Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Guitar Greatness

Tuesday July 23rd, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I was taking my exercise walk today, and that’s often when the most off the wall thoughts tend to force their way into my head from unknown places. Maybe it’s due to the shaking up of all the stagnant blood in my brain, but I’ve noticed that some of my freakiest thoughts come to me then.

   Today I was listening to some Parliament/Funkadelic on my iPod in honor of George Clinton’s birthday yesterday, and I got to thinking if I had to choose only ONE song as my very favorite of all time from any artist or musical genre what would it be? I doubt if anyone has a quick answer.

   I thought about it a rather long while, and then on the iPod came the Funkadelic song ‘Maggot Brain’ from the ‘One Nation Under  A Groove’ album. The song was originally released in 1971 as a studio version on a Funkadelic album of the same name, but this version is live and released in 1978. Of all the songs I have ever heard in my life, I can’t think of another that comes close.

   Despite the unconventional title, the song is jam packed with sensitive feelings and raw human emotion. I never get sick of hearing it, and if I was stuck on an island with the ability to hear just one version of one song this would definitely be it. I hope I’m never in that situation, but it’s fun to think about – kind of like what one’s last meal would be before execution in the electric chair.

   That’s a whole other topic entirely, but if I had a ‘last song’ before checking out this one would definitely be it. It’s a slow and at times intense guitar solo that doesn’t have any actual lyrics per se, but the guitar work speaks volumes. I challenge anyone to listen to it and not feel something. 
   The original guitarist was Eddie Hazel, a highly skilled virtuoso who passed away at the age of 42. As the story goes, George Clinton got him alone in the studio and told him to play his guitar like his mother had just died. One take later, the song was recorded and became a band signature. 
   It’s an amazing piece of guitar work, and I’ve heard others cover it from Carlos Santana to The Red Hot Chili Peppers to some guy named Bucket Head. Everyone puts individual flavor into the song and some versions are better than others, but it’s a definite standout as far as a unique solo.

   By all accounts, I really shouldn’t like this song but I can’t get enough of it. There are probably a dozen recorded versions by Funkadelic alone, and they always play it in their live shows for the hardcore fans like me who have come to expect it. Michael Hampton is now the guitarist instead of Eddie Hazel, and he does a magnificent job of recreating it time after time. It’s a masterpiece.

   Many people have said that to truly ‘hear’ Parliament/Funkadelic there needs to be drugs taken by the listener. The band has long admitted their substance dabblings, and George Clinton speaks freely about experimenting with acid for years and how he felt it opened up his mind creatively.  
   I’ve never even smoked a cigarette much less a joint, and the only thing close to acid I’ve taken is an occasional Rolaids to relieve excess stomach acid. I would be afraid to drop acid and put on Maggot Brain only to find out it sounds like a polka. Maybe I’m missing out, but I’ll continue to enjoy it like I have for most of my life. The song still kicks ass - even to a drug free white boy.  

   I’ve tried to listen to The Grateful Dead on occasion, but I don’t hear anything there. It would make sense that one would have to be high to get what they’re doing, but for some reason I get it loud and clear with P-Funk. Keep your Beatles, Stones and Zeppelin too. P-Funk is my favorite.   

Maggot Brain - pure guitar virtuosity

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