My P-Funk Days
I sooo loved the 70’s & 80’s! It was a wild and exciting time when I followed my heart and chased my dreams. Over several years, I worked my way through a couple local bands and a girl group. I’d been singing since first grade and always wanted to perform. During the 1980’s, my running buddy was Angel and we loved to frequent techno/house music venues and music concerts. We were makeup queens who wore a variety of fashion forward styles and had fun walking in fashion shows. We were the epitome of 1980’s trendy fashion. In between the concerts, club hopping and work we pursued being music artists. After a while of looking around for a producer, we began working with P-Funk All Star Amp Fiddler. Our goal was to form a three girl group, create our own music and pursue a production deal. About a year later, we cut demos with P-Funk producer Andre Foxxe at Don Davis’ Groovesville & United Sound Systems recording studios in Detroit. Andre’s demos caught the interest of Don Davis, who offered us a production and management deal, because he wanted 100% of the publishing we didn’t pursue it. So, we kept auditioning singers to create that fresh, soulful and extra funky sound. We even cut tracks with Shirley Hayden, a former member of the P-Funk girl group Parlet. Nobody seemed to fit, later George Clinton placed Crystal Gaynor into Incorporated Thang Band as the third girl. He called us, “The Good Girls.” This moniker meant that we couldn’t hang around the studio after recording our tracks to witness or take part in any shenanigan’s.
Before any of this, I’d spent lots of time at United Sound during my late teens. My boyfriend Coke worked as a road manager and right hand man for Michael Henderson an R&B vocalist and bassist, who got his start with Miles Davis. We were in Studio A on a regular basis while Michael recorded the 1977 LP Goin’ Places, the 1978 LP In The Night Time and Wide Receiver released in 1980, with renowned recording engineer Jim Vitti. While Michael recorded at United Sound, all his albums were mastered at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia. During this time, I was full of questions and often sat at the sound board pestering Jim Vitti about how things worked. I learned a lot about the music recording process, sound engineering and studio singing. I got my first studio experience on the song Wide Receiver performing hand claps and background noise. Later, I got to sing background when one of Michael’s singers didn’t show up for an appearance at Belle Isle, in Detroit. I met the legendary Don Davis in 1977 during the recording of Michael Henderson’s, In The Night Time. On this day, Motown arranger Paul Riser was conducting string and horn sections, and Don came in to make sure everything was alright. I was so excited to meet Don Davis and he was very kind in listening to my “teen-aged” music industry aspirations. I would later have the opportunity to get to know Don so much more, as he and my current boyfriend were life long friends. He’d hang out with us on the boat, we occasionally went to dinner with him and his wife and we attended his birthday parties and other events. Don was one of the most trustworthy and kindest men I’ve ever known and I truly miss his wisdom, laughter and warm smile.
Later, Coke took side jobs with Parliament Funkadelic/George Clinton who also recorded at United Sound. One day he took me along for brief meeting with George, as we stepped into United Sound’s narrow front hallway, I saw George Clinton standing by the lunch room door. The atmosphere was bangin’ with the sounds of, “Not just knee deep, she was totally deep, when she did the freak with me,” emanating from Studio B. George was in full regalia with an orange and black natural, wearing a full length patchwork leather coat, tight leather patchwork jeans with red, white and blue star spangled platform boots and white Carrera aviators. George greeted us with a big smile, star struck I stood there staring with my mouth open, but managed to squeak out a faint, “hi.” From then on we were immersed in the world of P-Funk where it was, “all about the hang out!” There was a huge cast of characters that seemed to live at United Sound 24/7 or at the University Motel across the street. Coke’s main job was to transport the girl group Parlet to studio sessions, gigs and other appearances around town. And, sometimes haul equipment or make other deliveries. I loved riding in his van with Mallia Franklin and the members of Parlet. Mallia was a boss, seasoned performer and always had a lot to say. She was beautiful, funny and didn’t take crap from anybody! I learned a lot just by watching her handle situations and people.
Fast forward to the 1980’s, after singing on several songs, Andre Foxxe asked me and Angel to take part in a production deal with Warner Brothers Records. Our new group was to be called Tackhead or The Tackheads. We were to replace the defunct Jimmy G and The Tackheads or Federation of the Tackheads production deal. A Parliament Funkadelic spin-off group lead by George Clinton’s younger brother Jimmy Giles. Due to legal issues between EMI and Warner Brothers over group name ownership, we had to come up with something new. So, I came up with INCorporated Thang Band or IT Band (ITB). Funk masters Bootsie Collins and George Clinton executive produced Lifestyles of the Roach and Famous, ITB’s only LP. The album comprised of music by various P-Funk All Stars was basically finished when us girls and our band leader Andre Foxxe laid vocal tracks. The last minute studio sessions were produced by funk master, guitarist, arranger and musical director Garry Shider. He skillfully directed our vocals and brought out our best sound on each track. I laid straight background and harmony co-lead vocals, and was honored by his compliments about my ability and the ease of working with us girls. One day I got a call from Amp Fiddler, who was in studio when the LP was being mastered. He let me hear my vocals, telling me what a fantastic job I’d done. This was needed encouragement as life had gotten pretty hard and we’d waited so long for this thing to happen.
