Calvin Simon, Former Singer for Parliament-Funkadelic, Dead at 79
"Rest in peace to my P-Funk brother Mr. Calvin Simon," Clinton wrote in a post to Facebook. "Fly on Calvin!"
“We lost another original member of Parliament/Funkadelic,” added bassist Bootsy Collins in a message of his own, remembering Simon as a “friend, bandmate & a cool classic guy.”
Born in Beckley, W.V., Simon grew up singing in his church's choir. When he was a teenager, he moved to New Jersey, where he got involved with a local harmony group called the Crystals. “In New Jersey, just about every corner you went on, there was a singing group or somebody trying to sing!” Simon recalled in a 2018 interview with the Journal of Gospel Music. “You get under that streetlight at night and you just start singing. We were singing Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels, Shep and the Limelights. I had a falsetto and a natural voice.” In New Jersey, he connected with Clinton and the rest of the Parliaments, and the group found early success with tracks like “I Can Feel the Ice Melting,” “Heart Trouble" and "I Wanna Testify."
Simon was forced to leave the band suddenly in the mid '60s when he was drafted for the Vietnam War. He returned after two years of service and rejoined the Parliaments in 1968. “That was rough,” he said. “Come back out of that war, after killing and almost being killed, and then everything’s changed. The whole world had changed. When I left, we had processed hair and pin curls and suits and ties. When I came back, it was dashikis and beards and hippies and free love."
Watch Calvin Simon With the Parliaments and Funkadelic in 1969
In 1977, Simon and several other members of the band, which by then had become Parliament-Funkadelic, left due to financial disputes with Clinton. He occasionally reconnected with P-Funk, including a short stint in the '90s with Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars, but eventually returned to his childhood passion: gospel music. He launched his own record label, Simon Says, and released an album in 2004 called Share the News, which reached No. 32 on the Gospel chart. His most recent album arrived in 2016, It's Not Too Late.
“I used a lot of the theory I learned being part of Parliament-Funkadelic," Simon said in 2018. We used to have the vocal harmonies, the screaming guitar solos, the horn harmonies...The music is the same. A D chord is a D chord, but it’s the lyrics that you put on top of those that matters to me now.”
In 1997, Simon was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Parliament-Funkadelic, a significant moment for the singer, who had not seen the original members of the group on stage since 1979. "It was the first time that all the original people had been back together because of all the friction and lawsuits and everything that was involved over the years," he told Cross Rhythms. "I swore I would never be back on a stage with Parliament-Funkadelic again."
Still, Simon noted that the discrepancies with Clinton over the years hadn't soured his memories of their time together. "We've had our problems over the years but as a brother I love him," he said. "There are things that happen in families and you're always going to have that love even though you don't agree with some of the decisions that are made and the way you treat each other."