In 1971, George Clinton’s Funkadelic released Maggot Brain, an album filled with no-holds barred, in your face, hardcore funk. This was in the days long before Tipper Gore squeezed the music industry and made them label albums with “explicit lyrics” warnings. This was pre-Pro Tools, click tracks, lip-synch and all the other elements of modern music that utterly rob it of its soul.
This was the funk, the whole funk, and nothin’ but the funk.
And for a short time, it was driven by a drummer you truly must become aware of if you ever hope to even think about approaching funk.
Ramon “Tiki” Fulwood caught my attention recently when I was listening to Maggot Brain just to hear the title song. The guitar solo is classic, and it sings to your soul… and then a few tracks down on your Spotify playlist, you discover “Wars of Armageddon,” which Tiki co-wrote. And when you hear this song, you hear funk drumming slammed and re-defined.
Wikipedia gives a brief outline of Tiki’s life, and there’s currently a Myspace page you can find under his name that contains additional bio. Tiki died in 1979 of stomach cancer and he wasn’t even 40. But good lord, could he play. And he did play.
“Wars of Armegeddon” is one of those songs I can’t get enough of. There are SO many nuances in Tiki’s playing here that’s it’s a treasure trove of how to smack hard and funk harder. Awesome musicality all the way around… and the last few seconds of the song… brilliant…
So, crank this YouTube link up, or go to Spotify and give it a good, long listen. My playing has already changed as a result. Maybe yours will too. Either way, Ramon “Tiki” Fulwood lives on in a classic, and may he funk in peace.
POST UPDATE – 4-28-13
I found this link tonight that is truly awesome, an in-depth article on Ramon “Tiki” Fulwood that I am reprinting in full just in case the link ever gets destroyed. I was not able to find the real name of the author to ask re-print permission or even give credit where it is surely due. If you are the author and are reading this, please contact me directly if you want this post removed. It it excellently written and researched, and it fills what I believe is a very deep gap in funk drumming’s history.Whoever you are, thank you for writing this piece. – DA
|THE TIKI FULWOOD STORY: GOOD OLD MUSIC (1968-1969)
America, 1968 A.D. The optimism of the Kennedy-years has vaporized, as the United States seem on the verge of intercultural collapse: young versus old, rich versus poor, and, again, black versus white. A slew of political assassinations keep America in a state of catatonia and confusion and growing unrest in its inner cities give rise to what soon-to-become president Richard Nixon would term ‘the Silent Majority’, a majority that believed the Civil Rights issue was pushed through too rapidly, that hippies were devastating core American values and a new, updated kind of conservatism – where Law and Order reign – was exactly what the doctor ordered. Throughout all this, the ongoing, dead-end war in Vietnam pulsated like a bloodvessel on the brink of popping.
It is against this backdrop that the origins of Funkadelic, must be understood. The beginning of Funkadelic took place in Plainfield, New Jersey at the most freaky hangout in town, George Clinton’s cosmic barbershop. The eccentric proprietor had been dabbling in the music business since the late fifties, and had even made it to the rank of ‘writer’ aboard the Motown cruiser. Fronting his own vocal group, The Parliaments, Clinton and his pals, Ray Davis, Calvin Simon, Eugene ‘Grady’ Thomas and Clarence ‘Fuzzy’ Haskins, had been imitating The Temptations for years. And success had come in 1967, when “(I Wanna) Testify” became a solid #3 R&B hit.
Having a hit record on your hands demanded touring, and Clinton quickly set out to assemble an adequate group of musicians to back up The Parliaments. Teenager Billy Nelson, probably the youngest customer at Clinton’s shop, tried out on guitar first, but swiftly turned to bass guitar. Nelson recommended his friend Eddie Hazel for six string duties. With a drummer only remembered as a cat named Stacey, this rough trio journeyed along with The Parliaments to the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia one night. There, they’d meet Ramon ‘Tiki’ Fulwood.
Fulwood manned the drums in the theater’s house band, and both Billy and Eddie were blown away hearing him hitting the skins. Tiki’s aggressive, in the pocket approach appealed to Billy Nelson: “(Tiki) was LOUD! He was playin’ his ass off, no question… he made other drummers sound like a thin shell! He had that natural feel, you could tell he was good.” Indeed: Fulwood was a natural. Born May 23, 1944 and having grown up on Philadelphia’s Napa Street, young Ramon was obsessed with rhythm (and, it seemed, his pet snake!). He walked a paper route in order to buy his first drum kit, and also joined his high school’s drum and bugle corp. Honing his skills, and finding inspiration in legendary Motown drummer Richard ‘Pistol’ Allen, Fulwood took his chops to the nearby Uptown one day and was immediately hired.
Both Billy and Eddie agreed that they needed this wild drummer in their band. Unbeknownst to Clinton, the duo snuck Tiki on stage and, waiting for the right moment, signaled him to bust loose. Clinton, at first somewhat bemused, took to what he heard and simply yelled “give the drummer some!”. Stacey resigned right then and there.
With The Parliaments having their band in place, the trio needed a gripping name. It was Billy Nelson who, in jest, coined the monicker ‘Funkadelic’ during a nightly ride after a show. And thus, as future P-Funk album cover artist and all-round guru Pedro Bell would say, it came to pass.