We finally shot a video for the single Body Jackin’ at Tommy Chong’s film studio, in Los Angeles. Crystal and I were late almost missing our flight, we begged the airline to allow us on the plane, after several minutes of nail biting we were upgraded to first class. At the hotel, we were introduced to the other members of our group Patrick “Boogie” Drummond, Robert “Sly” Garret and Christopher Bruce. Crystal and I stalked Hollywood Boulevard picking up a couple video outfits and got our nails done. Later that night, we went to a Spike Lee promo/birthday party. Months earlier, I’d met a publicist on a flight from LA to Detroit, who worked with Spike Lee and we kept in touch. She invited me to the “School Daze” book signing and party to take place on the day we arrived for our video shoot. We had VIP access and met many celebrities including Holly Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Spike Lee, and others. One day, Crystal’s cousin took us on a fun ride through Hollywood and down Sunset Boulevard to the ocean. We took the Pacific Coast Highway to Venice beach and had drinks. Also, Bobby Taylor came to observe our video shoot, I greatly enjoyed talking with him about the music industry, he gave me some good advice and a lot to think about.
Us girls were the main focus of the video storyline, but complained about not being included the performance segment. We protested being made to look like video girls and not group members. George Clinton explained it away, saying we’d become the main focus if the LP didn’t do well. I never counted on it, because there had been other P-Funk girl groups with few LP’s and very short careers. Warner Brothers withheld marketing support, because we lacked a manager, so we got only one strange video with little radio and music TV air play. During this time, I performed in a P-Funk show at a large club in Detroit. A funny thing happened just before we went on stage. Garry Shider had forgotten his loin cloth. We frantically looked around for something to use, I found a large piece of thin white plastic in a back room. I tore off a big piece and shook off the dirt, folded it like a diaper and fastened it to Garry. We laughed hysterically at the proposition the jerry-rigged diaper could fall off at any moment. The show went on and Starchild never dropped his drawers. Crystal Gaynor and I were eye candy, shakin’ our asses and singing background. The amazing Belita Woods performed lead and co-lead vocals with George. Later, she encouraged me touting how well I’d performed and that my vocals were very supportive. I was blown away by this compliment from such a seasoned and awesome vocalist. She was a friendly and funny lady and I greatly enjoyed the times we were able to sit and talk. Anyway, Lifestyles of the Roach and Famous went gold, but the band later folded and my dream died.
My final recording session was with Paul Shaffer and George Clinton at Producers Color Service, in Southfield, MI. Paul was putting the final touches on his 1989 LP Coast To Coast. Lidge Curry, his wife Patty, Crystal Gaynor and I laid additional background vocals on the Ashford & Simpson Motown track, Tear It On Down. George had arranged the track and produced our vocals. Patty Curry, who had toured with Rick James was a strong vocalist. Crystal became ill and left early, I suspect Patty thought she would have to carry the vocals. When we got into the booth and I started sangin’ she was visibly shocked saying, “I didn’t expect that!” I really enjoyed that session and every session where George Clinton was present. I’ll never forget how in studio or at a show he’d come up with complex musical rap lines teaching them in a flash. George Clinton as a music producer is like a master weaver, each work is an intricately amalgamated layering of rhythmic, musical and vocal components. I learned so much just hangin’ out in the studio watching George Clinton work, he is truly a musical and cultural genius.
Some of my memories of George are the names he called me or the things he said. He is a great motivator and full of wisdom and is one of the best shit-talkers and storytellers I’ve ever met. Most times when George saw me he’d say, “It’s Baby Bobba,” or “Hey Supa-Star” I figured out later that he probably didn’t remember my name. One time in LA, we stopped by his hotel room and upon sitting down he said to me, “Every time I see you, you look like a superstar.” I said, “George, I’m just trying to be like you!” That day I had on my Betsy Johnson black corduroy long-line side closer jacket with silver zippers on the front and sleeves with large pull rings. A pair of white straight leg jeans with large multi-color alphabet print all over them, black leather laser cut pointed toe, kitten heel ankle boots, and extra large silver hoop earrings with a mass of curly locks, those were the days! The last time I saw P-Funk All Stars was at the Detroit Music Festival, on August 17, 2002 at Comerica Park. I was able to get backstage, then dance on stage with about 10 other people. I made my way up to George and tapped him on the back, he turned and greeted me and I blew him a big kiss. I’m not sure if George ever remembered my name, but it doesn’t matter, because I will forever cherish my time being in the midst of George Clinton and the P-Funk universe.
Overall, I spent about 6 years pursuing a career in the music industry learning a lot and living out part of my dream. In the meantime, us girls had lots of fun putting together crazy outfits, wearing flashy jewelry, lots of makeup and big hair. I was an 80’s fashionista, rocking every Body Glove, Swatch, Ocean Pacific, Norma Kamali, Guess, Betsy Johnson and Fiorucci outfit I could. Some of my favorites were ripped jeans and t-shirts, fitted dresses, stilettos, big earrings, cuffs, chain jewelry, heavy eyeliner and glossy clown lips. Our style was heavily influenced by P-Funk, Prince, Sade and Madonna. The only thing I have left of those crazy days are four ear piercings, three on one ear and one on the other. I’ll forever miss the fun and excitement of the 1980’s! The “Me Decade” may be over, but the best of 80’s fashion will never die!