Part Two: Painting the Building, 1975-1977
KISS came "Alive" in 1975. So did Parliament and Donna Summer. In a dramatic reversal of its uncertain beginnings, Casablanca cultivated a colony of successful acts and expanded its reach with boutique labels and partnerships in the film industry.
Executive Assistant? Hardly. The buck stopped at Randee Goldman. Between 1974-1978, she was a veritable third arm of Neil Bogart. If you wanted to speak to Neil Bogart, you spoke first to Randee Goldman. "Right before everything happened", she remembers, "Casablanca was almost bankrupt. Neil's whole philosophy was, paint the building, give everybody a raise, make everybody think that we're doing fantastic and worry about it later", she laughs.
However, Neil Bogart's optimism worked. Within the 12 months that Casablanca severed ties with Warner Bros. and became an independent company, the neon lights of its logo changed from bright to incandescent. The label earned its first major commercial success when Alive, the fourth release by KISS, reached the Top 10 of the album charts. Fueled by an explosive live version of "Rock and Roll All Nite", the double-album captured what The KISS Army already knew: KISS was a phenomenal live act.
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The Mothership Lands
Meanwhile, the George Clinton-led Parliament gained traction on R&B stations and in record stores. "After their first album, Up for the Down Stroke (1974), they started to get a buzz", recalls Cecil Holmes, who knew Clinton years earlier from his days as a staff writer at Motown. "It was an R&B hit. We got a lot of airplay and people started talking about them. When they had the second album, Chocolate City (1975) – boom, it exploded". What had begun as a funky, freaky reincarnation of Clinton's group, the Parliaments, became a force all its own when the Mothership descended upon Casablanca.
Cecil Holmes (Partner/Senior Vice President): George Clinton came to Neil and asked Neil if they would advance him the money for a spaceship. Neil right away said, "Okay". They were so hot. Records were selling so basically it was their money anyway but somebody had to advance that money and take a chance on it. We went ahead. I can't remember how much it cost but it was quite a bit. Of course, that was a big success – the spaceship coming out of the sky and George coming out in smoke.
Ruben Rodriguez (National Promotion and Marketing Director): For me, going to a Parliament-Funkadelic concert was as exciting as going to see Hendrix. It was on that plane. It was like a religious experience. It was something else. George Clinton had that command of the audience. George could have run for president. He had that kind of magnetism about him.
Ray D'Ariano (Director of East Coast Artist Relations): You're sitting in Madison Square Garden and this spaceship lands and George Clinton gets out. His bass player, or whoever, is wearing a diaper and it's this very bizarre, strange-looking band, but if you just close your eyes they are putting out some incredible music. Everything was in there – African music, jazz, James Brown. He took all this stuff and made a brand-new big stew out of it. His music is phenomenal, maybe the funky Zappa. They were something to be dealt with. Just like KISS, it was huge. Cecil Holmes had a lot to do with it.
Artie Wayne: Cecil Holmes was the first person to turn me onto Parliament. He had some masters in his office that they had just recorded. They were checking to see what should be put out. He played me "Tear the Roof Off" and I freaked out. He said, "We're going to get black music played where black music isn't ordinarily played" and he did because they were able to go pop with stuff like that and become a big arena act.
Bob Perry (Independent Promotion, Southeast): WQAM out of Miami was one of the first stations on "Tear the Roof Off". That was the first big one. You get records in the discos that were so big they'd cross over to urban to black and then from black you'd go to Top 40. It'd happen in weeks if it was in the grooves.
Tom Moulton: "We want the funk", God do I love that song! I must have been black in another life. I like Parliament-Funkadelic only because it's right-to-the ground soul. You can't get any funkier and "street-ier" than that. You may not like it but man it's going to make those bones move. If you walk away from it, you're going to walk in time. It's amazing how that music controls your bones and your movement. It does something that you're not aware of.
