Maggot Brain, Eddie Hazel and the tragic story of Tawl Ross – Funkadelic’s Syd Barrett

Funkadelic hit the UK, Maggot Brain, Eddie Hazel and the tragic story of Tawl [aka ‘Tal’] Ross – Funkadelic’s Syd Barrett. Adapted extract from George Clinton & The Cosmic Odyssey Of The P-Funk Empire by Kris Needs (Omnibus Press).

“The drug experience in P-Funk is as integral to the P-Funk experience as perspiration is because everything had to do with the higher consciousness in some way, shape or form.”
–Rickey Vincent, One Nation Under A Groove film

CREEM PFUNK COVER

As 1970 progressed, stories were filtering through the underground that stoked Funkadelic’s snowballing notoriety. Writing in Creem, Geoffrey Jacques described a typical show; “The bizarre act is attacked with an almost religious fervour, as if you were witnessing a service at a storefront sanctified church. The Parliament-Funkadelic seem to hypnotise and seduce their audience with their mad rituals. Well before the act is half over, the P&F have the audience joining in, and here, when an audience rush the stage, it is not just to tear the clothes off their favourite rock star, but to join him in his dance. It is as if they are caught up in the ritual of praise, the Holy Spirit caught hold of their bodies and won’t let go.

“They are a very raunchy, coarse band, in the same way as, say, Iggy Stooge or Mick Jagger. At the least, they’re excellently raunchy and even though they shrug off the accusations of being obscene (‘It’s only in your mind’) they are among the best at it. If the group ever assumes the status of a major attraction (one which, in certain areas of the country, they are nearing) you can expect that very coarseness which seems so charming now to be labelled ‘obscene’, the same way that Jim Morrison’s was, the same way that a lot of Janis Joplin’s has been, the way Iggy Stooge’s may be or Mick Jagger always was. And that intensity is, of necessity, to be closely linked with sexuality – in all of the above cases, to be sure, and the Parliament/Funkadelic are no exception here, either. Coupled with that, their appeal is multi-racial, a problem which few Black performers have ever had to deal with … primarily because they were castrated before they could make the attempt. Only Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, among Black performers, has been able to pull off what the Parliament/Funkadelic are attempting and Sly had never emphasised the sexual. Hendrix has and he’s been roundly blasted in many circles for it.

“George Clinton has been known to bound into the crowd, Red Indian headdress streaming after him, and emerge wearing nothing more than a scarlet jockstrap. One wonders if a Black man can get away with that, without being accused of pretension (under the guise of fear), even in the supposedly liberated, theoretically leftist world of rock. They might have to give up what might ordinarily be their greatest asset (their sexuality) in order to ‘Make It’.”

Obviously, George already ticked most of the government’s danger boxes, from onstage profanity to indecent exposure, but was then so far under the establishment radar in terms of success and profile he wasn’t yet considered a threat to the white middle class kids America wanted to protect. Like the MC5, he was based in Detroit and often performed to the same crowds as they were. Elsewhere in the US he was still playing Boston’s Sugar Shack and the ‘Chitlin’ circuit’ that had operated its unbothered hotbeds of carnal celebration and unbridled hedonism for decades.

In 1971, post-psychedelic Britain enjoyed a healthy club and university blues, rock and proto-progressive rock scene, with bands such as Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator and the Groundhogs playing to crowds sporting long, stringy hair, greatcoats and denim. The MC5 toured early in the year but, otherwise, onstage flash and high-energy guitars were only to be found in a few, such as Mott The Hoople – the first band in the UK to sport platform boots and lay the foundations for glam rock and punk. Meanwhile, black music fans had their own world of Northern Soul all-nighters, connoisseur discos and tacky niteries for the indiscriminate cavorter. There was very little outlet for black music on radio or TV, which meant specialist publications such as Blues & Soul, along with the odd mention in the rock and pop weeklies, were the only way it was even known about outside of the clubs.

The Parliaments had acquired something of a reputation in the soul clubs after ‘Testify’ but Funkadelic, hardly Wigan Casino material anyway, were practically an unknown entity in the music papers, despite Pye International recently releasing the first two albums in the UK. Speaking as someone who came up in the white rock ‘n’ roll world but loved black music and didn’t live in London, there were few ways this most revolutionary of bands could make its presence felt. It was all about the grapevine, intrepid detective work following a rumour that something was outrageously great, or just a happy accident, like turning up the first album when I was rummaging in the Kensington Market record bins.

