Sitting backstage with Yahoo Music at Coachella’s Heineken House this past Saturday, Parliament-Funkadelic icon George Clinton is in a reflective, mellow mood — not just because he’s winding down from playing a two-hour set for a capacity crowd, but because thoughts of his old friend and collaborator, Prince, are unavoidable at this time of year. Not only is Prince’s cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” at Coachella 2008 still widely considered to be one of the festival’s all-time greatest moments, but the one-year anniversary of Prince’s shocking death is right around the corner, on April 21.
“I just don’t even think about that, from when [Prince’s death] happened, ’cause I can’t process it, still,” Clinton says, shaking his head, before insistently adding: “He didn’t do no drugs. No. He was always cool. He didn’t do that s***.”
Clinton refrains from speculating about the circumstances surrounding Prince’s death (just two days after this interview, more distressing details about Prince’s secret opioid addiction will emerge). Instead, he’s focused on his upcoming performance at this week’s multiday “Celebration” tribute at Minneapolis’s Paisley Park compound — at which he’ll likely reprise his cover of “Erotic City” from the 1994 comedy flick PCU — and his happy memories of working with the late legend.
“My fondest memories of Prince was him calling me in the middle of the night when I’m somewhere getting high,” laughs Clinton, who quit drugs himself several years ago after decades of abuse, and whose next release (with Parliament) will ironically be a pharmaceutical-themed concept album of sorts titled Medicaid Fraud Dog. “He’d say, ‘Come on, I need someone to talk to,’ and I’m like, “Oh s***, why are you calling me now?’ He’d stay up all night, just running my mouth because I like to talk a lot.”
Clinton and Prince’s friendship began in the late ’70s, when Clinton championed the young Prince’s music, and a little more than a decade later, Prince — now a multiplatinum superstar — returned the favor by signing Clinton to his Paisley Park record label and casting him in the movie Graffiti Bridge. “Once I left Capitol after ‘Atomic Dog’ and all that, I needed a label. I just called him and said, ‘I got a track I peed on and I’m gonna send to you; you pee on it and send it back!’ And that’s the way it went,” Clinton chuckles. “I signed up to the label, and the first album was [the 1989 comeback effort] The Cinderella Theory. He didn’t work too much on that one, but for the second one, I told him, ‘Don’t be so nice.’ He was always trying to be respectful [and not change the music too much]. I said, ‘No, put some of that s*** on there.’ So he played a lot on my  Hey, Man, Smell My Finger album.
“Graffiti Bridge was the best,” Clinton continues. “He had fun doing that s***. Him and Morris Day was funny with each other in real life — just the way they act in the movie, that’s pretty much like how they were anyway. [The Time’s guitarist] Jesse [Johnson] was even funnier. They was crackin’ with each other about who’s the shortest; they’re tiny, and they cracked on each other all the time about that. It was a fun family, all of them.”
Another, more serious way in which Prince and Clinton bonded was by sharing hardship tales of their respective music-business battles. In the ’90s, Prince famously changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, scrawled the word “SLAVE” on his face to protest his contract with Warner Bros., and waged a battle for artistic control that dominated the rest of his career. Meanwhile, Clinton was dealing with his own legal issues (he has filed multiple lawsuits against Bridgeport Music Inc., which owns the rights to about 170 of his compositions; the company says he signed over his rights to the music in 1982/’83, but he says his signature was forged). Clinton says he was eager to advise Prince about avoiding such career mistakes.
“I think I got him into that ‘SLAVE’ thing,” Clinton muses. “I know I did. I was always talking about the record companies, how bad they was. He got it. He did his act real good with that. He had all this copyrights back. I had preached to him. I didn’t do it at first, and it took me a long time to get it together, but he got it really quick. He did it so much better than me!”
Bringing You the Best Global Music Gossip.