Speaking to Billy Nelson in late 1998, the bassplayer explained that the band set out to become a genuine black rock power trio, in the mold of Jimi Hendrix’s Experience… but with a funkier side. And where attitudes were concerned, Funkadelic soon became the exact counter part of the usually clean-cut Parliaments they were backing up. Funkadelic was raw, Funkadelic was nasty and Funkadelic was unclean. It was a new day: the matching suits, routines and choreographed dance steps so popular in contemporary R&B – and strictly adhered to by The Parliaments – were gotten rid of altogether by Nelson, Hazel and Fulwood. The young upstarts wore what they wanted to wear and, stage-wise, acted how they wanted to act. No dance moves. Just noise. And plenty of it. Amazingly, it seemed to hit a nerve, as Funkadelic, the backing band, soon attracted more followers than the ‘main act’ it was backing up. George Clinton quickly followed suit, or rather, abandoned suit: with the Funkadelics paving the way, the Parliaments, too, began wearing the most outrageous outfits, dropping the sweet dance moves and substituting them for tabs of acid.
Regardless of the vibe and attitude of Funkadelic, Tiki always remained somewhat subdued in his outward appearance: where his buddies Billy and Eddie donned unkempt afros and wore outrageous costumes, Tiki never really got that wild. He slicked his hair, for one (the earliest Funkadelic promo shots show Tiki sporting a classic Beatle hairdo!) and usually opted for a simple, rustic look, wearing cowboy hats, dito boots and plain jackets and slacks. And whereas band leader George Clinton would truly go for broke, wearing diapers, bed sheets and Indian attire (… if anything at all!), the wildest shot of Fulwood consists of him sporting a WW1 styled German helmet for a 1969 publicity shoot. Nevertheless, Tiki Fulwood probably was ‘grunge’ before the term became a household name.
The drummer’s first stay with Funkadelic turned out to be brief; in the closing months of 1968 Fulwood jumped ship and went on the road with Chicago soul man Tyrone Davis, whose “Can I Change My Mind” was a Top 10 R&B and Pop hit and gave Tyrone’s road band its apt name The ’69 Mind Changers. One crucial recording for Funkadelic, however, was committed to tape prior to Tiki’s departure. The anthemic “Good Old Music”, with its pile-driving drum intro, probably is the most authentic bit of early Funkadelia available. With Fulwood providing a heavy bottom, the gritty track is further augmented with Billy’s booming bass lines and Eddie’s psyched-out guitar chops. The lyrics also pointed to a new direction: the ‘good old music’ of the ‘good old folks’, the down and dirty blues, the country soul of the Delta, the primordial funk, was reappraised and rescued from undeserved oblivion. The statement was clear: the glitter and gloss of Motown was passé, too slick, and too clean. Funky was where it’s at. Increasing drug use obviously played a role in Parliament-Funkadelic’s iconoclasm, but the band tapped into the ‘Black and Proud’-mood as well, with its emphasis on the power and force of Afro-American rhythms, born in the Mississippi mud, unadulterated, uncut… pure.
With Tiki Fulwood gone, George Clinton reorganized the band and brought in saxophonist Herbert J. Sparkman, who was to teach the remaining Funkadelics a thing or two about showmanship. Billy believed his main job was to ‘polish’ Eddie and him up. Tiki’s replacement was drummer Brad Innis. It was this line-up of Funkadelic that produced the band’s very first single. The eerie, hypnotizing, lurching groove of “Music for My Mother” proved somewhat successful, peaking at #50 R&B. As was the case with “Good Old Music”, “Music for My Mother” is another celebration of the ‘real deal’: a haunting blues harmonica wails on as Sparkman talks about being alone in Keep Running, Mississippi. Billy’s plodding bass lines accentuate the voodoo groove, and the tribal ‘wow-hah-hey’ chants give the tune a truly ghostly touch. Commercial it wasn’t – it was even called ‘riot music’ by some taken aback deejays – but it further solidified the way-out-there reputation of Funkadelic.
Despite this modest success (and an increasing cult following), Funkadelic soon disbanded after “Music for My Mother”. Nelson cites George Clinton’s shady financial wheelings and dealings as the main cause for the fall-out and after one too many altercations, the entire band upped and left, leaving The Parliaments high and dry. The four musicians briefly relocated to Newark and started performing under the name Sparky and the Pimpadelics. A rather unfortunate brawl with The Parliaments – who paid the Pimps a visit one night reclaiming some equipment – eventually persuaded Eddie Hazel to return to the fold. Billy, on the other hand, was not moved one bit and remained with Sparkman and Innis, until being picked up by legendary blues pianist Bill Doggett in April, 1969.