Funkadelic made their first sortie to the UK in May 1971, playing venues including Leeds Locarno, Liverpool Polytechnic, Kirklivington Country Club, Chester Quaintways, Crawley’s Fox, the tiny London Country Club, Southend Kursaal Ballroom, Cardiff University, London Roundhouse and Croydon Greyhound. A prestigious spot at the Royal Albert Hall was said to have been pulled when a copy of Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow found its way to a certain Marian Herrod, the venue’s lettings manager, who was mortified by the naked lady on the cover. She had likewise banned Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels from the venue in January for profanity, and Mott would be blacklisted from the venue in July for allegedly starting a riot.

When Funkadelic arrived they made a point of visiting the Royal Albert Hall, complete with hired donkey, who laid a loaf on its venerable steps. Up the road from the hall the P-Funk crew explored the delights of Kensington Market. “I got my first pair of high platform boots from Kensington Market,” George told Jasper the Vinyl Junkie in Soul Underground, “and some leather stuff made there, and of course, the Kings Road too. It was great. We really did have a ball.”

The big London show was the Roundhouse, the old engine shed in Camden Town which hosted Middle Earth and popular Sunday afternoon hippie rock extravaganzas. Funkadelic also made an appearance on the tiny stage of the hip Speakeasy club, which is where the famous photo of George in his leopard-skin jock-strap came from. When it appeared in one of the music papers, it was the first time I’d seen Funkadelic featured in any of them.

Funkadelic’s visit disappointed soul boys coming to hear ‘Testify’ and shocked but often delighted rock fans who, back then, attended their local club or university shows on a regular basis to see their mates. Both camps wondered what the hell was going on up there as this ragged bunch of black freaks in surreal fancy dress cranked up the guitars to deafening levels, previewing songs from the newly finished but unreleased Maggot Brain.

MAGGOT BRAIN ALBUM

Author’s copy of Maggot Brain, signed by George Clinton

After playing to mainly white crowds of hippies and soul boys, Funkadelic’s album sales didn’t rocket after the trip to a country which, on the whole, wasn’t yet ready for their onslaught. It would be November 1978 before P-Funk landed in the UK again. By then, punk had swept the country and given moral guardians something closer to home to sweat about. In terms of shocking press, music fans and authorities, Funkadelic had already been up there with the first confrontational proto-punk outfits, testing the boundaries of what could be got away with on stage. In the ultra-conservative early 1970s, they represented an affront to prudes, bigots and the narrow-minded.

As Geoffrey Jacques concluded his landmark Creem feature the previous October, “Those in control of the rock industry, especially those in control of black music, obviously aren’t prepared to unleash a Black Jim Morrison (in the person of George Clinton or otherwise) on their minions. Certainly, the white kids can accept that, as Hendrix has already shown, because of the very mystique associated with miscegenation in this country. It’s another taboo, and like any other taboo, white youth is ready to bust it open.

“Somehow it seems that a white band with this much potential would have achieved much more at this point. It may be that the innate racism of the rock scene is exactly what’s holding them down; they’ve paid enough dues by now, they’ve got their show together, there’s not much more that they can do. Still, ten years ago, who’d have thought rhythm and blues would suddenly emerge with this many-headed Hydra? That soul has been able to spawn such a bizarre hybrid, while the Supremes, Temptations and so many others have become the white supper club hits, is testament to its immense virility. All that remains to be seen, in the case of the Parliament/Funkadelic, is whether or not the insidious white racism of the record industry and the rock ‘n’ roll scene will allow that virility to emerge undiluted.”

Released in July 1971, Maggot Brain is considered by many to be the best Funkadelic album of all, managing to distil the band’s pounding hard rock, soaring gospel balladry, cranium-fried proto-metal and wigged-out cosmic psych into one devilish beast. Sadly, it marked the last time the original Funkadelic would creatively combust in the studio together as rebellion brewed in the ranks, mainly over financial issues like back pay.

