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Who's Really Got the Funk? 

Original P says they're the real deal -- and more coherent, too

Parliament/Funkadelic's funky mantra from 1974's Up for the Down Stroke -- "We want the funk! Give up the funk!" -- made them undisputed rulers of the funk universe. While fans might have thought the message was directed at them, by that time the band's original members were asking leader George Clinton to give up some of the profits from the funk they had helped to create.

Raymond Davis, Clarence "Fuzzy" Haskins, Grady Thomas and Calvin Simon had been in a doo-wop group called the Parliaments managed by Clinton, who got the group signed while working as a Motown staff writer. But Motown president Berry Gordy believed in releasing only one hit at a time, and because he already had one with the Temptations "My Girl," he shelved the Parliaments' records. The Funkadelic name first surfaced as a potential record label for the Parliaments, who became backup singers for a band they put together while contractually forbidden to record for Motown. "Funkadelic got so big, we said, "Why don't we just use Parliament Funkadelic?'" Davis recalled. "That's how we came up with Parliafunkadelicment thang -- back then that's what we called it."

But the problems the group had with Gordy were minor compared to the Clinton reign. From the beginning, the Parliaments had given George authority to represent them because he had more music business savvy. "He said, "Let me take care of all the business and then after I get it all together we'll all have shares.' So we trusted him to do that, and after he got it all together, he just nixed us," Davis said. Clinton took the "s" off of the Parliaments, suggesting that he was Parliament. "He said, "We'll give you a separate contract as employees.' And we said "Naw, we ain't gonna do that,'" Davis chuckled. ""We gave you all the ideas and the okay to do this, thinking you was gonna be on our side and then you stuck us!'"

The group wasn't getting paid, Davis said, and Clinton was taking all the credit. Calvin, Fuzzy and Grady left around 1977, but Davis stayed until 1980, finally leaving with Clinton protege Roger Zapp, the self-titled "evangelist of funk."

Davis hung on for nearly a decade before leaving the business. When the Clinton-run Parliament-Funkadelic show came to town, George announced on the radio that anybody knowing Davis' whereabouts should get in touch with him. "I heard him," Davis laughed. "I was on my way home from work. I went on by the auditorium and saw them and he said, "Why don't you come on back with the group?' I said, "Well, are you gonna pay me this time?'"

Davis stayed on for three months for the Lollapalooza tour before being offered a job replacing terminally ill Temptations' singer Melvin Franklin; that lasted until 1996 when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to leave. "That's how the Original P Funk came about," Davis said. "After the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in "97, me, Fuzzy, Grady and Calvin got together and said "Why don't we see what we can do?'"

They've been at it as Original P ever since, with the exception of Calvin, who had a heart attack and dropped out. It's a family affair now, with Davis' son Derrick on bass and Thomas' son Gene now doing the guitar solo on the infamous "Maggot Brain." The 15-piece band features the three original Parliament singers plus the female vocal trio the Brides of Funkenstein.

Asked what the difference is between what his group is doing and what Clinton is up to under their original name, Davis said Original P was "doing the same thing, but much better. We're doing the same songs, but the songs we're doing are the songs we recorded with George -- original background.

"We do things where people can understand us," he chuckled. "You can't understand where George is coming from."

Original P is also ready to record again as well. "We had a talk with Snoop Dog's people, saying they're willing to help us, and a couple of guys from Outkast," Davis said. And as for touring, "we gonna do it as long as we can walk and talk," he said. "Funk is here to stay."

Original P plays Amos' Southend Friday. Doors open at 9pm, and tickets are $15.

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