Former Funkadelic vocalist now singing a new message

Published March 17 2017

Parliament/Funkadelic founding member and vocalist Calvin Simon remembers the old days, but he doesn't refer to them as good.

He enjoyed the music and at times the success which landed him in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Still, for years a hole deepened inside him.

Simon, who served a year in Vietnam at age 26, suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

He spent decades enduring violent flashbacks and urges to commit murder. It wasn't until he suffered a heart attack in 2001 that Simon found healing. He turned to Christianity before undergoing major surgery.

"I made a promise to the Lord, if I made it through my operation, I would spend the rest of my days serving him," says Simon, 74. "That's when Jesus Christ really came into my life and I left the band I was in to do gospel music."

Simon, who now lives in San Antonio in Pasco County, recently released his second gospel album: It's Not Too Late.

Faith carried him through difficult times including a cancer battle and the passing of his wife of 44 years, he says. He wants to use his talents to "share the news."

I spoke with him about overcoming the past, embracing faith and putting it all to music.

As a young man, you experienced war. How did the experience impact your life and music career?

I spent two years in the service and one in Vietnam. I am on 100 percent disability because of the PTSD. I still suffer from it today. When you're in a war, when you have to kill a person, when it is either his life or your life and because of fear you know one of you has to die, the adrenaline is so strong it becomes like a drug. You seek it out. Jesus Christ helped me with all of that. I don't feel now that I have to have that feeling fulfilled. When I have those thoughts now, I can handle them a lot better than I did 25 years ago.

I am calmer. I put my faith and my life in general in God's hands. It has helped me deal with something painful and ugly instead of trying to just forget. Through him I've been able to accept what I did. It's made life safer for the people around me.

It's interesting you've transitioned to gospel. Some people would listen to the lyrics of Flashlight and say it has some Biblical tones to it. From your perspective, did, "Everybody's got a little light under the sun," and "Now I lay me down to sleep," come from a base of faith?

There's always been a feeling of gospel in the music. All of us came up in the church. I definitely feel a spiritual influence in our music. Flashlight, yes, absolutely. Some lyrics and images we were projecting out there in the public eye were questionable though. At the time I was enjoying it all but the success does something to one's mind. The business end of it really ended up turning me off to the whole situation. We started to crumble and tumble.

Even with Gold and Platinum albums, with $50,000 cash in my car, I still felt a void in my life. I was searching and I found what I was looking for. I found peace in Jesus Christ.

How does the music of Parliament/Funkadelic influence your sound today?

Well you can't change who you are as a musician. I don't feel like I serve a traditional God and this is definitely not traditional gospel music. There is R&B and funk influence. It's the message that is different.

Even today, the music and vibe created by Parliament/Funkadelic remains popular. It's lived on in hip-hop samples. Where do you see the most influence?

I see a whole lot of things people have done over the years. We opened the way for Prince, and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. In gospel, Kirk Franklin took one of our tunes for a track. We learned the hard lessons with record labels and people now know better. They know they need to own themselves.

Will you tour with your gospel album?

When it's time, I want to travel. I want to go around the country singing these songs, with this music, this message, this band. This is what I want to do with the rest of my life. I hope somebody along the way will find something in the music and it will bring them to Jesus as well.

How long have you lived in the Tampa Bay area?

I've been here 12 years. I absolutely love the area. I love the weather. There is always sunshine so I can golf.

Contact Sarah Whitman at [email protected]

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