No discussion of great guitar solos is complete without “Maggot Brain,” the title track off Funkadelic’s third album, released in 1971. George Clinton is remembered as the mastermind of P-Funk, but those first three Funkadelic records are heavily influenced by guitarist Eddie Hazel, and “Maggot Brain” was the capper to that early burst of creativity. Clinton says the solo — recorded in a single take over a pre-recorded guitar track — was inspired by his instruction to “play like your momma just died.” The lengthy solo became Hazel’s signature piece. When Hazel was jailed in 1974 on drug- and assault-related charges, Clinton replaced him with Michael Hampton, who aced his audition by playing a perfect note-for-note rendition of “Maggot Brain.” When Hazel returned to the fold, he found himself sharing the spotlight with Hampton and guitarist DeWayne “Blackbird” McKnight on the number that had once been his turn in the spotlight.
I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility to suggest that “Watermelon in Easter Hay,” the piercingly lovely guitar showcase that closes Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage, owes something to “Maggot Brain.” Whatever else could be said of Zappa, he knew guitar players, and it’s hard to imagine he wasn’t familiar with Eddie Hazel’s work.