Dean Ween on Prince, Funkadelic and Musical Heroes: ‘Go See These People While We Still Have Them’
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The influence of funk music icons such as Prince and Parliament-Funkadelic has always been apparent in Dean Ween‘s music, perhaps never so strongly as on his excellent new record, The Deaner Album. Its first single, “Mercedes Benz,” is a seven-minute long, deep-grooved homage to the George Clinton-fronted group. Ween’s long-awaited solo debut – the successful culmination of a difficult four-year journey that followed the break-up of his beloved (and ironically enough, since-reformed) group Ween – also features contributions from famed P-Funk guitarist Michael Hampton, and a tribute to the band’s longtime stalwart Garry Shider.
We spoke to Dean about his love of P-Funk, the shocking death of Prince and why it’s important to take advantage of every chance to see music’s greatest talents live as often as possible.
You included a tribute to P-Funk guitarist Eddie Hazel (“A Tear for Eddie“) on Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese, and now you’ve got one for Garry Shider (“Garry“) on your new album. Do you agree that Funkadelic doesn’t get the respect they deserve from rock fans?
Well they do, but they don’t. For me… this is going to take a while. They’re my favorite band of all time. Them and the Beatles. As a guitar player, growing up, there was Jimi Hendrix, and that was it, for that style of playing. Stevie Ray Vaughan didn’t do anything for me. He sounded like a blues guitarist that plays in a bar, like a bar guitar player, but the best in the world. He’s just playing the blues, it’s nothing you’ve never heard before. He emulates the style of Hendrix better than anybody ever did. But I didn’t like that music, I don’t like that music.
It’s not the most innovative sound…
I respect him as one of the great guitar players ever, but I saw him live, he did a tour with Jeff Beck, who I love. They were changing the headlining slot every night. I figured, that would be the breakthrough moment, we had great tickets, it was the Spectrum in Philadelphia. I figured that was when I was going to get it, when I was close enough that I could hear his Marshalls or whatever screaming in my face, and I still didn’t love it. No disrespect, he’s one of the greats. I just don’t love bar blues, it’s all the same to me.
So when I found Funkadelic, that had that [Hendrix sound] and more, it was like a Godsend. When I heard “Maggot Brain” it was like holy s—, there’s this whole other thing, and it’s even better, and there’s more of it. And I can go see it live, and there’s nine guitar players that are this good. So that was the hugest, hugest deal.
Then, one of the biggest benefits of being in a band that was mildly successful, was getting to meet these people. So I’ve gotten to play with Bernie [Worrell], he opened for us with Les [Claypool], I got to know him. Michael Hampton lives around here, and he’s the sound, now that Eddie Hazel’s gone. [Michael] was the Mickey Mantle to [Eddie’s] Joe DiMaggio. So Mike and I are great friends, we play together a couple of times a week, we record together, he’s all over my new album.
When I was about 13, some very cool neighbor told me that if I liked Prince I needed to check out P-Funk. I can never thank them enough.
If you just say to a brother, or a white dude, anyone, “P-Funk,” they know what you’re talking about. But if you go see them live, there’s not 30,000 people there. I’ve seen P-Funk in front of 35 people at Trenton State College in a gym, with Fishbone opening, where they were like walking into the crowd, with just nobody there. I think there’s so much to absorb, so if you’re not a muso like I am, where you know the difference between Parliament and Funkadelic and George Clinton solo records… I dunno, maybe that has something to do with it.
What stage of Prince mourning are you in right now?
Disbelief. You know, it’s never gonna change. Something is weird to me about that whole thing. I mean, I don’t wanna be that guy, but.. he OD’d in an elevator, dressed? I think of a guy ODing in a bathroom stall, with a needle hanging out of his arm, piss everywhere, you know what I mean?
Well, he wasn’t a typical guy, he was very private, for one thing.
Yeah, he was very short, people forget that. I saw Prince over 100 times. I would think that maybe his body wouldn’t have the stamina to handle the drug habit of a big dude. I’m in disbelief. His music means as much to me, if not more, than anybody on the planet. I collect Prince stuff, I have probably the most impressive Prince collection you’ve ever seen. If you go through my collection, every third record is a Prince 12.”
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His death is about the most shocking music-related thing ever, at least in my lifetime.
Ever, ever. It doesn’t make any sense. If they told you that George Clinton had a cocaine-induced heart attack and died… you know, that’s gonna be a f—ing sad day, and now he’s straight.. but you know, after all that wear and tear. Or if Keith Richards died…
But those are going to be some horrible days, man. And this year is so bad, the last two years have been so bad, with Bowie and Lemmy and Prince, it makes me think, oh my God, what’s going to happen when we lose Willie or George or Stevie, you know, or Neil. You don’t even have to say their last names.
It feels like we spent the first part of the year in this repeated state of shock.
It makes you really appreciate what you’ve got. And whenever it happens, people are posting all over the place: “Regrettably, I never got to see them..” Well, I have always thought that way, like, “man, I better go see them live.” I got to see Frank Sinatra twice, my favorite singer ever. Well, Marvin Gaye is [also] my favorite singer of all time, him and Frank Sinatra in a dead tie – and Frank was Marvin’s favorite singer. I wasn’t old enough to see Marvin live, but if my fandom was where it is now, and I wasn’t 10 at the time, I would have seen Marvin Gaye 100 times. That’s my advice to anybody out there – go see Willie, go see Stevie, go see any version of the Dead, go see these people while we have them.
Be sure to check out Ultimate Classic Rock’s recent interview with Dean Ween, where he discusses the Allman Brothers, the Kinks and what he’d do if a bandmate slept with his wife.
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