RIP P-NUT

RIP Robert “P-Nut” Johnson

by Benjy Eisen (“Deal” co-author, Rolling Stone)

 

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In a year that has already seen the passing of Bernie Worrell, the PFunk family has taken another blow with the loss of Robert “P-Nut” Johnson.  Born in Baltimore in 1947, P-Nut started on the road with Bootsy’s Rubber Band and in the studio with P-Funk in 1976. When Bootsy stopped touring in 1979, P-Nut segued to P-Funk. Prior to joining Bootsy’s Rubber Band and P-Funk, P-Nut played with local bands in the Baltimore area.  (From www.georgeclinton.com) 

Artist manager and long-time music journalist (Bill Kreutzmann, Reed Mathis’ Electric Beethoven) Benjy Eisen has sent us his thoughts on crossing paths with the famous funkster and the impact that this chance meeting had on him.

Benjy Eisen: Regarding the sudden news of Robert “P-Nut” Johnson’s untimely passing: I’ll never forget the warm day during my youth when I met the members of P-Funk, including P-Nut, and the slight but noted ramification it would have on my life to follow.

It was summertime, 1996. I wasn’t old enough to drink — legally — but there I was, in the parking lot of Oregon Ridge Park in Maryland, drinking a beer. At 11 AM. And we were pretty much the only car in the parking lot.

This was before Bonnaroo ushered in the new era of the major music festival in America, and the live music choices were slim for those of us in Central Pennsylvania under the age of 21. So the idea of a one-day music festival just an hour south of my parents house was thrilling. The lineup was simple and, in hindsight, lackluster: Keb Mo, The Subdudes, Taj Mahal, The Radiators and, headlining, George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars. I was so excited for live music that I drew first and fast, coercing a carload of friends to hit the road early with me. We were the first ones there.

I’m not sure how it happened, but in a flurry of circumstance, a golf cart came out to us (in an otherwise empty lot), with members of the Radiator’s crew or something. I thought they were about to bust us for (underage) drinking in public, but it quickly became obvious that wasn’t case. All I know is that I had an energetic exchange with them, told them that we were waiting for the box office to open at noon so we could buy tickets, and suddenly I was handed four all-access laminates. The golf cart drove off. Just like that. I felt like Charlie Bucket with a golden ticket to the music factory. This kind of music luck would follow me, and still does, just as I continue to follow my love for music.

But that was my first “real” backstage, and it wasn’t earned.

Inside the artist area, I remember telling Taj Mahal that if he got onstage and suddenly something in the wind whispered to him that he should play “Corinna, Corinna,” he shouldn’t fight that feeling. He laughed and said okay. But the winds of suggestion were silent for him that day. No matter.

From the video channel of On Periscope

I recall two other details which have stuck with me — the first was when a member of Parliament Funkadelic asked me for a smoke. I smiled as I pulled out a pack of…Parliaments… and was thrilled to be able to offer him a “P-Funk.”

But this became the takeaway: There was a fence separating the backstage area from the parking lot, and some kids had run up to the fence to get autographs. P-Nut was one of the accosted but he gracefully obliged, signing pieces of paper and slipping them back through the fence. Motivated by mob mentality, I eventually asked him for one as well. But when he handed me back a piece of paper that said, “P-Nut,” I looked at the ink and started laughing out loud at the absurdity. It wasn’t even his real name!

P-Nut, you were more to many than just this anecdote, and you made me smile every time I had the pleasure of seeing you perform. So thanks for the music. And thanks for indulging this enthusiastic but naive kid by gracefully obliging when he abruptly asked you to write the word “P-Nut” on a piece of scrap paper, all those years ago. I was young and didn’t know any better.

May you rest in peace-funk.

Robert P-Nut Johnson has an amazing collection of credits including appearances on albums by Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton and the PFunk All Stars, Red Hit Chili Peppers, Fred Wesley, Trey Lewd,  Crissy Collins, Vanessa Williams and more.  For a full list of his credits visit allmusic here.

 

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