In the grand soul tradition of a backing band playing support before the star takes the stage, Funkadelic began life supporting George Clinton's doo wop group, the Parliaments. After having performed for almost ten years, the Parliaments had added a rhythm section in 1964 -- for tours and background work -- consisting of guitarist Frankie Boyce, his brother Richard on bass, and drummer Langston Booth; two years later, the trio enlisted in the Army.
By mid-1967, Clinton had recruited a new backing band, including his old friend Billy "Bass" Nelson and guitarist Eddie Hazel. After several temporary replacements on drums and keyboards, the addition of rhythm guitarist Lucius "Tawl" Ross and drummer Ramon "Tiki" Fulwood completed the lineup.
The Parliaments recorded several hits during 1967, but trouble with the Revilot label backed Clinton into a corner. He hit upon the idea of deserting the Parliaments' name and instead recording their backing group, with the added vocal "contributions" of the former Parliaments -- same band, different name. Billy Nelson suggested the title Funkadelic, to reflect the members' increased inspiration from LSD and psychedelic culture. Clinton formed the Funkadelic label in mid-1968 but then signed the group to Detroit's Westbound label several months later.
Released in 1970, Funkadelic's self-titled debut album listed only producer Clinton and the five members of Funkadelic -- Hazel, Nelson, Fulwood, and Ross plus organist Mickey Atkins -- but also included all the former Parliaments plus several Motown sessionmen and Rare Earth's Ray Monette. Keyboard player Bernie Worrell also appeared on the album uncredited, even though his picture was included on the inner sleeve with the rest of the band.
Worrell was finally credited on the second Funkadelic album (1970's Free Your Mind...). He and Clinton had known each other since the early '60s, and Worrell soon became the most crucial cog in the P-Funk machine, working on arrangements and production for most later Parliament/Funkadelic releases. His strict upbringing and classical training (at the New England Conservatory and Juilliard), as well as the boom in synthesizer technology during the early '70s, gave him the tools to create the horn arrangements and jazz fusion-inspired synth runs that later trademarked the P-Funk sound.
Just after the release of their third album, Maggot Brain, P-Funk added yet another big contributor, Bootsy Collins. The throbbing bass line of Collins (born October 26, 1951, Cincinnati, OH) had previously been featured in James Brown's backing band, the J.B.'s (along with his brother, guitarist Catfish Collins). Bootsy and Catfish were playing in a Detroit band in 1972 when George Clinton saw and hired them.
The Clinton/Worrell/Collins lineup premiered on 1972's America Eats Its Young, but soon after its release several original members left the camp. Eddie Hazel spent a year in jail after a combination drug possession/assault conviction, Tawl Ross left the band for medical reasons relating to an overdose of LSD and speed, and Bill Nelson quit after more financial quarrels with Clinton. Funkadelic hired teenaged guitar sensation Michael Hampton as a replacement, but both Hazel and Nelson would return for several later P-Funk releases.
Funkadelic moved to Warner Bros. in 1975 and delivered its major-label debut, Hardcore Jollies, one year later to lackluster sales and reviews. The same year, Westbound raided its vaults and countered with Tales of Kidd Funkadelic. Ironically, the album did better than Hardcore Jollies and included an R&B Top 30 single, "Undisco Kidd." In 1977, Westbound released The Best of the Early Years while Funkadelic recorded what became its masterpiece (and arguably the best P-Funk release ever), 1978's One Nation Under a Groove.