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culture

When the Mothership Landed in Toronto

A radio documentary explores Parliament-Funkadelic's temporary stay in Toronto.

Local music historian David Dacks has been fascinated with Parliament Funkadelic’s early-’70s move to Toronto for years.

“I first heard about them [living here] from my high-school music teacher,” he says. “This was in the ’80s, and at the time, I mostly knew George Clinton as a solo artist. He was doing stuff like ‘Atomic Dog’ and ‘Do Fries Go With That Shake,’ which were both such wild videos…So I was just amazed when my music teacher said he jammed with him in the ’70s.”

When Dacks started making radio documentaries for CBC, the tale of P-Funk in Canada was high on his list of things to cover. He knew it might take some convincing to get the green light from the network, given that P-Funk is American. Nevertheless, he felt the band’s local stay was an important, and often overlooked, part of Toronto’s music history.

Eventually, he was given the go-ahead. The result, entitled “Funk Getting Ready to Roll,” will air this Sunday on CBC Radio 2.

P-Funk came to Canada after signing with a Toronto-based management company. According to Dacks, the band was in a state of flux when they crossed the border.

“The band had kind of dissolved,” he said. “They were just finishing their heavy acid-use phase, and George had just turned 30. That could have been a crisis because of the hippie-era ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30′ mentality.”

Parliament were big fans of the city, spending their downtime checking out tourist attractions like Casa Loma and the newly-built City Hall—which they particularly enjoyed, given its resemblance to a spaceship—and stocking up on leather gear.

“Apparently they found the leather really cheap here,” he says. “And when you see pictures of them after they were here, they’re all decked out in a lot of leather. In fact, when you think about ’70s funk clothing, you tend to think about a lot of leather.”

Dacks says one of the reasons no one talks about P-Funk’s time in Toronto is because the album they produced while in the city, America Eats Its Young, isn’t one of their better-known works.

“If they produced a real classic record, people would definitely talk about it more,” he said. “But they produced an album with some fantastic songs on it, and some that would be better off forgotten.”

He also found out at least one surprising fact about the band’s daily routine in the city.

“I was really interested in where George Clinton got his hair cut, since he’s a barber by trade,” he said. “He actually went to House of Lords. I didn’t expect that. It turns out that some of his signature hairstyles from that time were created at House of Lords.”

“Funk Getting Ready to Roll” will be airing on Inside The Music on Sunday, August 12 at 3 p.m. (3:30 p.m. in NL) on CBC Radio 2, and 9 p.m. (10 p.m. in Atlantic Canada, 10:30 p.m. in NL) on CBC Radio 1.

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