Fuzzy Haskins, Who Helped Turn Doo-Wop Into P-Funk, Dies at 81

Fuzzy Haskins, a foundational member of the vocal group that morphed into Parliament-Funkadelic, the genre-blurring collective led by George Clinton that shook up the pop music world in the 1970s, died on March 16 in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. He was 81.

His son Nowell Scott said the cause was health problems complicated by diabetes.

Mr. Haskins, one of Parliament-Funkadelic’s vocalists and songwriters, was a distinctive presence onstage during the group’s propulsive performances, often wearing tight long johns and sometimes suggestively straddling the microphone.

“Fuzzy was always able to capture your attention,” Mr. Scott said by email, “rhythmically gyrating the audience into a deeper consciousness where night after night they were forced to consider if they were really getting it on.”

Mr. Haskins was living in Edison, N.J., and was in his last year of high school and singing in a vocal group when he met Mr. Clinton, who had a barbershop in nearby Plainfield and his own fledgling vocal group. Someone from Mr. Clinton’s group had left.

“So they chose me out of my group to come and sing with them,” Mr. Haskins recalled in 2011 in a short biographical video. He joined up with Mr. Clinton, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas and Ray Davis, and, Mr. Haskins said, “the rest is history.”

The group was called the Parliaments, named after a cigarette brand, Mr. Clinton said in his book “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” (2014).

Mr. Clinton didn’t smoke, but, he wrote, “I thought cigarettes were cool as a symbol, a little dangerous, a little adult, and Parliament was a big brand, so we became the Parliaments.”

The group worked a doo-wop sound at first.

“Each of us had a distinctive style,” Mr. Clinton wrote, “sometimes in imitation of people who were famous then, sometimes in anticipation of people who would be famous later.”

“Fuzzy,” he added, “who was second lead, was a soulful tenor with all the bluesy inflections, like Wilson Pickett, real rough.”

The Parliaments had a Top 20 pop hit in 1967 with “(I Wanna) Testify.” Soon the group became simply Parliament and developed an alter ego, Funkadelic. Two different groups, they recorded for two different labels but drew on the same ever-growing collection of musicians. Parliament remained vocally oriented; Funkadelic borrowed from psychedelic rock and the funk sound of groups like Sly and the Family Stone.

“White rock groups had done the blues, and we wanted to head back in the other direction,” Mr. Clinton wrote, “be a Black rock group playing the loudest, funkiest combination of psychedelic rock and thunderous R&B.”

Mr. Haskins wrote the song “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing” for Funkadelic’s debut album, called simply “Funkadelic” and released in 1970. He joined Mr. Clinton in writing “My Automobile” for Parliament’s first album, “Osmium,” released the same year. He was one of four writers (including Mr. Clinton) of “Up for the Down Stroke,” the title song on Parliament’s second album, released in 1974. And he had a hand in other songs for both groups as they released records throughout the ’70s.

The stage shows accompanying the album releases grew increasingly elaborate, culminating in the P-Funk Earth Tour, which began in 1976, continued for several years and featured an outer-space theme, including an onstage spaceship.

But the original Parliaments were clashing with Mr. Clinton. Mr. Haskins, who had recorded a solo album in 1976, “A Whole Nother Thang,” left the group in 1977 along with Mr. Simon and Mr. Thomas. Under the name Funkadelic, the three released an album that same year, “Connections & Disconnections,” which included tracks openly criticizing Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Haskins released another solo album, “Radio Active,” in 1978.

In the early 1990s, he, Mr. Simon, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Davis formed a group called Original P, whose repertoire was heavy on songs from the Parliament-Funkadelic catalog.

“This act gives us the chance to perform these songs the way they were meant to be heard,” Mr. Haskins told Mountain Xpress, a North Carolina alternative newspaper, in 2000, “with solid arrangements and clear vocal harmonies. We were involved in the creation of these songs, and they are our children.”

Whatever the disagreements were with Mr. Clinton, Mr. Haskins was among the 16 members who were honored in 1997 when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted Parliament-Funkadelic, who were introduced at the ceremony by Prince.

“Parliament and Funkadelic were the mind-blowing, soul-expanding musical equivalent of an acid trip,” the hall’s website says. “They grabbed the funk movement from James Brown and took off running.”

Clarence Eugene Haskins was born on June 8, 1941, in Elkhorn, W.Va. His father, McKinley, was a coal miner, and his mother, Grace Bertha (Hairston) Haskins, was a homemaker.

“I listened to country when I grew up,” Mr. Haskins said in the biographical video, since there was not much R&B or other Black music on West Virginia radio at the time.

“We used to sing church music — hymns, gospel — at home,” he added. “We’d harmonize.”

The family relocated to New Jersey when he was still a child. Before long he had met Mr. Clinton, and he was on his way.

“The P-Funk sound is perhaps one of the most significant and impactful crossed-over ideas to ever manifest into a sound,” his son said by email, “and Fuzzy was always excited to be a part of that.”

Mr. Haskins lived in Southfield, Mich. His marriages to Estelle James and Lorraine Dabney ended in divorce. In addition to his son, his survivors include two other children, Crystal White and Michelle Fields; a sister, Julia Drew; and 10 grandchildren. Two other children, Michael and Stephanie, died before him.

Mr. Haskins was to be inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in May.

Must Read

Related Articles