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11:13 AM, Jul. 20, 2012

Written by

Mark Hinson 

Democrat senior writer

George Clinton, aka The Godfather of Funk and iconic singer of "Atomic Dog," is turning 71 today, so his friends and family members decided to throw a surprise birthday party for him this weekend on St. George Island.

"They didn't do a very good job keeping it secret," Clinton said Thursday and laughed.

The surprise may be spoiled but the party will roll on, dubbed The Motor Booty Affair. The festivities include a private, P-Funk jam session at Harry A's bar, a public art opening featuring Clinton's art and "Fishing With Mr. Wiggles" on the beach.

"Yep, I'm Mr. Wiggles," Clinton said. "That's my Moto' Booty nickname. That's cause I move like the worm on the hook."

Anyone with a rod and reel is invited to join Clinton on the beach between sunrise and 4 p.m. Monday to try their luck with the fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Keep in mind, Clinton, an avid angler, is same guy who wrote "Shouldn't-nuf Bit Fish."

If the fishing crews stick around until 5:30 p.m. Monday, they can drop by the Sea Oats Art Gallery on the island to watch Clinton and Overton Loyd (who drew the cover for the "Motor Booty Affair" album by Clinton's group Parliament) demonstrate their art.

"I don't consider myself an artist because I can't draw," Clinton said. "I call it doodling. Most of the stuff I do is a feeling. It captures something. It comes from the heart."

Artist or no artist, Clinton's paintings sell for around $1,000 to $2,000, or maybe more. He has serious collectors in San Francisco, Miami and Detroit.

Clinton never picked up a paint brush until he moved from Michigan to Tallahassee in 1994 and met Scott Carswell, the concert promoter and colorful personality who runs The Moon nightclub.

Color his world

Carswell and Clinton became fast friends when the Godfather of Funk arrived in Florida as a self-described "tax exile from Michigan."

The P-Funk All-Stars and Clinton used The Moon as a rehearsal space and concert hall to try out their shows before heading out on the road for national and international tours. Clinton even rented a home from Carswell near the small town of Monticello in Jefferson County.

"He was always drawing dogs and space ships and all that on paper and napkins, so I thought, 'Why not turn them into paintings?'" Carswell said. "So I talked him into it."

Carswell, who is pianist but not a painter, said he drove down to Bill's Art City and bought supplies at random.

"I'd never bought paint before," Carswell said. "I didn't know what I was doing."

When he got back to The Moon, Carswell converted part of his mother's house, which is practically in the backyard of the club, into an art studio for Clinton.

"About 90 percent of my job was cleaning up the mess when he was done and keeping him from painting the whole house," Carswell said. "He's colorblind, you know. That helped a lot."

When asked how he knew which color to use on the canvas, Clinton said, "The names."

The names?

"The names on the markers and on the tubes of paint," Clinton said. "Sometimes the grandkids change the names of the markers and the paints around. They switch the caps. And I'll be painting green people and won't know it. They think it's funny. And I guess it is funny."

Carswell said Clinton's art began to take shape after Loyd paid a visit and gave a few pointers about painting.

"That's when it really took off," Carswell said. "George is prolific at whatever he's doing, whether he is painting or making music."

The Mothership lands

Clinton may be a famous member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and an artist these days, but he got his start at the dawn of the '60s as a hairstylist in Plainfield, N.J. His shop, the Black Soap Palace, became a hangout for neighborhood kids during the heyday of doo-wop.

It didn't take long before Clinton formed The Parliaments, a doo-wop group that dressed in matching suits and sported heavily processed hairdos. In 1963, Clinton landed a job as a staff writer for Motown Records and relocated the band to Detroit.

The Detroit scene in the '60s was a melting pot of musical styles that included Motown artists, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Alice Cooper, The MC5, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes and The Bob Seger System.

"We played all those rock 'n' roll scenes and changed from Parliament to Funkadelic," Clinton told the Tallahassee Democrat in 1994 before he embarked on the Lollapalooza Tour. "We realized then that we didn't have too much competition. So we had time to perfect whatever we were doing, the funk with the jazz overtones, the classical, rock 'n' roll, doo-wop. We put in everything."

The group's costumes and surreal visuals became a trademark. If you dropped in on a Parliament-Funkadelic concert in the '70s, you would see Clinton descend to the stage in a flying saucer (aka The Mothership) and play a four-hour show with band members who went by names such as Sir Nose and Diaperman. Funkadelic created its own mythology.

During the '70s, the Parliament-Funkadelic world churned out such dance hits as "One Nation Under a Groove," "Flashlight," "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)," "Flash Light" and "Chocolate City." Nearly all the grooves would be sampled a decade later when rap arrived on the scene. Bands such as The Talking Heads were also taking close notes.

Clinton branched off on his own in the '80s and scored solo hits such as "Atomic Dog," "Nubian Nut," "You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish" and "Do Fries Go With that Shake?" He was hard to miss when he performed on TV or popped up in movies thanks to his flowing multi-colored dreadlocks and weaves.

The Crayola-colored mop of hair also drew a few stares when Clinton went shopping at The Big Save IGA in Monticello.

Dr. Clinton at your service

These days, Clinton does not look like himself. The rainbow dreads are a thing of the past. He no longer sports a Batman sheet as a robe during concerts. Now, his hair is cropped short and he wears a dark suit.

"It's gangster-style, like 'Empire' ('Boardwalk Empire')," Clinton said. "If I go to the IGA now, they wouldn't know who the hell I am."

When Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars played a concert at The Moon in November, some audience members did not recognize him.

"I heard people complaining that I wasn't even there," Clinton said. "But I was there, man. Believe me, I was there."

In 2003, Clinton made international headlines when he was arrested while sitting in a car outside a Circle K convenience store on the Apalachee Parkway. He was arrested on possession of cocaine and paraphernalia charges.

The felony charges were later dropped and Clinton pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor paraphernalia violations. He paid fines, performed community service and was placed on probation.

The scrape with the law did little to harm Clinton's musical legacy. Last October, the Apollo Theater in Harlem paid tribute to Clinton with an "Absolute Funk" concert featuring Funkadelic veteran Bootsy Collins, "Late Night With David Letterman" band leader Paul Schaffer, Questlove from The Roots, rap pioneer Fab Five Freddy and many more.

In January, the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston handed Clinton an honorary doctor of music degree. The elder statesman of funk spent four days working with students before joining them for a concert.

"That was a lot of fun," Clinton said.

All the while, Clinton has kept up a rigorous touring schedule that would exhaust performers half his age. When asked if he ever thought about slowing down or if he's finally feeling his age, Clinton paused for a few seconds.

"I don't know what that age is supposed to feel like," Clinton said.