A few months later – with Tiki still kicking it with Tyrone Davis – Nelson encountered Clinton and company in Buffalo. The latter asked Billy to reconsider. Funkadelic, at the time, consisted of Hazel on guitar, Lucius ‘Tawl’ Ross – a friend of both Eddie and Billy – on bass, Mickey Atkins on organ and Zachary Slater (house drummer for Invictus Records) on drums. Billy agreed to pick up the bass for the group, but was determined to remove Slater – whose playing he did not like – and get Tiki back. It took the bassplayer two months to persuade Fulwood to rejoin Funkadelic.
|THE TIKI FULWOOD STORY: FREE YOUR MIND (1969-1971)
In late 1969, Funkadelic consisted of Eddie Hazel on lead guitar, Billy Nelson on bass, Mickey Atkins on keyboard, Tiki Fulwood on drums and Tawl Ross, who switched to rhythm guitar. Hazel had been a bit reluctant about having a second guitarist in the group, but Billy definitely wanted him in: “Tawl also had that natural feel, you could tell he was good. Besides, he mainly stuck to rhythm, so Eddie had nothing to worry about.” Funkadelic set out to create a sound all of its own. They found inspiration in the hard funk of James Brown and the pop-soul genius of Sly Stone, but also in the ear-shattering rock riffs of The MC 5, The Stooges and Jimi Hendrix. When all put together, a volatile musical brew was cooked up, which nevertheless always focused on keeping a groove. Billy Nelson explained the essence of the groove: “Simplicity is the key. How are you gonna play something all night long when you can’t keep it in the groove? You can playbe maybe a zillion notes a minute, it all comes down to how you lay down a groove.“
Soon, Funkadelic’s very first longplayer was unleashed on the public. Contrary to popular belief, the self-titled debut actually has very few original Funkadelics playing on it. Naturally, there was the Sparkman-headed single “Music for My Mother”, which does not feature Tawl Ross or Tiki. Furthermore, a slew of session musicians were brought in by George Clinton, many of them plucked from the Motown studios. Drummer Andrew Smith appears on “I’ll Bet You” (a continuing myth claims Tiki Fulwood is drumming here) and Rare Earth guitarist Ray Monette plays the blistering solo on “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing”. That particular tune, a brilliant amalgamation of gospel, rock and psychedelic funk, does star Tiki Fulwood on drums, and he is on the bluesy “Qualify and Satisfy” as well. But, save for the earlier recorded “Good Old Music”, the involvement of Tiki here stops. As for Billy Nelson, he too can be heard only on the previously recorded “Good Old Music” and “Music for My Mother”, with Motown session player Bob Babbit taking care of most of the bass lines. Eddie’s inimitable guitar wizardry is relegated to a track or two, and Mickey Atkins seems to be wholly absent from procedures. Detroit-based guitarist Dennis Coffey, on the other hand, is all over the disc. Interestingly, the inner sleeve of the cover art only displays the faces of the original Funkadelic line-up.
Hopelessly under produced, Funkadelic managed to hit #8 on the R&B album charts (#126 Pop).
For that matter, the first album released under the Parliament name (George Clinton dropped the prefix ‘the’, deeming it old fashioned), is more Funkadelic than the Funkadelic LP! For people who only know of Parliament as the space-based purveyors of cosmic funk, the album Osmium will come as a surprise. Here, all original Funkadelics are on board. Tiki Fulwood is in top form, providing hard rocking beats on tunes such as “Put Love In Your Life”, “Moonshine Heather” and “Funky Woman”. Some of his best work during these sessions, however, went unnoticed for decades until a skeletal rendition of “Loose Booty” (complete with pyschedelic bridge) and the soberly titled “Unfinished Instrumental” (brilliantly illustrating the tight locked interaction between Nelson and Fulwood) popped up on the archivalFirst Thangs CD in 1994. The remainder of the LP verges on the schizophrenic, with dramatcially orchestrated ballads (“Oh Lord, Why Lord”), country (“Little Old Country Boy”, “My Automobile”) and folksy pop (“The Silent Boatman”) delivering a smorgasbord of experimental, fuzzed-out, tripped-out music. The album sank without a trace, and Clinton would put Parliament in the fridge for a few years, only sporadically releasing singles under the Parliament monicker.
Instead, Clinton focused on Funkadelic and its second album. This time, the record would indeed be a Funkadelic affair, with all core members playing. Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow was released at the close of 1970 and offered a chunk of incredibly raw, unpolished rock and funk. According to legend, the entire album was put on tape in a single day, with Clinton and company stoned out their minds on acid. Whether this is myth or not, the end result indeed features many rough edges along with far from perfect production values. The title track is a psychedelic rocker with Tiki picking up the pace in double time halfway through and his bottom-heavy, in the pocket style is equally apparent on the monstrous mid tempo groove of “I Wanna Know If It’s Good to You Baby”. Indeed, the entire album consists of heavy rock tracks with plenty of fuzz and feedback, but, this time around it also featured the musical genius of keyboardist Bernie Worrell. It was Billy Nelson who had recruited the wiz kid, hearing him play at the Hawk’s Nest in Toronto and inviting him to join Funkadelic. Mickey Atkins was replaced, which in the eyes of Nelson was a no brainer, as “[Bernie] was just better.”.
