When you put the needle on the record, George Clinton’s baritone voice speaks through an echo machine. He is all authority:
Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time
Cause 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 sh**.
The beginnings of the title track, “Maggot Brain,” burst through. Psychedelic organ, drums and bass. Slowly, tenderly, a man starts to play guitar. And this solo, which lasts about 7 minutes, is one of the most well-told stories ever. It stops you in your tracks.
Who was Eddie Hazel? Not just another member of the huge collective Funkadelic, Eddie played guitar as if it was as easy as eating potato chips. He was the band’s original guitarist. And when he drops this song, even the usually wild members of Funkadelic stand still for a moment of undeniable reverence. This lead is soulful and screaming, thoughtful and escaping.
In the list “Rolling Stone’s Greatest Guitarists of All Time” Eddie Hazel is number 43. Born in Brooklyn in 1950, Eddie grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey. At age 17 he hooked up with George Clinton’s band/entourage and convinced his mom to let him go off on tour. He was a natural and incredible guitarist; some even thought he’d be the next Jimi Hendrix. But Eddie had a lifelong love affair with drugs, and this led to problems with the band, so he left Funkadelic after this 1979 album. This demise also led to a jail sentence and a liver condition. Eddie died at age 42.
Maggot Brain is his masterpiece. The story goes that George Clinton brought the song in and instead of adding vocals, he asked Eddie to do a lead guitar part. “Think of the saddest thing you can imagine.” George said. And Eddie, meditating on his mother’s death, came up with this on the spot.
Join Michele Myers Fridays at 9pm for Nite Life on KEXP. Every Friday spotlights a favorite album, telling a story and playing 3 songs from the record. Michele also produces KEXP Documentaries and hosts Wake Up Thursdays from 6-9am on Radio New York 91.5FM.