Maggot Brain is still an awesome final shot, the high peak of Funkadelic’s early phase. Their third album in eighteen months, it fared less well than its predecessors and stalled outside the Billboard Hot 100 by eight places. However, it was popular within the black community, reaching Number 14 on the R&B chart.

The album was George’s first serious comment on the crisis enveloping the Vietnam War, then spiraling out of America’s control. “We had to realise that our brains and minds – which we thought would bring the solution to all the problems – were fucked up themselves,” he said. The album’s title is derived from Eddie’s nickname, but there’s also been the story about George finding his overdosed dead brother Robert’s decomposed body in a Chicago apartment, the cracked skull inspiring the song, title and scary African woman’s zombie head on the cover. George later rebuked that one, declaring “It’s not that gory!”

The time-stopping ten-minute title track is one of Funkadelic’s most renowned statements, featuring Eddie Hazel’s searing guitar traversing a stairway to hell as the closest he got to generating the spiritual catharsis achieved by his idol Hendrix. His performance was described by writer Greg Tate as Funkadelic’s ‘A Love Supreme’. Once, when I was listening to ‘Maggot Brain’, it occurred to me that Eddie would have recorded this shortly after Jimi’s death and maybe this was his own personal requiem to him. “Eddie claimed that he had some Jimi Hendrix spirit in him,” said long-time associate Sidney Barnes. “He really did. That’s why he’s not with us anymore, because the truly genius like that, they’re tormented. He had too many demons, and he couldn’t get away from ‘em.”

The often-repeated tale about Hazel’s stellar performance has George telling him to imagine he had just been told his mother had died then finding out it wasn’t true – all on super-strength Yellow Sunshine acid. Before the guitars gently ease in upon the haunted riff, George intones his litany: “Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time/For y’all have knocked her up/I have tasted the maggots in the minds of the universe and |I was not offended/For I knew I had to rise above it all, or drown in my own shit…”

“It really is a cosmic song,” said George. “When we first did it, the whole band played on it but I just didn’t use anything but him and the other guitars. All I had to do was tell him to think of something sad. He said, ‘Oh man, motherfuck this, why don’t you think of something sad?’ So I was suggesting any stupid thing that was totally horrible. Well, he was feelin’ it now.”

When mixing, Clinton left the first take’s tour-de-force guitar reverie unencumbered by the rhythm section, who can be heard trying to sketch a loose groove in an alternative version, included on the Ace reissue. “I had four baby junkies; they decided to go to sleep right there on the session,” George recalled. “So I had to make a record out of whatever I got … But the rest of the band sounded like shit! So I faded they ass right the fuck out and just let Eddie play by hisself the whole fuckin’ track.”

Eddie Hazel @ALdo Mauro BW -Helen

Eddie Hazel by Aldo Mauro

Eddie played his solo in a pentatonic minor scale in the key of E, putting it through a fuzz box and Crybaby wah-wah pedal, glazed with dub-style delay. The late Garry Shider wells up with tears on the One Nation Under A Groove documentary as he declares ‘Maggot Brain’ to be “the sound of a brother crying his soul out. Maggot Brain is a state of mind … to get you out of a heroin mood, okay? The way I understand it, George put Eddie in the middle of a whole bunch of amps; just surrounded him with amps and said ‘Play’.

“Billy and Tawl came out with the chords that night. Those chords are minors against majors. They said you couldn’t do that but they proved it all wrong. So I just sat there and got hypnotised into this. Eddie just had to sing to hisself on guitar.”

“I was listening to Funkadelic for as long as I can remember,” recalled future P-Funk guitarist Dewayne ‘Blackbyrd’ McKnight, in P-Funk: An Oral History. “‘Maggot Brain’ fucked me up. It was emotion; the sounds that Eddie was making, and the way he was playing the notes that he played. I don’t know where he was at the time he was doing it, but damn! That’s what I think got me – just emotion-wise. I don’t think I had heard a song like that with, like no drums, no bass, and playing like that. When I figured out the song as far as notes, I discovered then that some of the phrases Eddie was playing were really quite uncommon. He was playing some different stuff.”