But everything really fell into place when, in late 1970, Funkadelic gigged at the Sacred Heart’s College in Connecticutt and found themselves without proper equipment. With their own amps, mics and whatnaught delayed, hard rockers Vanilla Fudge offered theirs and now, with stacked marshall amps and an oversized Fibes’ drumkit, the Funkadelic sound was complete. “That was the sound we were looking for!“, Billy remembers. “We were all laughing at eachother cause we couldn’t believe how loud we were playing.” From that time on, Tiki Fulwood would prefer to play the oversized drum kit, which only further empowered his already aggressive approach. The Connecticutt show must have raised a few eyebrows, as a certain John Daniels soon invited Funkadelic to come to his Maverick Flats club in Los Angeles, even offering his services as their manager. Aside well-received performances there (“Every night the house was packed!“, says Billy) nothing came of it as Eddie Hazel chose to stay with Clinton, persuading the others to do the same.
The guitarist would take center stage on Funkadelic’s third album, Maggot Brain, released in 1971. Hazel’s otherworldly soloing make the LP’s gloomy title-track one of P-Funks most pivotal recordings. Billy Nelson confirmed that Eddie lived for his guitar: “Eddie wasn’t too good when it came to producing an album and shit, but he could play!“. For ten minutes, Eddie wails away on his Gibson, applying fuzz, feedback, wah-wah and his own string-bending, with nothing but Tawl Ross’ haunting rhythm guitar parts in the background. Indeed, Tiki can be heard drumming on the cut, but it’s gradually phased out – along with Billy’s bass – to put the spotlight on the band’s enigmatic and talented lead guitarist. But many fans of Funkadelic, and of this album in particular, seem to be oblivious about Tiki’s finest contributions here. First off, there is the proto-metal work out “Super Stupid”, which brilliantly captures Fulwood’s fast footwork: listen to him punishing that bass drum as Eddie’s distorted guitar riffs come crashin’ in and out. Secondly, the album closer “Wars of Armageddon” is another terrific showcase for Tiki’s chops. His “Cold Sweat”-esque beats – a thing George Clinton loved – carry this bizar, unsetteling tune. It also happens to be the one of only three compositions that features Tiki Fulwood as co-author (the others being “Good Old Music” and “Moonshine Heather”). The final version which appears on the disc, where Clinton seems to have thrown in every sound effect available (trolley bells, audiences laughing and clapping, babies crying, women screeching, political protestors, cow moo’s, cuckoo clocks…) upset Fulwood, who deemed George’s additions ‘vocal pollution’. Billy Nelson: “With all that, Tiki didn’t like it no more.” The ‘clean’ version of this incredible stomper can now be found on the Toys CD, which was released in 2008.
1971 Also saw the release of Ruth Copeland’s second solo album. Copeland, a British-born singer who took the Janis Joplin approach to her material, had been recording with Funkadelic in 1969, during the making of her debut album Self Portrait and her husband, producer Jeffrey Bowen, had written “The Silent Boatman” for George Clinton. Her new record, I Am What I Am, feature the original Funkadelics, but the pairing of Tiki, Eddie, Billy, Bernie and Tawl with Copeland made for an ambivalent musical excursion. The funk runs thin on the album, nor do Copeland’s often ridiculously melodramatic lyrics lend themselves to such a setting. The only performace of note is “Suburban Family Lament”, where Tiki Fulwood’s indomitable drumming helps turn this rocker into something one could call ‘punk-funk’. Despite low album sales, Ruth Copeland and Funkadelic did seem to attract crowds, and Jeffrey Bowen ultimately offered Funkadelic to come to England and back Copeland on tour there. Nothing came of it, however, and arguably for the better.
|THE TIKI FULWOOD STORY: CAN’T STAND THE STRAIN (1971-1973)
It was no secret that, come 1971, drugs had become a huge part of the whole Funkadelic scene. Where it all started out with weed and acid, far more detrimental substances like cocaine and heroin soon made its entry and evidently made its presence felt. While it is true that virtually everyone in P-Funk – save for Bernie Worrell – experimented with narcotics, it seemed that especially Eddie Hazel and Tiki Fulwood indulged themselves the most, which finally led to a decrease in their pay by a frustrated George Clinton (himself no choirboy either). This in turn led to a crazed Tiki grabbing Clinton by the collar, slamming him up against the wall and demanding to get paid properly. It was no secret that after the incident, George wanted Fulwood gone. He never got the chance to fire him, however, as Billy Nelson is certain that Fulwood walked out on his own in late 1971. Whatever the case, the drummer obviously didn’t land himself in professional limbo, as he would join Miles Davis for one of his jazz/rock/fusion combos in March 1972.
Drugs were one thing, ‘funky ass attitudes’ another. “(Tiki) had fallen out with George“, explains Billy Nelson. “George had this attitude that created a gap between us, and we all started to fall out with him.” In those last months of 1971 the band seemed to crumble indeed. Rhythm guitarist Tawl Ross had overdosed himself on acid one night and became unable to play anything for decades to come. And after Tiki’s departure, Billy Nelson too would soon step out. Aside the fact that shady business dealings had already soured his relationship with Clinton (he had not received due credit for co-writing “Me and My Folks, You and Your Folks”, a song he had constructed from a bass line), he also could hardly stomach the bossy attitude of Fuzzy Haskins: to Nelson, both Haskins and Clinton saw themselves as the leaders of the whole thing, organizing ‘private meetings’ and such that left team players like Tiki, Eddie and him waiting outside. But it all came to a head when Funkadelic worked a show at Meadowbrook in Detroit on September 12, 1971. Billy Nelson found himself struggeling with a new drummer, Tyrone Lampkin. “It was the most unprofessional way of getting someone into a band“, Billy recalls. Indeed, Lampkin, who had earned his spurs as the house drummer of the Apollo, was given no time to rehearse. Nelson didn’t like Lampkin’s lighter, jazzier style of playing to begin with, but now found himself trying to keep things in the pocket throughout the show. The bassplayer did not blame Lampkin for anything, though, as the manner in which he was brought in was a shame and could have only resulted in a desultory performance. In fact, Nelson got so frustrated, that he literally walked off stage as the band surged into the closing tune “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow”. Puzzled, the remaining musicians (including Tawl Ross’ replacement Harold Beane) tried to bring the show to a fitting close. Despite the audience roaring its approval for Funkadelic, Billy was not happy, and would quit the band permanently after the incident. The entire show, for what it’s worth, was taped and is available on CD as Live – Meadowbrook, Rochester, Michigan 12th September 1971.
