P-FUNK (Pedro Bell Interview)
(From Roctober #11, 1994)
No band has had more outrageous looks, costumes, masks, shows and grooves than Funkadelic and the other bands in their family (Parliament, Bootsy's Rubber Band and the rest). And after George Clinton, the man in charge, no one else left a more indelible mark on the space age crazoid imagery associated with the best Funkadelic music than cover artist Pedro Bell. In 1971 Pedro was a young man kickin' around college radio, hearing (and "borrowing") the new records that were dropping, when Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain" came in. As soon as he heard it he knew he'd found the sound and contacted the band. He did local promotion and flyers for them and when they came to their first Chicago show to a packed mixed race house at the University of Chicago's Mandel Hall he met the band and was soon doing the colorful, freaky, futuristic raw, marker and mixed media collage-heavy cover art for albums for all the Funkadelic and George Clinton solo LP's from "Cosmic Slop" (1973) to "R&B Skeletons in the Closet" (1986). In addition to that artwork, he's tried his hand at animation, screenwriting, comic books and his own music. Currently of his many musical projects the one he's most excited about is Tripzilla, which will be released as soon as a label can meet his artistic terms-a gatefold vinyl edition to display is artwork is a necessity! A score or so after that original historic P-Funk set, Roctober's Jake Austen, Randy Lancelot and James Porter sat down in the cafeteria in Mandel Hall and talked about his glorious history. Without further ado, let's let the Bell ring out...
RETURN OF THE CRAZOID
ROCTOBER BRINGS ARTIST EXTROIDANAIRE PEDRO BELL BACK TO THE SCENE OF THE CRIME WHERE HE FIRST MET FUNKADELIC
Jake Austen: This issue is going to be about masks. I want to hear about your space age masks and designs.
Pedro Bell: Well, masks-masks...it's funny you should mention masks, because the last Funkadelic album, called "By Way Of The Drum", I designed a mask for that, it's a combination of low tech and high tech. It's never been released. "By Way Of The Drum" was actually the world's oldest unpublished Funkadelic album. I started in 1982, I finished in 1989, it hasn't been released yet.
Randy Lancelot: There was a promotional 12" that had the song "By Way of the Drum" released about 1989 or 90.
PB: yeah, but it was released without their permission. It was a standard (no art) sleeve.
JA: Were you into comic books when you were a kid?
PB: Well comics, I really couldn't get a lock on those because my Mama wasn't into having -- she was one of those types where it's said, "No comic books." So, if I left a comic book in the living room or the kitchen, it got trashed, so I never did get that full lock on comics. But, uh, the first comic type thing that I was exposed to was some ads by this car customizer called Big Daddy Roth.
PB: And one of the artists he was bringing up was Robert Williams, who got his own reputation later. So at that point it was the underground comics. So my influences were the later '50s and '60s, Big Daddy Roth and Mouse...
JA: Rat Fink.
PB: Right, Big Daddy Roth designed him. I had teachers in high school told me my style was, uh, Salvador Dali, but I didn't know anything about him until after, when I checked out to see what was happening with him.
JA: But where are you coming up with these album covers? Were they telling you what to do?
PB: No, I designed all that stuff. Pull out "R & B Skeletons In The Closet" (by George Clinton). Here's a typical example of how something like this would come about. I heard from some of his Powertoylah boys about the George Clinton thing, and because they had these little legal battles between me and Capitol, he said why don't you do this: they don't never seem to complain about what you do on the back of the album, so why don't you make the front real clean and safe, and you stretch out and go crazy on the back. So I said yeah, OK. So instead, I just said, I'll make a parody of a clean album. And that I did. So once I made up what I was gonna do, I just went automatically. Clinton didn't know anything about what I was doing until I was finished with it. When he did see -- sometimes he doesn't see the album until after its printed -- but he did see, and his one and only thing he had done was the circle (around George's face) was in color, and he had them do it in black and white.
James Porter: I'm curious about the cover of "Hard Core Jollies" . . . is that woman giving birth?
PB: (laughs) Awww, man . . .
JP: That's the way it looks to me.
PB: Yeaaahhh . . . wellll. . .
JP: This lady's in the bathtub and she's got this little child's head pokin' out.
PB: Ah, that was merely an angle coincidence. That was something a lot more scandalous.
JP: Really scared me when I was a child.
JA: Did you ever do a straight comic book?
PB: Ah, got one now. Actually it's a compilation of what I call the Artusi Tribe. The main man for that is Seitu Haiden. It's called, "Ain't that a Blip" and it's going to be published later on this year.
JA: Are the album covers mostly painting, colored pencils . . .
PB: Most of them are markers. Some of this is ink. I'll use anything.
JA: What do you have going through your mind when you turn these people into these space-age freakazoids?