After his early death in 1992, Eddie Hazel was made for posthumous icon status, his super cool image and stratospheric guitar flights placing him only a few steps to the side of his hero Jimi, and above any aspiring guitar warrior since. Like Hendrix, Eddie operated in his own sphere of playing, the lightning bolts of liquid virtuosity pouring through his fingers, glistening with inner pain and turmoil and like a luminous cry from his soul. I’m lucky to be old enough to have seen Hendrix (at the Royal Albert Hall in February 1969). For this fourteen-year-old fan, his presence and charisma were overpowering and his playing still unlike anybody I’ve seen since, inspiring previously unencountered inner tingles and soaring sensations as every note hit home. As has been subsequently revealed, Eddie was capable of invoking similar spiritual shock, awe and beauty.

“Eddie was a really funny guy, always laughing,” future band-mate Jerome ‘Bigfoot’ Brailey told me. “He was real sensitive. He would just break down and start crying for no reason. He was just a cool guy. He could just play the guitar. He wasn’t ego’d out about playing. He was really soulful. They didn’t even use him a lot on the singing but he had a killer voice. George couldn’t get Eddie to sing anyway ‘cause he start crying all the time. He was one of those real serious emotional dudes.” Asked about Eddie in 1994, George simply said, “Mr Maggot Brain. His music will be here forever. His was a ball of sensitivity. He just felt everything. He’ll be here for a long time.”

The rest of the album raised the bar for Funkadelic’s lysergic black rock onslaughts while introducing new subtleties along with key new band members. Also released as a single, ‘Can You Get To That’ marks the P-Funk debut of Garry Shider, singing on this rework of the Parliaments’ ‘What You Been Growing’. Born in Plainfield on July 24 1953, Garry was the barbershop kid who first met George at the age of seven, having sneaked out of church to have his hair waved. Now he was old enough to join the band, having nearly ended up with a career in gospel, singing behind the likes of Shirley Caesar and the Mighty Clouds Of Joy by the age of ten. “We had the family band at the church, and we went around to other churches to perform. In fact, we were going to make gospel records before I got into rock ‘n’ roll, got into this funk stuff. My father was finished with me. I blew the whole shot!”

In truth, Garry had never been the same after hearing the Parliaments practicing in the barbershop. He simply grew up and into Funkadelic, after first playing in U.S. Soul with best buddy Cordell ‘Boogie’ Mosson, later becoming George’s high profile right-hand man and band leader. Garry also had no problem later taking up the oversized diaper mantle from Tawl Ross, earning his ‘Diaper Man’ title.

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Kris Needs and Helen Donlon with George Clinton in Ibiza 2014

‘Can You Get To That’ was the gentlest that Funkadelic had sounded so far; gorgeous gospel-flavoured doo-wop soul with lyrics that change the original version’s breakup song to a realisation that love, co-operation and karma are the way to rise above negative elements. Amid the album’s bombast, it glistens with Tawl’s featherlight acoustic guitar, deep piano resonance and a tour de force vocal arrangement that sees the band joined by Pat and Diane Lewis and Rose Williams on the verses with interplaying harmonies on the choruses. All this is rounded off with Ray ‘Stingray’ Davis’ doo-wop bass exclamations and his solo verse, ‘When you base your life on credit and your loving days are done/Checks you sign with love and kisses come back signed ‘Insufficient funds’.’ It was an early outing for the kind of gospel-flavoured unison vocals that would characterise many P-funk songs and, notably, the spinoff female group, Parlet.

By now, Bernie Worrell was co-producing and arranging, injecting Funkadelic’s often sprawling bombast with light, shade and melody, never detracting from the funk any more than turning the overheating amps down. In the volatile atmosphere of the studio before the split, Bernie became a target for dissent from the younger members when they weren’t fighting among themselves, often stepping in between the vociferously complaining Billy and older Parliaments. “I had to be the moderator, ‘cause the Parliaments were older,” explained Bernie. “I’m in the middle. That shit was funny.”

Gary also guests on ‘Hit it Or Quit It’, a raging, organ-charged blues-burner sung by Bernie with a scintillating jazz organ solo and Eddie spontaneously combusting near the end. The song had already been released as a single by Bobby Freeman on Westbound’s Eastbound subsidiary and the track would also become a Funkadelic 45, flipped with a churning instrumental called ‘Whole Lot Of BS’. ‘You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks’ has been described as a sequel to ‘Hit It Or Quit It’, appealing to the poor to hang together, otherwise they’ll never find equality. The chorus resembles an old folk rhyme first published in Thomas W. Talley’s Negro Folk Rhymes (Wise Or Otherwise) in 1922, the first substantive collection of African-American secular song. From the start, George appropriated old songs and rhymes for his own patchwork constructions, which could effortlessly straddle field hollers, nursery rhymes and spirituals in the same track. Even at his furthest out, he hung on to the original roots of black music.

Eddie also rears up on the ferocious proto-metal grind of ‘Super Stupid’. The song’s lyrics (which he sings) concern an addict who buys the wrong drug to feed his habit. The lyrics are based on one of the exploits which earned him the nickname ‘Maggot Brain’; ‘Super Stupid bought a nickel bag, thought it was coke but it was skag’ referred to a show in Boston where Eddie, who was striking out blind with no contacts, went out to score cocaine and obliviously returned with a bag of smack, which he chopped out and snorted.

Fuzzy’s ‘Back In Our Minds’, sung by George and Tawl, boasted stand-up comedian and P-Funk warm-up man James W Jackson on jews harp, McKinley Jackson on trombone, and the rhythms of Eddie ‘Bongo’ Brown, whipping up a sleazy New Orleans shuffle (which the Stones were absorbing into their own ‘Lovin’ Cup’ around this time).

The ten-minute ‘Wars Of Armageddon’ closes the album with George’s intoned comments on the psychic investment in war, including such declarations as; ‘The cathetic mum ruffians of madness continue to hasten total biological Armageddon for the benefit of consumerism’ and ‘more power to the people’ (along with ‘more power to the pussy, more power to the Peter’). The listener is plunged into a sound effects-milking collage of voodoo drums, sirens, mooing cows, hippo flatulence, screams, orgasms, electronic wobbling and Eddie’s demented guitar. This most extreme example of Funkadelic’s experimental side has been called their ‘Revolution Number 9’ after the Beatles’ surreal White Album collage.

George Clinton cover_I

Maggot Brain sported apocalyptic sleevenotes from The Process Church Of The Final Judgement religious sect, whose preachings would grace the next few P-Funk albums. George was an avid reader of books on UFOs and mysteries like the Bermuda Triangle. Many of these were passed on to him by then-manager Ron Scribner (who George remembers attending Funkadelic gigs), who liked to wear a long white robe and introduced him to the cult (“They wore robes and big crosses and stuff. Being white, they looked really strange in all the places we went”). At first, the more spaced out in attendance thought Jesus had arrived and started apologising profusely for their sins.

Started by Robert and Mary Anne DeGrimston in the mid-60s as a Scientology splinter group, the Process Church was controversial at the time, but grew into a global concern. Its first headquarters were in an abandoned salt mine in Yucatan, Mexico, before they settled in New Orleans. By the early seventies, they had centres in Detroit and Toronto. Homing in on people’s emotional triggers and insecurities using Scientology’s E-Meter, they believed in ironing out mental traumas to bring out the individual’s subconscious goals and assimilate them into the group with a sense of calm and extended family camaraderie. (Later the E-Meter was replaced with the P-Scope, I kid you not.)

If that sounds quite harmless, the cult was accused of being a “black-caped, black-garbed, death worshipping church” made up of the “mindless snuffed”, who believed they were visionaries warning of the coming apocalypse. It was a cult of contradictions, black-clad members sporting bling consisting of conflicting silver crosses and the Goat of Mendes as they worshipped both Christ and Satan (which prompted misunderstandings they were a Satanic cult). They believed Satan would reconcile with Christ and the pair would come together to judge humanity at the end of the world, the former to execute Christ’s judgement. In their initial manifesto, the Process Church recognised Jehovah, Lucifer and Satan as the three great gods of the universe. Jehovah was the only recognised God, bringing retribution, demanding discipline, dedication and ruthlessness in duty, demanding purity and self-denial (!). Lucifer urged followers to enjoy life, value success, be kind and loving and live in peace with one another. The Church believed that man’s self-centred qualities had brought Lucifer into disrepute, wrongly identified with Satan, who dealt with both the highest spiritual peaks and lowest levels of human behaviour, such as violence and gross over-indulgence. In between man and the three great Gods swarmed an entire hierarchy of lesser gods, super beings, angels, demons, watchers and guides. The Process believed all these patterns existed within everyone, but their main doctrine was the unity between God and Satan, opposites who, when united, would bring together Jehovah and Lucifer.

“In the conversations I had with George regarding the Process, there was never any grand plan that I can recall,” reveals Ron Scribner. “He saw those as things that related to him. They were in the same space in his mind as taking sayings and taking principles and putting them into music.”

In other words, these mysterious writings were just another element for George to play with, while also elevating the group further above normal black outfits. Believe it or not, some seriously believed for years that the Church was an invention because of the Process in the name – just George referencing his day job at the barbershop? – until closer study revealed it to be something that might have been considered a bit risky if he had taken it more seriously.

George admits the huge quantities of acid being ingested at the time meant that the band were goofing a lot of the time, diffusing any hint at being pretentious with mirth. But what George and the gang found hysterically funny drove devout P-Funkers across the globe into research, speculation and even conspiracy theories.

“I guess we really did get loony and didn’t know it,” admits George. “But I ain’t no fool either. I knew we made a big step. We came out of the ghetto, where you got to watch your back about everything. Now here I’m gonna take something that ain’t got no reality to hold onto whatsoever, but it felt good. It was a permanent smile on my face. I don’t regret that. I don’t regret nothing I did, if I did it. I try to find out what’s the best lesson I can learn from it. I look at anything like that; what is it trying to tell me? And if it’s something that’s hurtin’, I usually find out about it before it has a chance to hurt bad.”

Shortly after Maggot Brain was released, the heroin use George protested about during its recording overtook acid and cocaine as drug of choice for the younger band members, as paranoia then semi-comatose inertia replaced their initial exuberance. The worst person to have with a heroin habit in a band is the drummer. Ask The Clash, who were forced to sack Topper Headon, one of the greatest drummers this planet will ever see, because of his untenable smack addiction. George fired Tiki Fulwood because funk depends on its engine room and his heroin addiction was clogging the works, not least when it prevented him making gigs.

That brings us to the horrifying story of guitarist Lucius ‘Tawl’ Ross, who would depart Funkadelic in more dramatic circumstances. Growing up in Plainfield, New Jersey, Tawl played bass in a rock band with future Funkadelic bassist Cordell Mosson’s brother Larry. When Billy Nelson switched to bass in Funkadelic to make room for Hazel’s genius, he started visiting Tawl for lessons. Like Hazel, Tawl favoured uncut emotional energy in his playing over innate chops. By all accounts, he was already further out there than George and slotted right in with his chipped front tooth and derelict demeanor.

Recalled Billy, “Larry ‘Cool Pop’ Mosson and Tawl were – as far as style and lifestyle, attitude and on into the mothership, showmanship – identical. And crazy? Whew! I mean, I didn’t know what insane meant until I met Tawl and Larry Mosson. Them brothers was out to lunch. I knew what Tawl could do, just like I knew what Eddie could do.”

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Tawl Ross

Tawl Ross departed in horrific circumstances in late 1971 after participating over-zealously in a group drug-guzzling game involving yellow sunshine acid and pure methedrine. Billy recounted to liner note writer Rob Bowman how the band used to play these dare games with drugs. That night in London, Ontario he recalls George, Grady Thomas and Fuzzy Haskins taking about three tabs of acid each, while Tawl took at least six. While Fuzzy and Grady spat theirs out Tawl snorted line after line of methedrine. “When the acid set in, he just started going wild with it. He was hallucinating so bad that I could see the hallucinations. I could see him sitting in the hotel room talking to his mother who had been dead for at least seven or eight years. I had a little acid in myself so I could actually see what he was seeing. I could actually see him leaning over a coffin talking to his mother and his mother leaning out of the coffin talking back to him…When we got to that gig Tawl was totally out of it and he stayed that way.”

An extreme casualty of the P-Funk lifestyle, Tawl was not to be heard of again until 1995.