Because of this mass mutiny of original Funkadelics, George Clinton had to bring in a whole new batch of musicians to finish Funkadelic’s upcoming fourth album America Eats Its Young. Armed with an enormous core of players, Bernie Worrell’s wizardry, newfound studio gimmicks and a short run-in with former James Brown bassist William ‘Bootsy’ Collins, the album became a double album and was unlike all its predecessors. Tiki appears only sporadically on this set: the hard funkin’ “Loose Booty” (a remake of the Parliament original) and the quaint blues rocker “Miss Lucifer’s Love”. The remainder of the album – ranging from brilliant (“A Joyful Process”, “You Hit the Nail on the Head”, “Philmore”) to not-so-brilliant (“We Hurt Too”) – shows a band in transition. Drumming credits are extended here mostly to Tyrone Lampkin and Frankie ‘Kash’ Waddy, the latter the drummer of Bootsy’s own band The Houseguests.
Meanwhile, and on a darker note, Tiki Fulwood was experiencing some of his roughest times. The Miles Davis adventure had floundered, but far worse were his increasing heroin addiction and, especially, the gutwrenching emotional shock of losing both of his parents over the course of two years. Stomach cancer was a disease that ran in Fulwood’s family, and Tiki always seemed to hold the possibility of ‘being next’ in the back of his head, as Billy Nelson, who attended the drummer’s father’s funeral sometime in 1972 learned: “(Tiki) turned to me and said he was the next to go.“.
That same year, Tiki, along with his fellow Funkadelic rebels Billy Nelson and Eddie Hazel teamed up with Chairmen of the Board, the highly popular soul trio that scored hits with “You’ve Got Me Danglin’ on a String” and “Give Me Just a Little More Time”. The group, led by General Johnson, was facing its own problems and Jeffrey Bowen had reeled the run-away Funkadelics in to provide a solid musical basis for the Chairmen’s upcoming fourth album. Brilliant, funky instrumentals like “Morning Glory” and “White Flower” and especially the Sly Stone creation “Life & Death” illustrated just how tight the three original Funkadelics were. Despite grade A material such as this, General Johnson was not pleased, and the release of the album was shelved for two years. (Finally, in 1974, the swansong Chairmen of the Board album was released under the title Skin I’m In.) Nevertheless, Chairmen of the Board did undertake a tour of England in 1973 and Tiki and Billy went with them, sans Eddie, but with Bernie Worrell.
Later that year Eddie Hazel, who had returned to the Funkadelic fold somewhat earlier, asked Tiki to rejoin the band. Tiki accepted and would now see some of his old pals as full-fledged Funkadelics. Out of the cast of thousands that appeared on the 1972 double album, only a few remained, and Fulwood knew them all. On bass was Cordell ‘Boogie’ Mosson, whom he had met a few years earlier when Funkadelic recorded with his group, United Soul Music (check out “Baby I Owe You Something Good” and “I Miss My Baby”, both recorded in 1970). On guitars were Garry Shider, who had been present during the days of “Maggot Brain” and Ron Brykowski, a white gunslinger from Detroit Tiki had jammed with when Funkadelic backed Ruth Copeland. Tyrone Lampkin still was the lead drummer of the group at this time, and the album Cosmic Slop is dominated by his chops. Lampkin’s work is excellent throughout, especially on the title track and the Motownish “You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure”. The one cut Tiki did play on also is the LP’s funkiest. Supported by Mosson’s oozing bass lines, “Nappy Dugout” stars Tiki Fulwood at his best: freight train rhythms and speedy feet. He was listed as a ‘guest maggot’ on the back cover of the album, but he retrieved the prime drumming position in 1974, just as Parliament-Funkadelic was on the brink of breaking through all commercial, musical and racial bounds.
|THE TIKI FULWOOD STORY: UP FOR THE DOWN STROKE (1974-1975)
Funkadelic dropped another sick, twisted package of hard rockin’ funk madness in 1974 with Standing on the Verge of Getting It On, probably one of band’s most coherent albums. There’s a go-for-broke rock attitude throughout and the LP’s opener. A frenzied remake of the Parliament song “Red Hot Mama”, probably is the quintessential Tiki- experience. Countering Ron, Eddie and Garry’s blaring guitars and Boogie Mosson’s thumping bass, Tiki Fulwood provides that primordial, on-the-one beat with a vengeance, keeping things firmly in the pocket, applying the ‘from the foot-up’ approach to the fullest extent. No embellishments, no flashes, no tricks, just a devastatingly hard groove. The continuation of this jam, which was placed on the flipside of the “Red Hot Mama” single release and titled “Vital Juices”, provides further sonic proof that Tiki’s hand-foot co-ordination was second to none.
