Mickey Atkins, original keyboardist of pioneering funk band Funkadelic recently passed away at 71.
George Clinton — founder, singer, producer, and bandleader of both Funkadelic and sister group Parliament confirmed the passing of his colleague on Facebook, writing, “Rest in eternal melody, Mr. Mickey Atkins August 7th, 1948-March 18th, 2020).”
In a 2018 video interview with the Bushtales YouTube channel, Atkins shared incredible stories about his musical career, about his love of the guitar, Elvis Presley as his inspiration, then eventually switching to keyboards, and how an embarrassing on-stage moment encouraged him to become a one of a kind keyboardist. During his early days, when playing with one of his bands, the venue’s announcer called out, “Give the organ player some!” — a variation on James Brown’s famous drummer spotlights — but Atkins, however, found himself stumbled, not able to do a solo.
“I saw my wife get up and walk out,” he recalls. “And she had her hands [covering her face] — she was really embarrassed. Everybody was looking at me, like, ‘Come on, man! Come on!’ But I couldn’t ‘come on.’ This was all I could do. I finished that gig, and I went to the woodshed and started learning how to play a little bit.”
Atkins also shared stories about the early days of Funkadelic:
“The beginning of Funkadelic, we loved each other,” he says. “We played music 24-7. We never rehearsed. There was no such thing as rehearsal. When I met George Clinton, I didn’t rehearse with him. I met him and played for him. When I joined his group, I went to Boston, met [guitarist ‘Tawl’ Ross] and [guitarist] Eddie Hazel, said ‘hi,’ and started playing music. We didn’t go to rehearsal first and learn the songs together. That’s not what happened. That wasn’t what the group was about. That wasn’t what our music was about. It wasn’t a rehearsed situation. We didn’t go into the studio after three, four hours rehearsal. We went into the studio, turned the recording on and then started playing.”
The band’s debut LP was released in 1970s’ which features Atkins on Hammond organ — the LP established and influenced the signature blend of funk, soul and psychedelic rock of the band — and would become his only studio contribution with Clinton’s band, as Bernie Worrell took over as their main keyboardist. And Atkins admits, when Bernie Worrell replaced him it had helped take their music “to a different degree.”
“His musicianship was just tremendous, and he did what he can do,” he says. “I could never have taken them there, probably, or it would have taken me a long time. I probably would have had to get with him a couple of years first. And I really respect and love him for what he did with the group — because I was a part of it.”
Keep going for the video below: