Many reading the pages and posts of CCM Magazine might not immediately draw parallels between it and the sounds and characters of Parliament Funkadelic (many of you, in fact, might be scratching your head or rushing to Google the words “Parliament” and “Funkadelic” right now). I’ll admit, I’m certainly no expert on the subject, and if I hadn’t moved to Nashville and attend a music school, cross paths with and had the privilege to play with the likes of a guy known as “Billy Bass” Nelson a time or two, or met a few of the Wooten Brothers, I’d be just as clueless.
I was born in the mid-late seventies, which means I’m a child of the eighties, which also means that my typical upper-middle class caucasian upbringing only exposed me to enough musical diversity to only really allow me to merely recognize Parliament Funkadelic by name, perhaps thumbing through some of their outlandish album covers in places like used comic book/CD stores (like a scene out of “Remember The 90s,” I’m having flashbacks to the sights and smells of Sound Exchange and The Great Escape). Again, I suppose it was my Music City experiences that then led me to learn the names George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, but certainly not intimately recalling titles like “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Of The Sucker)” and “Maggot Brain” (see, I know how to work a Google machine, too!).
So, for sure, when given the opportunity to chat with Calvin Simon, I wanted to dig deeper into understanding the collective. Historically, the group was originally known as the Parliaments, and were a family-oriented and very localized band of musicians from the Plainfield, NJ area with roots in doo-wop. Much like the “CCM” moniker for our branding occured in and around the development of the contemporary Christian movement (market, industry, and so forth), the sounds coming out of this area at that time ended up creating its own sub-genre synonymous with their own name – with maybe its most widely known embodiment being “P-Funk.” (Okay, for my people, the 80s kids – a somewhat loose comparison to this would be the “New Jack” stuff we experienced coming from the Minneapolis area in the 80s and early 90s with Prince, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, The Time, early Janet Jackson, etc.)
To prepare for my conversation with Simon, however, I was astounded to learn that, really, this P-Funk stuff didn’t just represent a band, but an entire community of stellar musicians – many of them considered legends across the broader landscape of music in general. And Simon is among those on that list, but beyond that, he’s “Original P” (go ahead, look that one up, too). He, along with mates Clinton and Collins, was one of only sixteen distinguished musicians to be officially recognized at Parliament Funkadelic’s induction into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame in 1997, signaling his place on the Mt. Rushmore of psychidelic funk.
Despite his religious upbringing, however, Simon would eventually succomb to the trappings of fame and fortune. After being drafted and returning to music from a tour of active military duty, he turned to and leaned on drugs – an all too common and unfortunate tale among the stars of this era. But, as he stated, he never strayed “too far” from Jesus, and now suffering a lifelong affliction from PTSD, bouts with cancer, and also losing his wife to cancer in 2013, it would be his faith in Christ that shined through and is the true life blood for the famed musician-producer-label owner.
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