The rock hard vibe is equally evident on “Alice in My Fantasies”, a two-minute metal vamp that incorporates the main riff to Jimi Hendrix’s “Izabella”, and the anthemic title tune. The latter, however, does not future Tiki on drums but Gary Bronson. Although Tiki was listed as the sole drummer on the album’s back cover, George Clinton kept up his ideosyncratic working methods by using various outsiders, who most of the time were credited as ‘guests’, if at all. Deciphering the correct credits for Funkadelic albums probably deserves an article in its own right.
That same year, George Clinton revived Parliament as well. Ever since the beginning, Clinton had dreamed of fronting two separate bands featuring the same musicians and singers (a micro-Motown operation), but legal hassles and commercial reasons had put Parliament on the back burner for years. Now, with a freshly inked contract with Casablanca Records, Clinton began producing Parliament’s first album in three years. And where Parliament of the ‘Osmium’-days had sounded exactly like Funkadelic, Clinton’s creative genius (further spurred on by Bootsy Collins’ equally dynamic brain) made sure that the new and improved Parliament would become a force to be reckoned with.
Beginnings were humble, if instantly successful, when Parliament scored a #10 R&B hit with the dance classic “Up for the Down Stroke”. Immediately an album was pumped out to cash in on this sudden success. The philosophy of the P not yet fully worked out, Up for the Down Stroke is something of a hit and miss affair where remakes of ancient Parliaments tunes take centre stage (“(I Wanna) Testify”, “All Your Goodies Are Gone”, “The Goose”). Tiki can be heard throughout the album (save for “The Goose”, which features a drum computer), but he is most prevalent on the strange, folksy “I Just Got Back”.
A lot more focused was Parliament’s follow-up album, Chocolate City, released that same year. Politically charged and more creative, here, too, Tiki is listed as the head drummer, even if he does not appear on certain tracks (“Big Footin'”, for instance, almost certainly has Fuzzy Haskins behind the kit). A great slice of Tiki’s chops can be heard on the rollicking, horn heavy beater “If It Don’t Fit Don’t Force It”.
A year later, Funkadelic released its zaniest release with the Let’s Take It to the Stage album and it also listed Fulwood (‘R. Tiki Fulwood’) as the band’s drummer, even if here, too, a slew of tracks feature other P-Funkers behind the kit – it’s probably Bootsy Collins handling the job on the hilarious title track – and Rare Earth drummer Barry Frost dominates throughout. On a side note, original Funkadelic bassist Billy Nelson made a guest appearance on “Better by the Pound”.
Unfortunately, as if the devil was playing with it, right at the time of Parliament-Funkadelic’s acceleration to superstardom with the birth of the Mothership legend, Tiki Fulwood seemed to slip back into the kind of behavior that had irked George Clinton in 1971. Whether or not this was drug-related, remains a mystery. All that future P-Funk drummer Jerome ‘Bigfoot’ Brailey knew was that “Tiki had gone over the edge again…“.
Indeed, just when the entire philosophy of P-Funk was perfected – an elaborate space-based afro-centric eschatology featuring the heroic Starchild spreading the Funk on earth (and other planets) by making the Mothership Connection – Tiki gradually began disappearing from the album credits. It must have been a galling experience for the drummer when Parliament’s 1975 LP Mothership Connectionproved to be the biggest success of any P-Funk act up to that point. Aside reaching the higher echelons of both the album charts (#4 R&B and #13 Pop), its lead-off single “(Tear the Roof Off the Sucker) Give Up the Funk” was a million-seller breaking the hithereto cultish P-Funk band into the mainstream. This massive album that sky-rocketed George Clinton’s funky institution features just one track with Tiki on drums, that cut being “Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication”.
Most of the drumming duties now lay in the talented hands of the aformentioned Jerome ‘Bigfoot’ Brailey, a ferocious funk percussionist who had paid his dues with The Stairsteps, The Unifics and The Chamber Brothers. Poignant detail is that Brailey and Fulwood had had a run-in in the days that Tiki was drumming in Tyrone Davis’ road band. Tiki had missed one of Davis’ gigs and when Brailey had stepped up and filled in for him, an agitated Fulwood pulled out a gun on him shortly afterwards, screaming that Jerome was trying to take his job. Said Brailey of the incident: “(Tiki) was wild and shit!!!”Another version of the story has it that the gun was in fact a fake gun, and that the confrontation was more of a ‘men behaving badly’ showdown caused by a female groupie both drummers had taken an interest in. Whatever the case, the incident at least indicates that Tiki knew full well of Brailey’s existence.
