They say you should never meet your heroes – if the summer of 1985 is anything to go by, Thomas Dolby probably knows a thing or two about that.
First there was THAT Grammy Awards performance alongside Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock.
Then he contributed production, arranging and keyboard work to Joni Mitchell’s underrated Dog Eat Dog, and, of course, there was his appearance at Live Aid as part of David Bowie’s band.
But arguably Dolby’s most intriguing collaboration of summer 1985 was with P-funk pioneer George Clinton, who was onto his third solo album of the decade.
Just after Live Aid, Clinton invited Dolby out to the Bee Gees’ Criteria Studios in Miami to work on two tracks for Some Of My Best Jokes Are Friends.
Clinton was finding much lyrical inspiration in Reagan’s America, and his latest album was firmly focused on the Nuclear Threat. During a hilarious fishing trip with Dolby off Miami (apparently during which Clinton sat in a swivelling captain’s chair, rolled joints and played rough mixes on a boombox), they came up with a character for Dolby – the Space Limousine Driver! Of course…
Clinton then invited Dolby to perform at a James Brown tribute night for the annual Black Urban Music Conference in Washington DC. Apparently his guest spot during ‘Sex Machine’ (described by Dolby as being ‘like Alec Guinness having a seizure’) made Mr Brown laugh and also gave Dolby some cred with the hardcore P-funk crowd (though sadly it doesn’t seem to be on YouTube…).
Clinton was also apparently thrilled with Dolby’s contributions, and asked if there was any way he could return the favour. Dolby quickly cooked up a new song, recruited the Brecker Brothers and Lene Lovich and retained the formidable bass/drums team of Rodney ‘Skeet’ Curtis and Dennis Chambers from ‘Thrashin’.
They christened the new band Dolby’s Cube and recorded a great one-off single at Battery Studios in London. Sadly, despite a cool video, it didn’t chart.
Dolby’s experiences with George loosened him up, and made him reassess a solo career that he felt thus far had been hamstrung by dodgy business practices and too much emphasis on ‘image’.
His effervescent 1988 album Aliens Ate My Buick was more explicitly influenced by Clinton, who also contributed the song ‘Hot Sauce’ (Francois Kevorkian’s superb remix of ‘May The Cube Be With You’ was also included). The summer of ’85 was certainly a memorable one for all concerned.
Further reading: ‘The Speed Of Sound’ by Thomas Dolby
10 thoughts on “When Thomas Dolby Met George Clinton: 35 Years On”
Are you familiar with the single that’s a cover of Sex Machine by Jack Heard (i.e., Thomas, the late, great Matthew Seligman,and David Gamble)? Quirky and fun so Thomas was no stranger to the song. I had forgotten about the performance so now I’m off to You Tube.
Hi Mary, I’m not aware of that. Sounds interesting, do share…
Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diea_otNaHU
Thanks. Blimey… That is seriously odd, and a bit hamstrung by the dodgy vocals and leaden drums. Tom’s synth interlude is fun though. I think I’ll stick with The Flying Lizards’ version!
A book on Level 42, Matt? Sounds fascinating. Of the top of my head I can think of about 25 questions I’d like to ask but yeah, I know – I’ll have to wait for next year!
All the very best with it – a decent book on the band is long overdue
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Thanks David, I appreciate that. Yes, so many questions, so little time… It should be out in February – watch this space!
Love the Cube video and great piece about the Dolby/George collab – need to get my hands on the key albums you mention.
The GC albums are very patchy (but all on Spotify) but Tom’s ‘Aliens Ate My Buick’ is a bit of a late-’80s classic.
Oh my god thank you so much for writing this!! I’ve wondered for YEARS how in the world TD and GC linked up to work together. This is one of my favorite collabs of all time and also in my opinion the second oddest pairing right behind Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart. This clarified SO many things for me, especially who in the world that was who put so much phat phunk into the bass line.
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Thanks Mike. I agree, one of the most unexpected but best 1980s collaborations. It definitely helps that they seem to have a similar sense of humour.