PB: Drugs! Drugs! Basically Funkadelic was like the alterego to Psychadelic. Funkadelic is like a Shock Theater, Thriller, Twilight Zone kinda tangent. You know, aliens make it always crazoid, out the box, I guess to sell more units.
JP: There were a lot of rock bands at the time exploring the dark horror movie side of psychadelia, like Alice Cooper, but it seems like Funkadelic always had to go to the extreme.
PB: That's it, you know. I was following orders.
RL: Did you ever get to tour, or did you just deal with them when they were in town?
PB: I was asked a few times to tour, but I'd seen enough of that chitlin circuit back in the early days, and I didn't see anything cool about going from town to town, strange food, strange wenches and all that. I'd go out to L.A. or Detroit to see a show, but a full-blown tour, there's nothing fun to me about that.
JA: George Clinton's put out two really bad album covers in a row. What's he going to do about it?
PB: Well both of them were on Paisley (Park, Prince's label). Well there was a concept, which I am going to reuse, for "The Cinderella Theory." It was actually going to be a combination robotic-photographic combination. And George had done his part as far as the photography, and I'd done my part, and then somewhere in Paisley Park, the Purple One said no.
JA: Now that Paisley Park has been dropped by Warner Brothers, where does that stuff stand now?
PB: George doesn't have any shortage of sources. Somebody in Detroit's setting up some kind of label. Somebody said Uncle Jam's label's coming back.
JA: Are you going to have input?
PB: Parliament Funkadelic is the next one coming out by me. It's called "Dope Dog." They have to use Parliament Funkadelic because they lost the right to use Funkadelic as a stand alone name.
JP: Speakin' of which, there was a real wack Funkadelic record that George Clinton had nothing to do with called "Connections and Disconnections."
PB: There was nothin wack about that! That album was Baaaad!
JP: Sorry, sounds like Gap Band outtakes to me. Keep expecting someone to say, "Oops Upside Your Head."
PB: In relationship to "Electric Spanking of the War Babies" that was out at the time, no contest. The material on there was far superior to official Funkadelic. Tell you a little scandal that went down. When Warners found out about this they went to George's face saying what's this group claiming to share the name, and Clinton said, "Well there was some paper, but it was in a foreign country." Well the foreign country turned out to be Canada. Which turns out trademarks and registrations Canada is not considered a foreign country. What happened when Warner Brothers found out that Clinton didn't have any legal power, they said, we're just gonna have a strong promotional campaign. So they came out with a 45 of this (with a sleeve) that was in color, which was kind of unusual, because 45s were starting to wind down as far as doing it like that. And Warner Brothers paid me to do an editorial about the other Funkadelic, and the title was, "Will the real Flunkadelic Shut the Flunk Up." Then they turned around and did me a serious injustice on a little money matter, so to make up the difference I was approached by LAX records, the other boys, so they paid me to do the rebuttal to the editorial I wrote.
RL: Did you use the same name?
PB: No, I made up an alterego, but they knew it was me. But like I said, compared to "Electric Spanking," no comparison. Now there were some tracks that were not on "Electric Spanking" originally supposed to be a two-album set, but anyway, somebody was obviously on the pipe. I got a few tracks that weren't on the final version, and they're better than the garbage that was on that. They could have sent that straight to be bargain bin.
JA: You crack on the back of one of those George Clinton solo albums, "Use Pedro Bell art, or it's straight to the bargain bin." But all those solo Clinton's went straight to be bargain bin. That's where I got mine.
JP: Even though they had "Atomic Dog."
PB: Last I heard -- everyone and they mama know that bad boy went gold, but Capitol swears to this day . . .
JA: that "Atomic Dog" is not gold!?! They must just not want to pay you guys, thinking you're more trouble than you're worth.
PB: "They" -- Clinton and company -- make that distinction.
JA: Hey, it's a family, you can't . . .
PB: Yes I can -- disavow myself. Everyone knows I'm a mercenary. Once upon a time, yes, terrible as it may seem, KISS approached them as far as having me do something for them.
RL: KISS approached Funkadelic and wanted you to do something?
JA: And they wouldn't let you?
PB: Well, they gave them some story that they couldn't find me or that I busy or something, and I don't appreciate that. Cause they would've paid. In fact, I don't know what they were tripping about, if they woulda hooked that up, oooohhhh
JP: P-Funk would have been bigger.
JA: Those KISS people would start buying these records. Do you know what record it was?
PB: No, but it was when they was still slammin' on the charts.
JP: Amongst Black kids, the same people who liked Parliament liked KISS, so if only it could have gone the other way around.
PB: It would have helped.
JA: Finally, what do you want to tell the people about Pedro Bell?
PB: All the people in the Funk community who thought I'd faded into oblivion, that's not true. I am in full effect. I will be doing things for all levels for '95 -- I will be all the way live.