These days, Calvin Simon is regarded as one of the most uplifting, gifted, prolific, prominent and topically relevant singer/songwriters in all sectors of gospel music, though when it comes to practically laying the entire foundation for funk, modern day R&B and even hip-hop, his previous group Parliament Funkadelic is right towards the very top of the all-time list. Long before Simon branched out on his own to such admirable results, the storied journey actually began in the late 1950s when the collective was simply known as The Parliaments, who starting with the more doo-wop-minded smash “(I Wanna) Testify,” kicked off a streak of 15 gold and seven platinum albums. Such unstoppable success also yielded the unique distinction of being amongst the most sampled groups ever thanks to immortal psychedelic experiments and dance floor fillers such as “Maggot Brain,” “Up For The Down Stroke,” “Chocolate City,” “Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On,” “P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up),” “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk),” “Mothership Connection (Star Child),” “Undisco Kidd,” “Do That Stuff” and “Dr. Funkenstein.”
The Billboard-charting vocalist/multi-instrumentalist in his own right was indeed there from those very beginnings next to George Clinton, Ray Davis, Fuzzy Haskins and Grady Thomas through the historical night when the troupe that went on to include Bootsy Collins, Eddie Hazel and Bernie Worrell (amongst other notables) was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame beside Michael Jackson & The Jackson 5, Mahalia Jackson, The Bee Gees and Crosby, Stills & Nash. In other words, if the company a band keeps is any indication of its stature, let’s just say Parliament Funkadelic is as elite as they come!
“Despite the conflict prior to the show about what members would be onstage, and the inclusion of non-founding members, it was an honor and thrill to receive such a recognition and to perform on stage for a crowd of my peers,” recalls Simon of the historical crowning. “It was truly amazing that despite the fact the founding members had not performed on the same stage in 20 years, they did not miss a beat! What a night!”
While fans may focus on the mound of highlights, and there were certainly many such as that illustrious evening, Simon will be the first to admit the inner workings of the band weren’t always as rosy as they seemed. But having a lifelong dedication to faith, which was recalibrated after some seasons of straying, allowed him to walk away from politically tumultuous and toxic behind the scenes situations at the very peak of Parliament Funkadelic’s prominence, only to reinvent himself individually, while remaining red hot in all aspects of his craft right up through 2018’s latest full-length offering I Believe (more on that current masterpiece-in-the-making a little later).
“It was with the help of my wife and my faith in Jesus that I made a conscious decision to remove myself from that path,” he explains, foreshadowing the fruitful road that was to come. “People need to realize that if you don’t like a situation, you have the choice to walk away and do something else. It was not my first time to realize the idea of a choice to squash it, but perhaps one of the most profound lessons I have ever learned.”
However, it was far from the first battle Simon would undertake and it wouldn’t be his last, though thankfully, the same could be said about the several additional chapters that have since been written throughout this vast musical pilgrimage. In fact, many appreciators might not even realize that somewhere between that early era of the group and commanding the world’s biggest stages later on, he was also working through a very intense struggle.
“The thing that means the most to me is how I handled the PTSD [Post traumatic stress disorder] from my service in the Vietnam War,” he reveals. “I was able to keep the genie in the bottle, so to speak, and did not allow the evil thoughts to break through and manifest into actions. Instead, I found my faith and relied on the higher power to see me through. As for changes, I wouldn’t and can’t change anything. My experiences, both good and bad, have gotten me to this point in my life, both spiritually and in my music!”
After leaving Parliament Funkadelic and exorcising those additional demons, Simon regrouped with three of the group’s fellow co-founders to form The Original P, releasing a series of regarded projects and regularly touring throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. All the while, faith kept playing an integral part in the artist extraordinaire’s life and he was eventually called back home to Beckley, West Virginia to help build and dedicate the new building for Sky Baptist Church, the site of his re-baptism and where the idea for the decidedly ministry-based Par Golf Music Productions and Simon Sayz Recordings began. Those ventures have since spawned a streak of solo records in the ensuring years, even if the first was almost derailed indefinitely by a harrowing diagnosis of thyroid cancer.
“Initially it was a shock, as it took my voice away,” he recalls of the terribly trying time in 2004. “It was while I was preparing for a tour to promote my first Christian album, Share The News, [which had just reached #21 on the Billboard Gospel Albums chart] when I realized there was a problem. Since the cancer was in the thyroid against my vocal cords, I was certain my music career was over and at this point I walked away from music. Apparently God had other plans and had enough forethought to know I needed to be home at that time.”
Though Simon made nothing short of a miraculous recovery that allowed his career to resume, it would take some time while he stood unflinchingly by his wife of 44 years’ side as she bravely faced another nightmare. “It took a bit to recover from my own battle, but God knew I would need to be 100% to deal with what was coming,” continues Simon. “I had hardly received a clean bill of health when my wife was diagnosed with her bone cancer. Thankfully, I was not on the road and obligated to a tour so I was able to be there for her. Faith alone carried me through all of it. Faith allowed me to accept it and eventually move on, because I know God does not make mistakes. Faith gave me my voice back, to help me keep a promise to share His word after coming out the other side.”
And that’s exactly what Simon’s been doing ever since her passing in 2013, simultaneously building up his discography and seeds for God’s kingdom with the release of 2016’s inspirational album It’s Not Too Late, and now just two years later, I Believe, which includes a lead single of the same name based around the succinct but timeless themes of “faith, love and truth.”
While “I Believe” is a beautiful piano ballad that showcases Simon’s tender vocals and unwavering beliefs, this fresh batch of tunes also includes the flavorfully funky “Share The News” and “No Jesus, No Glory,” plus the vibrant jam “He’s Coming Back” (featuring spicy accompaniment from guest collaborator Lorenzo). I Believe is also bookended with both the plugged-in, revved-up version of “Passing Time,” alongside its more understated, acoustic counterpart, though in either format, the soulful reminder of everyone’s eternal purpose is locked firmly at the forefront.
“There was such a positive message and vibe to the original music of Parliament Funkadelic that was delivered in a fun way. True music, true arrangements, pure joy. I think long term fans will again relate to that side of the music,” he confirms of the immensely anticipated collection. “New fans can experience my version of gospel music, which I call ‘Sanctified Funk!’’ It’s music without the synthesizers and auto-tuning. Music played by real people, which allows their joy to come through with a positive message.”
Adds Simon: “I hope all that have heard it will feel the love and joy of the music and the message it brings. I want to be remembered for honesty and being a good guy. And above all, a man who kept his word to share the gospels by using the gift the Lord gave him! Amen!”