Song of the Day: Maggot Brain by Funkadelic

maggot.jpg

Maggot Brain” is a song by the band Funkadelic. It appears as the lead track on their 1971 album of the same name.

The original recording of the song, over ten minutes long, features little more than a spoken introduction and a much-praised extended guitar solo by Eddie Hazel. Music critic Greg Tate described the song as Funkadelic’s A Love Supreme; the song is #60 on the Rolling Stone list of 100 Greatest Guitar Songs. Reportedly, “Maggot Brain” was Hazel’s nickname. Other sources say the title is a reference to band leader George Clinton finding his brother’s “decomposed dead body, skull cracked, in a Chicago apartment.” Michael Hampton (Hazel’s replacement as lead guitarist) recorded his own interpretation of the song in 1978, which was included in a bonus vinyl EP that was distributed with the album One Nation Under a Groove; the cut is also included in most CD editions of that album.

{spoken}

Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time
For y’all have knocked her up.
I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe
I was not offended
For I knew I had to rise above it all
Or drown in my own shit.

Come on Maggot Brain
Go on Maggot Brain

Creation

According to legend, George Clinton, under the influence of LSD, told Eddie Hazel during the recording session to imagine he had been told his mother was dead, but then learned that it was not true. The result was the 10-minute guitar solo for which Hazel is most fondly remembered by many music critics and fans. Though several other musicians began the track playing, Clinton soon realized how powerful Hazel’s solo was and faded them out so that the focus would be on Hazel’s guitar. Critics have described the solo as “lengthy, mind-melting” and “an emotional apocalypse of sound.”

The entire track was recorded in one take. The solo is mostly played in a pentatonic minor scale in the key of E over another guitar track of a simple arpeggio. Hazel’s solo was played through afuzzbox and a Crybaby Wah wah pedal; some sections of the song utilize a delay effect. This style would be revisited later in Standing on the Verge of Getting It On on the track “Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts”. A live version with full band accompaniment was released in 1997 on the album “Funkadelic Finest”.

Reputation

From 1976 to 1995, disc jockey Bill “B.L.F. Bash” Freeman started a tradition of playing the original full version of the song on 100.7 WMMS/Cleveland every Sunday morning at 1:30 (around “last call”). The tradition picked up in 1987 is still carried on to this day, by Mr. Classic host of “The Saturday Night Live House Party” featured on 98.5 WNCX/Cleveland at 11:50pm. The song appeared in “The Down Low”, an episode of the television series House and was featured in the films Towelhead and I Melt With You. In March 2005, Father Nature Magazine placed Eddie Hazel’s performance on “Maggot Brain” at number 1 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos; the solo came in at #71 in “100 Greatest Guitar Solos” by Guitar World. The solo has had great influence on some guitar players, Vernon Reid among them.

Covers

  • A version of “Maggot Brain” appears on the Mike Watt record Ball-Hog or Tugboat? with the solo played by J Mascis. Bernie Worrell, who played keyboards on the original, plays on this cover version. Mike Watt and Nels Cline continue to cover “Maggot Brain” in live performances with the improv-collective unit Banyan.
  • The song was also covered by Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains (C2B3), which is a band composed of Bernie Worrell, Les Claypool, Buckethead and Bryan “Brain” Mantia. The song was performed regularly while the band was on tour in 2004.
  • Pearl Jam performed “Maggot Brain” live in concert at their Milwaukee, WI, performance on 9 July 1995. Beginning with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing, guitarist Mike McCready merged into the Maggot Brain solo.
  • Santana has covered “Maggot Brain” at numerous concerts since 1996.
  • Lili Haydn covers “Maggot Brain”, using her violin in place of guitar, on her 2006 EP Memory One. She also included a version as a bonus track on her 2008 album Place between Places.
  • Kim Salmon’s group Salmon covered the song on the vinyl edition of their debut album Rock Formations.
  • Widespread Panic has covered “Maggot Brain” on several occasions from 1992 to 2013, occasionally with special guests such as Carlos Santana and Derek Trucks.
  • Gov’t Mule has covered “Maggot Brain” at numerous concerts since 2002.
  • PTV3 (Psychic TV) has covered “Maggot Brain” on their 2010 12″ EP Alien Brain vs. Maggot Brain and on their 2012 CD The Ballad of Genesis & Lady Jaye.
  • John Frusciante said he was inspired by “Maggot Brain” to record his own version called Before The Beginning, which is featured on his 2009 album The Empyrean.
  • Bardo Pond performed a 21 minute version of “Maggot Brain” on its 2013 EP Rise Above It All.

Funkadelic

Origin Plainfield, New Jersey, U.S.
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Genres Funk, psychedelic soul,psychedelic rock, funk rock
Years active 1968–1981
Labels Westbound, Warner Bros.
Associated acts Parliament, Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Past members George Clinton
Ray Davis (deceased)
Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins
Calvin Simon
Billy Bass Nelson
Eddie Hazel (deceased)
Tawl Ross
Tiki Fulwood (deceased)
Mickey Atkins
Bernie Worrell
Grady Thomas
Harold Beane
Garry Shider (deceased)
Bootsy Collins
Catfish Collins (deceased)
Cordell “Boogie” Mosson (deceased)
Prakash John
Tyrone Lampkin
Ron Bykowski
Leon Patillo
Jimmy Calhoun
Gary Bronson
Michael Hampton
Glen Goins (deceased)
Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey
Dawn Silva
Walter “Junie” Morrison
Rodney Curtis
Mallia Franklin (deceased)
Larry Fratangelo
DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight
David Spradley
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