Bernie Worrell (Parliament-Funkadelic): I was a bad mother-(laughs). I don't usually talk about myself, I'm the humble type, but I was the musical director. I was the child prodigy. I was the one that went to college and had all that knowledge so I could tell them when their instruments were flat or when their singing was flat. I did most of the arranging, including using real horns and strings. George and I wrote a bunch of stuff together. All he'd do was sing the melody and I'd put the chord changes to it and arrange it. We'd go into the studio and I'd teach the lines or the licks to whoever was playing that session. I was classically trained so there was order…but I needed help! P-Funk was wild, man. Bootsy Collins was coming from James Brown and James ran a strict show. George is loose. I had to crack the whip, but they'd listen. George needed that because he couldn't control all the stuff that was going on.
D'Ariano: In a way, George Clinton is like Willie Nelson. In other words, Willie was the straight country singer with the suit and short hair and then he freaked out. He became "outlaw" Willie Nelson, and became huge. The same thing happened with Clinton. I don't know how it happened, but somehow he got enlightened.
Phyllis Chotin (Vice President, Creative Services): George spoke a different language and he used to come to my office so I could interpret for Neil. Here I was this white chick and George would walk into my office…He was, and probably still is, a brilliant guy but yet he had a real difficulty at that time communicating with all the basically straight white folks at the label (who weren't so straight, but you know what I mean).
Nellie Prestwood (Publicity): George is one of the most intellectual and brilliant men. The thing about Parliament-Funkadelic is that it's an intellectual environment as well as a wild environment, which is kind of like two things that you'd never put together. You would never expect in a billion years to find these two things together. They're so talented, witty, and quick.
Worthy Patterson (Vice President Sales and Promotion): George was George. You never knew what the hell he was going to do! We had a birthday party reception for him and he didn't even show up. He was only a few blocks away.
Stephen Lumel (Designer): George Clinton was a pretty cool guy. You're in a photo studio waiting for him and he walks in. You expect him to look like what he looks like on the album or onstage but he walks in a three-piece suit with a briefcase. He looked like a lawyer. He had his own artists that did stuff for them but sometimes they would need me to do some things.
Worrell: People would make a lot of stuff for us, not just for me but for all of P-Funk. I got scarves from all over the world. People would give me hats. I always had a little bit of hair. I always wanted dreadlocks but I couldn't do that. I couldn't grow an afro, so I got into hats. When I'd go into my jazz style, people would say I reminded them of Thelonious Monk. He was known for wearing his hats.
Chotin: I did several of their album covers too. The one that we had the most fun on was The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein (1976). It was just a fun day shooting that. I so loved their music
Perry: I used to pick them up at the airport and take them to the show, wherever they were playing. They were wonderful. They're saying, "Look at this honky, he knows his shit!" so I got along good with them. They were wild guys, Clinton and Bootsy and Bernie Woo!
Worrell: This new product came out called the Minimoog. Keith Emerson had the original. It was huge. I got one and it had knobs on it so I didn't have to use patch chords. I just loved the sound. God bless Bob Moog. I just started hittin' it. "Flash Light", we weren't about trying to write a hit. We were just doing it because of the blessing of having a studio and being able to play, work. After that was a big hit, I was playing Mini Moog bass on almost everything. "One Nation Under a Groove" (Funkadelic), that's me playing the bassline. "Aqua Boogie", that's me.
Rodriguez: Parliament-Funkadelic is like the equivalent of the Grateful Dead. Parliament-Funkadelic had the deadheads of R&B and funk. To this day, it's a movement. That's very powerful. George Clinton was ahead of his time. He was so visual. He had all these characters. It was one thing after the other. When I first met Chuck D. of Public Enemy, who I consider to be brilliant as well, I said, "You know who you remind me of? George Clinton". I say that not from the standpoint of music. I say that from the standpoint of a marketer. George Clinton was a marketing genius.
D'Ariano: As successful as George is, I don't know that he gets the credit. Musically, Parliament-Funkadelic is as good as any group that ever recorded: Rolling Stones, Miles Davis, James Brown, whoever you want to put in there. If he didn't create funk, he brought it to a whole new level. He made funk bust wide open. Clinton brought it to totally new heights. Their music will live on.
Parliament-Funkadelic - "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker" (1976)