Dec 23, 1992 – Eddie Hazel was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 10, 1950 but grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey because his mother, Grace Cook, wanted her son to grow up in an environment without the pressures of drugs and crime that she felt pervaded New York City. Hazel occupied himself from a young age by playing a guitar, given to him as a Christmas present by his older brother. Hazel also sang in church. At age 12 he participated in backyard jams, which resulted in Nelson McGee and Hazel forming the Wonders who played around Plainfield in the mid sixties. By early 1967 Hazel’s reputation on guitar had taken him to work with producer George Blackwell in Newark.
In 1967 The Parliaments, a Plainfield-based doo wop band headed by George Clinton, had a hit record with “(I Wanna) Testify“. Clinton recruited a backing band for a tour, hiring Nelson as bassist, who in turn recommended Hazel as guitarist. Hazel however was in Newark, New Jersey, working with George Blackwell and could not be reached (no cell phones in those days!). After Nelson returned from the tour, he tried to recruit Hazel. His mother at first vetoed the idea, since Hazel was only seventeen, but Clinton and Nelson worked together to change her mind.
In the fall of 1967, The Parliaments went on tour with both Nelson and Hazel. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Hazel met and befriended Tiki Fulwood, who quickly replaced The Parliaments’ drummer. Nelson, Hazel and Fulwood became the backbone of Funkadelic, which was originally the backup band for The Parliaments, only to later become an independent touring group when legal difficulties forced the group to (temporarily) abandon the name “Parliaments”.
The doo wop of The Parliaments quickly began morphing into the soul-inflected hard rock of Funkadelic, influenced as much by Jimi Hendrix as Frankie Lymon. The switch to Funkadelic was complete with the addition of Tawl Ross and Bernie Worrell (rhythm guitar and keyboards, respectively). Funkadelic (1970), Free Your Mind… And Your Ass Will Follow (1970) and Maggot Brain (1971) were the first three albums, released in a mere two years.
So Hazel became lead guitarist with Parliament/Funkadelic and a mythical figure, who pioneered an innovative funk-metal sound in the early ’70s, best exemplified on his mammoth classic instrumental jam “Maggot Brain”, the title track to the groups third album, which contains a ten-minute guitar solo which turned into his defining moment and the one piece of music for which he has remained a legend and Rolling Stone citing it as number 60 on its list of 100 greatest “guitar songs” of all time.
Perhaps apocryphally, George Clinton told Hazel, during the recording session, to “play like your momma just died” and the result was the epic sounds of Hazel’s guitar. The term, “Maggot Brain,” refers both to Hazel’s incredible intake of various drugs, as well as a mode of thinking which allows one to rise above the “bullshit” of the world, which is inhabited by maggots who have not yet achieved the status of Maggot Brain.
Nelson and Hazel officially quit Funkadelic in late 1971 over financial disputes with Clinton, though Hazel contributed to the group sporadically over the next several years. After the 1971 album, tides were changing and it became clear that Hazel’s blistering abrasive playing style was not inline with the band’s future musical direction and his uncompromising lifestyle with alcohol and drugs was going to lead him astray even more.From there on his relationship to Funkadelic was tumultuous. In 1973 he went to jail for biting an airline stewardess while under the influence of angel dust.
He came up for air in 1975 when he and Nelson did some fine work on two Temptation albums and a great lead solo on “Whatever makes my baby feel good” on Parliament’s Up for the Downstroke album. He stayed with Delbert Clinton through the mid 1980s, but his health was declining as a result of his damaging lifestyle. By the end of the decade he was homeless and penniless and ultimately moved back in with his mother.
Doctors warned him to quit drugs and alcohol, but he only quit alcohol. In early 1992 he seemed to be turning the corner as he actively picked up the guitar again and was planning projects again with some of his former band members as well as a Band of Gypsies type power trio with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. Projects were set for launch in early 1993, but Eddie never made it.
He died from internal bleeding and liver failure on Dec 23, 1992 at age 42.
Fittingly his mother had “Maggot Brain” played at his funeral. In 1997 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with fifteen other members of Parliament-Funkadelic.