The instrumental ‘Maggot Brain’ by Funkadelic is one of the most lauded songs of all time. Released on their 1971 album of the same name, it remains Funkadelic’s most iconic song.
The original cut, which clocks in at over ten minutes, is a fairly sparse piece of music. It contains a spoken introduction which then gives way to guitarist Eddie Hazel’s extended guitar solo. The power of Hazel’s work negates the sparsity of the track, as across the whole of the song, his work is nothing short of magical. It’s technical, emotional, and pulsating, and as soon as the first minute is over, you understand why the song and band are so revered.
According to numerous accounts, ‘Maggot Brain’ was Hazel’s nickname, so it was the perfect name for the song and the album. However, another version of the origins of the title ‘Maggot Brain’ exists. Some maintain that it is a direct reference to Funkadelic mastermind, George Clinton, finding his brother’s “decomposed dead body, skull cracked, in a Chicago apartment.”
The mystery surrounding the provenance of the title adds to the legacy of the track and album. It’s conflicting accounts such as this that help instil a mythical status in pieces of art.
Famously, ‘Maggot Brain’ was recorded in one take when Clinton, under the influence of LSD, instructed Hazel during the recording session to play as if he had just been told his mother was dead. Clinton explained: “I told him to play like his mother had died, to picture that day, what he would feel, how he would make sense of his life, how he would take a measure of everything that was inside him.”
Several other musicians performed on the track, but for the most part, Clinton faded them out during the final mix to place emphasis on Hazel’s guitar work. Wanting to emulate his idol Jimi Hendrix, Clinton used fuzz and wah effects and added others, such as delay, in the mixdown. He recalled: “I Echoplexed it back on itself three or four times. That gave the whole thing an eerie feel, both in the playing and in the sound effects.”
As soon as it was released, the track was celebrated. Since, everyone from Childish Gambino to Ween and Red Hot Chili Peppers have hailed it as an influence. The track had such an impact on Red Hot Chili Peppers that their guitarist, John Frusciante, recorded his own version of it, ‘Before the Beginning’, which featured on his 2009 album The Empyrean.
It wasn’t just Frusciante that the track inspired, though. It also had a significant impact on the Chili Peppers’ bassist-extraordinaire, Flea. He loves the track so much, that during a demonstration of his Signature Active Jazz Bass for Fender in 2018, he performed a portion of Hazel’s solo backed by the natural beauty of the Californian countryside.
Donning a bright orange boiler suit and accompanied by his bass rig, Flea tears through Hazel’s work, instilling it with the hard-rocking magic of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Subsequently, it has been regarded as one of Flea’s best moments.
Fans were delighted when they saw the convergence of Flea and ‘Maggot Brain’, because it was a match made in heaven. Tracks like this paved the way for Flea and Co., and without them, the world of rock would look very different today.
Watch Flea perform ‘Maggot Brain’ below.