Jerome, for that matter, knew of Tiki even before the incident. A Funkadelic fan from the start, he indicates that he was seen as a younger version of Fulwood, as both had that grooving playing style, with an emphasis on speedy footwork. In fact, Bernie Worrell had known Brailey for years and always told him he sounded exactly like Tiki. “Tiki was a very good drummer. His foot was really fast. He didn’t do a lot of fancy stuff, but he laid it down pretty well” Brailey states. “Remember, I was just coming out myself so I was into my own thing, and people tried to compare us, with that foot and things.” Jerome saw Tiki as the genuine article: “Everybody in P-Funk thought they could play drums; Boogie, Mudbone, Bootsy, Grady, Fuzzy… Maybe they could do a studio track – most of them were corny to me – but could they take it further, do complete live shows? I listen to real drummers. Tiki sounded really loud in concert.“
According to Bigfoot, George Clinton had set his eyes on him for quite some time, and when Tiki was given his walking papers in 1975, he was deemed the natural replacement. With great success now suddenly enveloping P-Funk, Brailey could see what effect this all had on Fulwood: “One of the managers told me that Tiki went into that crying bag over his gig. I don’t know what that was all about.” While no longer the head drummer, Fulwood remained active for P-Funk right up until his death, and he would meet Brailey on occassion. “He’d come around sometimes and be cool, always with that little smirk on his face. But underneath you could tell he was like ‘you got the job and now y’all are happening.’“.
|THE TIKI FULWOOD STORY: FUNK GETS STRONGER (1976-1979)
In 1976, things slowely started to improve for Tiki, especially since this was the year in which he was enrolled in a federal methadon program for recovering addicts. Kicking the habit must have been hell, and bassplayer Cordell ‘Boogie’ Mosson remembers that Tiki carried around a methadon card with him everywhere the band went, so that the drummer could participate. For, even if he was no longer the premier drummer on board the P-Funk spaceship, Tiki was still very much part of side-projects and the occassional Parliament-Funkadelic gig. His drumming appeared on the free give-away Funkadelic single “Clone Communicado” and he was behind the kit on the Parliament tune “Live Up (To What She Expects of Me)”, although the latter was not released until its appearance on Testing Positive 4 the Funk (Clinton Family Series Volume IV) in 1994.
He did not star on the hugely successful Parliament album The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, or on Funkadelic’s first LP for big leaguer Warner Brothers (Hardcore Jollies), but he did man the drums on Fuzzy Haskins’ solo effort A Whole Nother Thang, kicking out ferocious jams on tunes as “Tangerine Green”, “Cookie Jar” and the vicious anti-George Clinton jam “I Can See Myself in You”.
Another P-Funk off-shoot that regularly called on Fulwood’s skills were The Brides of Funkenstein. This sexy duo consisting of Lynn Mabry and Dawn Silva would become one of P-Funk’s hottest acts, scoring a big hit with the 1978 single “Disco to Go”. The album they released on the back of that success does not feature Tiki, but a host of tracks recorded around 1976-1977 – and not released until well into the 1990s! – are pivotal late-era Fulwood work-outs. The lovely mid-tempo ballad “Take My Loving” (available on Testing Positive 4 the Funk (Clinton Family Series Volume IV)) shows Tiki’s lighter side, and he is especially dynamic on the eerie ballad “Love Is Something” (available on George Clinton Family Series Pt.3 – P Is the Funk). The best of these Brides’ sessions, however, can be found on A Fifth of Funk (Clinton Family Series Volume V), where an ancient tune originally recorded by United Soul Music (a Westbound labelmate of Funkadelic featuring future P-Funkers Garry Shider and Boogie Mosson) is revamped. “Rat Kissed the Cat” is a rock solid funker starring Tiki at his best, with that ferocious in the pocket groove and stomping footwork. Tiki’s pal Billy is on bass here, as well. There’s a funky, old-timey vibe on this track that makes its obscurity seem logical: waxed in 1977, this was the hey-day of disco, not the hard funk of early Funkadelic.
According to P-Funk crooner Gary ‘Mudbone’ Cooper, Tiki also recorded a few tunes with Bootsy’s own highly successful Rubber Band in those years. A few selections destined for Bootsy’s million-selling debut album Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band, among them “Say Som’n Good” and “Dancing in the Sun in the Rain” featured Fulwood manning the drums, but these recordings eventually did not wind up on the disc and unfortunately seem to be lost.
In 1977, Tiki Fulwood joined his old friend Eddie Hazel to record the guitarist’s debut solo effort Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs. Sparking the old flame, he seemed in his element on a psyched out, lengthy rendition of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, where he drummed so fiercely, that he actually broke one of his sticks and had to finish the recording with just one baton. Equally hard driving is his handling of the drums on the instrumental “What About It”. A lost gem recorded during these sessions, and only available on the 1994 release Rest in P, is the frantic rocker “Straighten Up”. Billy Nelson appeared for a bass line or two as well, and the reunion of the three original Funkadelics ultimately crafted an album that is now highly sought after for its rawness and authenticity.
Prolific as ever, Fulwood was also working on his own band during these years. Simply calling his group ‘Tiki’, the drummer recruited a variety of musicians, among them his neighbour Renail Norris on guitar, who became his steady writing partner. The band actively recorded throughout 1977 and 1978 and made live appearances as well, as is documented by a handbill for a rock festival at Wilmer’s Park in Washington, D.C. With no recording contracts forthcoming, Tiki remained an active session drummer.