Tawl was initially replaced by Memphis guitarist Harold Beane, who’d been playing with Isaac Hayes. By this time, the live show had turned into a two-hour funk orgy, many of the group still spinning on acid, whipping both themselves and the rabid crowds into sweat-steaming trances of continuous groove momentum as the set built to its screaming climax. Funkadelic’s reputation was quickly spreading on a word-of-mouth level, faithful crowds in clubs such as Boston’s Sugar Shack now looking and behaving like the band. “Everybody in there was dressed like Funkadelic,” recalled Sidney Barnes. “Oh, they rocked that joint. They had people getting naked in the Sugar Shack. When an act like George, which was so different, got to a place that was full of people that just accepted their differentness, they went all out. And when they went all out, it was like a good fuck. They made the club grunt.”

Now that hard drugs were top of several members’ shopping lists, tempers were highly combustible. This was particularly true of the outspoken Billy, who argued that since the younger Funkadelic were attracting many of the fans, the rhythm section should at least get equal wages to the Parliaments singers. He also demanded back pay owed to the band, but gave up when George produced his marching orders in the form of awarding Bernie his position of the band’s musical director. “When I got to the point where they considered me a troublemaker, George’s way of letting me know it was time for me to go was by making Bernie the bandleader,” said Billy. He was supported by Eddie, who was also sinking into addiction.

George was torn because Billy, Eddie and Tiki were like his own kids; to the point Nelson’s mother had given him legal guardianship as a proviso if they took him on the road. George’s admonishments to the unruly element must have sometimes resembled parental discipline, but the kids still sidestepped from acid to smack. Famously trying to avoid confrontation, George once refused to pay them their money because, “They would only use it for dope”.

“The Parliaments were getting paid more than us,” reasoned Billy. “But they didn’t care, especially Bernie. And Tiki, as long as he got enough money to get high. Pretty much the same with Eddie. It’s a motherfuckin’ shame. The main reason why shit turned out the way it did – messin’ with drugs. It was a top fucking priority, man.”

After walking out, Billy and Eddie ended up in Los Angeles working with Invictus acts such as Chairmen Of The Board. After Hazel returned to George, Billy ended up working for ten years with his own band the Love Machine.

The Funkadelic bassist’s position was now vacant but Cordell Mosson was waiting in the wings and ructions in James Brown’s band were about to send over a larger-than-life bass-wielding Funkateer who would play an invaluable part in booting the P-Funk into its predestined orbit.

Nothing was heard of Tawl Ross after he took those several trips too many in 1971 and ended up back in his native North Carolina. In 1995 he released his first and only solo album, Giant Shirley, under the name ‘Tal Ross aka Detrimental Vasoline’. Even held up against the wigged-out P-Funk pantheon, it’s one of the strangest albums of them all but also one of the most beautiful as dense guitars hover and curl like supernatural vapour trails over his wracked, fragile vocals that sometimes recall Curtis Mayfield at his most sensitive. Riffed-up rockers such as ‘Get So Mad’ are full of unexpected chord changes and unusual guitar textures but the luminescent ballads inhabit a gorgeously melancholic world of their own, ‘Forget Her’ and ‘Cry And Show Me’ charting deep seams of ghostly soul-baring. ‘It Was’ remakes Funkadelic’s ‘Wars Of Armageddon’ to close one of the great lost P-related masterpieces.

The album was anchored by Tawl’s old friend Jerome Brailey’s sympathetic but solid drums. Bigfoot recalled how this unexpected project came about; “That was a crazy thing. (Producer) Pete Wetherbee answered an ad for a record label in Miami called Coconut Grove He used to work with Bill Laswell. They hired him so he went down there with another artist they wanted to do but that never happened and he got something on Tawl Ross’s record.

“I did the drums last on that album. They’d already done the whole record then he called me and said ‘Man, can you come up to Quad studios?’ That’s the Manhattan studio where Tupac got shot in the lobby. He said ‘Can you play on the record, we got to finish it? I want you to play on it but it’s kind of strange.’ When I heard it I’m like, ‘Where’s the time on this joint?’ He said ’That’s what we got’. I said I’d see what I could do.

“That album is a classic. I played it for my brother and he said, ‘That album is a killer but I don’t know what he’s singing about’. I thought ‘I know, but you can’t understand!’ Tawl did a bad trip. When we played Boston Sugar Shack one time I walked over to the park across the street from the hotel and he was sitting there on a bench. He’d just gone over there, spaced out. He’s still kind of crazy. He’s not all the way back yet.”

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