramatic effect when after performing with her group, BabyStone, she teased that Sly's band decided to leave and that she found volunteers from the audience as their replacements, as she proceeded to introduce the real band.
The star of this outfit was undoubtedly George "Uncle Jam" Clinton, who worked the crowed over with his Mothership Connection classic, "Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" just as he would want the stage to be warmed up. A guru more than many himself, Clinton seemed truly satisfied to ensure his mentor, Stone, put on a good show. Last month our guest of honor showed-up dressed for a pimps and players ball, but last night he entered stage right wearing Scottish tartans that would be more suited for a meeting of the Ballachulish Bagpipers. And just as George was enjoying being the back-up man for a change, Sly equally had no hesitations singing in the name of P-Funk; but then again, these two have been lending a hand to one another for almost half a century now.
Along with Jimi Hendrix, it was Sly and his Family Stone that influenced George to take his Motown thang into a more psychedelic-afro-hippie direction, a move that forever endeared Parliament-Funkadelic with those acid-dropping college kids. And when his mentor was a little down on his luck, George welcomed him into his P-Funk dynasty, taking Sly on the road and into the studio. A landmark record of that collaboration was 1981's The Electric Spanking of War Babies, Funkadelic's last album. Put on "Funk Gets Stronger" and you'll wish that the groove never ended. They knew that, which is why they brought it back two songs later, giving you a faux-fade-out, even.
While the dyno-mite-duo were making the music they were also getting into trouble, as the cops busted into Clinton's house that year and found guns and other pale goodies (we're talkin' Original Gangsta's). But that was a long time ago, and on this night there appeared to be no signs of cocaine confusion, just a little liquid courage, Sly admitted.
The setlist was merely a rough guide, as Sly whispered a heartwarming version of "If You Want Me To Stay," before leaving the stage for a while. More P-Funk and Family Stone songs followed before Sly said goodbye with a unique performance of "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)," which featured the incredibly rare sight of him on the Fender Telecaster. Last month's performance may have had more celebrities in the house, but last night's performance was augmented by the presence of one half of the Brothers Johnson, George Johnson. He stepped up to the mic to sing "Get The Funk Out Ma Face" and "Strawberry Letter 23" (The Bothers biggest hit that was written by Shuggie Otis). One regret is that they didn't play "Funk Gets Stronger," but hey, there's always next year when they could do the "Killer Milliliter Version," right guys?