According to Parliament-Funkadelic architect George Clinton: “The art of playing rock ’n’ roll guitar on an R&B record is: Play the melody of the singer’s part, go off and do your psychedelic thing, and then come back to the melody.” Photo by Tim Bugbee - Tinnitus Photography
Compositionally, were the guitar players free to find their own voice to express themselves? Were you dictating lines or creating parts for them?
Clinton: No. I did that once in a while, but there was no need for me to do that. I had too many people that could do that for real. So I didn’t. But every once in a while I would have something to say. Just something I felt, and they were pretty good at interpreting anything I said.
Ricky Rouse: George lets you do what you can do. He knows how to use whatever you’ve got. Everybody gets quite a bit of freedom to do whatever they want to do.
McKnight: Once in a while George would sing a part he wanted me to incorporate in a song and I would do that, but for the most part he gave us creative control.
What are some of the basic building blocks you use for soloing? Harmonically and melodically, how do you approach it? McKnight: I just play what I hear. I didn’t really have any type of formula or anything other than all the influences I accumulated over the years—that was about as deep as I got with any sort of music theory with that band. One of the reasons I wanted to play with that band was artistic freedom, as it were. I listened to a bunch of jazz and rock and I always liked fusing those two together—that was about the only process I went through. Wherever the song was, I did what I thought would fit. George never said anything about what he wanted. He would turn on the tape—or the engineer would turn on the tape—and they might say to face a certain way to get the hum out or whatever, and that was about it.
Hampton: When I was starting to find out about different scales, I would experiment on how to resolve, say, a diminished to a major, or do a diminished scale or an augmented and then resolve it to a minor. I mean, as long as it’s not too far away from the modes. I experiment a lot. If I’m playing something, I want to do as many variations on it as I can. It depends on the progression and whoever is producing it or what they think they might hear. They might have a vocal track on there already so I’m either trying to do something that complements the vocal or I’m trying to actually do the same thing as the vocalist. That would be my foundation, and then I go off from there and I try to enhance whatever the progression is. But I really don’t think I gave it a whole lot of thought, like, “I’m going to deal with it like this.”
Clinton: Michael Hampton came in and took Eddie’s place. He had that sound and he learned very well when I told him that the art of playing rock ’n’ roll guitar on an R&B record is: Play the melody of the singer’s part, go off and do your psychedelic thing, and then come back to the melody. For example, “One Nation Under a Groove,” “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” “Never Buy Texas from a Cowboy”—he learned those concepts so well and he always had real good sounds on his guitar.
Hampton: When I was really young, our teacher took the whole class to see the symphony orchestra. I was fortunate enough to check that out, and something about it just set something off—when I hear certain songs and the way they use the modes. I’m looking for what it makes me feel like, you know? Like wonderment. I’m trying to paint a feeling of whatever feeling I have. Most of the time it’s kind of minor-ish. But I love all of the different modes. It interests me on how to resolve it.
Michael Hampton, aka Kidd Funkadelic, plays a B.C. Rich doubleneck at B.B. King’s in New York circa 2012. Hampton was a teenager when he joined Parliament Funkadelic, landing the gig after impressing the band with a rendition of “Maggot Brain” at an after-party in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Joe Russo
I also try to put solos in there like how a drummer does a roll. He plays a drum roll and sets it up for the melody. I’m always listening for that resolution. I might wander around in some different modes or scales, but I’m interested in trying to resolve it right on, at a time where people should understand it. It could be a slow or fast lead, but whatever it is should resolve. “Oh, here it comes right here. Okay.” And bring it back home.
How does your tone change when you’re in the studio—do you sit in the control room or do you stay in the room with the amp?
Rouse: It depends on what we’re trying to do. A lot of times when you’re just playing rhythm you can do it right there at the board. And if you’re playing some lead stuff, you go out there and wire the amp up and put it through like that. George likes the power from the amp, but I’ve cut sessions with him where I just sit in front of him at the board and do it.
Clinton: At United Sound [in Detroit], we had separate rooms that you could put a man in. Even in Toronto—we did a few of the songs like [1972’s] “America Eats Its Young” up there—those big sounds. And sometimes we’d just do straight up rock ’n’ roll—everybody in the same place and we’d just turn it up loud.
Hampton: For one solo, I was outside the booth and the amp was isolated in the vocal booth. For the “(Not Just) Knee Deep” solo, I think it was a Fender Twin cranked all the way up. They had those microphones that stuck to the glass. But in order to get that sound, they isolated the amp. I’ve done both, like, where I’m with the amplifier, like on “Butt-To-Butt Resuscitation”—I didn’t name that by the way [laughs]. I was using my Alembic guitar, I forget what the model was, and there was a Morley wah and I think they had a Marshall stack. I was basically right next to the stack when I did that solo. I prefer to be right next to it, for feedback and other effects.