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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The psych-funk genius of Eddie Hazel

Posted By on 03.06.12 at 01:12 PM

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It would be much harder to understand the "-delic" in Funkadelic if guitarist Eddie Hazel weren't such a key facet of the band's sound. On most of its albums, but particularly its classic third, Maggot Brain, Hazel played with an innovative genius that made him a kind of link between Jimi Hendrix and Ernie Isley. The guitarist joined George Clinton in 1967, as part of the first permanent backing band for his vocal group the Parliaments—before that they'd used pickup bands while touring. Hazel was 17 at the time. By 1969 contractual issues had led Clinton to rechristen the group Funkadelic and sign with Westbound Records.

Across the first three Funkadelic albums, Hazel grew more and more adventurous, dropping extended solos that were alternately spaced-out, searing, and intensely exploratory. His work reached its mind-boggling apotheosis on Maggot Brain's epic title track, where Clinton reportedly instructed Hazel to play as if he'd just learned that his mother had died. The ten-minute tour de force was cut in one take, and Clinton ended up removing the rest of the band's tracks, leaving only Hazel's acidic lament to roil, ooze, and explode in one inventive phrase after another.

Drug problems and intraband conflict hampered Hazel's subsequent career. He dropped in and out of Funkadelic, both live and in the studio, worked on some classic Motown sessions with the Temptations, and in 1977 released his solo debut, Game, Dames, and Guitar Thangs, backed by Clinton's hefty crew (including Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, and the Brides of Funkenstein). The album failed to make much commercial impact and was soon out of print. It was reissued on CD in 2004 by Collector's Choice, but that version didn't stick around long either. It's back in print again thanks to the relatively new Real Gone Music imprint. The album's not a classic by any stretch, but Hazel provides plenty of his remarkable playing to bask in. There are a few solid funk workouts by Clinton and crew, but the best moments are Hazel's covers of "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas & the Papas, which you can hear below, and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" by the Beatles. Hazel died in 1992 at age 42, of complications from liver failure.

Eddie Hazel, "California Dreamin'"

Today's playlist:

Charlie Persip & His Jazz Statesmen, Double or Nothin' (Liberty, Japan)
Mark McGuire, Tidings/Amethyst Waves (Weird Forest)
Ocho, Ocho (West Side Latino/Fania)
Koes Bersaudara, 1967 (Sublime Frequencies)
Jonas Kullhammar Quartet, Plays Loud for the People (Moserobie)

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