And thus he appeared on soul singer Jeannie Reynolds’ premier album for Casablanca, Cherries, Bananas and Other Fine Things, playing drums on “You Want to Get Your Hands on a Woman”, as well as on CJ & Co.’s massively successful Devil’s Gun LP, adding a dose of funk to an otherwise straight up disco record on “Free to Be Me”. Aside this, he also guested on Parliament’s Live: P-Funk Earth Tour album.
Yet, at the height of P-Funk’s popularity, and his own seeming comeback, Tiki would find out what he had known all along. While playing a game of football, he slipped and fell, damaged his hip and had to be taken to hospital. There, a steel plate was inserted. When he was X-rayed, the doctors discovered a small spot around the area of his stomach, which indicated cancer. From that day on, Fulwood knew it was only a matter of time. Depressed, he went into recluse and wanted to stay indoors until he’d die. His long-time pal, Billy Nelson, visited him weekly, helped him get in and out of the car whenever he had to go to hospital and eventually persuaded him to to start making music again. Fulwood pulled himself together and resumed working on his own band and began touring the D.C.-area. Material was put on tape and it’s said Tiki recorded so much that there is at least two albums worth of material lying around: those tapes are still locked away somewhere. Eventually, he, along with Billy, made one last appearance together on a Funkadelic album, Uncle Jam Wants You, kicking out the jam on “Field Manueuvers”.
Ramon ‘Tiki’ Fulwood succumbed on Monday, November 27, 1979 at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was buried at Chelten Hills Cemetery, where the deceased drummer was survived by his fiancee, three sisters, three nieces, three nephews, his daughter and a host of friends, including Billy Nelson.
|THE TIKI FULWOOD STORY: FUNK BEYOND THIS LIFE
At the time of Tiki’s death, Funkadelic had enjoyed its biggest commercial successes with “One Nation (Under a Groove)” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep” topping the charts, supported with huge album sales as well. Parliament, too, was riding high with the million-seller “Aqua Boogie”, when suddenly the P-Funk empire seemed to come a part. In a brief time span, it not only suffered the loss of Fulwood, it also witnessed the death of another highly talented musician that had, for quite some time, influenced P-Funk, guitarist Glenn Goins.
On the professional level it had to deal with more setbacks when drummer Jerome ‘Bigfoot’ Brailey jumped ship and started his own band, Mutiny, releasing an album with powerful jibes aimed at P-Funk headman George Clinton. The original Parliaments Fuzzy Haskins, Grady Thomas and Calvin Simon also deserted, taking the name ‘Funkadelic’ with them and releasing a strong anti-Clinton record with 1981’s Connections & Disconnections. Despite the fall-out, P-Funk soldiered on, eventually consisting of an innumerable amount of singers, musicians, hangers-on, writers and producers, with credits taking up almost entire LP covers. Parliament released two fairly lackluster albums – Gloryhallastoopid (Or Pin the Tale on the Funky) (1979) and Trombipulation (1980) and Funkadelic’s swansong longplayer, The Electric Spanking of War Babies (1981), didn’t create much of a buzz either, despite featuring a guest appearance of Sly Stone. The trip, so it seemed, was over.
After the collapse, the various P-Funkers licked their wounds, went solo or formed groups and made a gallant effort to churn out the Funk in the decade of synthesizers and robotic pop-soul. Bernie Worrell went for his own, as did former Ohio Player Junie Morisson, who had climbed aboard the Mothership in 1977 and had been a constant source of inspiration. Bootsy Collins made several comeback attempts throughout the ’80s and, once in a while, all the players got together to make the Connection one more time.
George Clinton embarked on his highly successful solo career in 1982, scoring big with the now much-sampled “Atomic Dog” and a best-selling debut LP, Computer Games. He took the young Red Hot Chili Peppers under his wings in 1985, created another juggernaut outfit for himself, The P-Funk All-Stars, and has been touring incessantly ever since. He and Billy Nelson reconciled in 1995, and today’s All-Stars line-up stars Billy on bass.
Tiki Fulwood’s legacy remains alive as well. When disco was reigning supreme in the late 70s and synthesized pop took over in the early ’80s, original funkateers longing for the primordial, nasty, gutbucket groove were served with a brand of authentic, back-to-the-roots funk known as Go Go music, a style the foundations of which were laid by Tiki Fulwood and guitarist Chuck Brown. Aside that, plenty of Tiki’s drum breaks have been sampled by Hip Hop artists, including tracks by D.O.C., Eric B. & Rakim and Tupac Shakur (Tiki’s drum intro on “Good Old Music” was used on “Young Black Male”). Also, the band Fishbone, never hiding its devotion for Funkadelic, were donated one of Tiki’s original bass drums by Eddie Hazel and Billy Nelson, and the band thanked them in the liner notes of their 1993 release The Reality of My Surroundings.
Finally, the coming of the internet has done much for the reappraisal of Tiki Fulwood. It certainly has seen to it that his name and work have been rescued from undeserved obscurity. I can only hope this article, which has been a labour of love ever since I first wrote a rough draft for it in 1999, further helps to expose to a larger audience the remarkable drumming powers of the original Funkadelic, the late and very great Ramon ‘Tiki’ Fulwood.