Black History Month – Eddie Hazel


Artist: Eddie Hazel

Origin: Brooklyn, New York City/Plainfield, New Jersey

Written by Yari Wildheart

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Eddie Hazel’s mother moved to Plainfield, New Jersey to raise him because she felt that it would be a safer environment to raise her child. From a young age, Hazel began playing guitar, singing, and performing, with instruments gifted to him by his family. He would go on to become the lead guitarist for the legendary George Clinton Parliament-Funkadelic projects, and in doing so would cement his status as a legend.

One of Eddie Hazel’s most famous works was his soulful, epic guitar solo on the title track from Funkadelic’s album Maggot Brain, and it’s through the lens of that song and its influence that I want to describe the powerful legacy of Eddie Hazel. One day in the studio while recording the album, George Clinton approached Hazel, knowing that this sensitive, emotional virtuoso would be able to translate what Clinton needed into one of the most powerful guitar solos ever recorded with a simple story. Clinton recounted the tale to Spin, telling Hazel to imagine he has just found out his mother died, and then a few minutes later, find out she’s actually alive after all.

Hazel went into the booth and recorded in one take a legendary solo that was so good, Clinton removed most of the accompanying instrumentals and made the solo the focus of the entire track. Guitarists like Buckethead, Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), and more count themselves among those influenced by the power of Maggot Brain, and themselves have been known to play it live. This track alone shaped the music and outlook of generations of artists, with bands like the Mars Volta and Ween describing it as revealing a whole new world of music and metal to them. Living Colour’s guitarist Vernon Reid described Eddie Hazel’s work as a key influence in the alternative rock explosion in the 1990s, and called Maggot Brain the a ‘magnum opus of rock ‘n’ roll’. Nick Cave noted Eddie Hazel as one of his favourite guitarists, describing Eddie Hazel’s style as playing as if he was singing, a style that ‘touches me in a very deep place’.

It’s a track that epitomizes Hazel’s style. Funkadelic carried a powerful prog-rock spirit, and Hazel’s work was inventive, emotional, and full of swag. He was capable of playing just about any genre he set his mind to – his only solo album Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs features ripping guitar riffs and soloing, but then there’s elements of funk and blues in there too. His work in Funkadelic is full of prog rock inventiveness, emotion and technique, but then throughout his work you’ll hear stuff that might sound familiar in metal, soul, pop, and more. When you consider the amount of Funkadelic work featuring Hazel that has been sampled by modern hip hop artists, especially the early works of Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, there is a far-reaching influence there too – even Childish Gambino’s albums have the fingerprints of Eddie Hazel all over them, especially in his Awaken My Love album.

As powerful as Eddie Hazel’s work was, his life was cut short. Eddie Hazel had drug problems that had increasingly come to interfere with his work, which led to the financial problems that come with dependence on substances. Suffering a variety of health and personal problems due to his lifestyle, Hazel died at the age of 42 due to internal bleeding stemming from years of substance abuse. This was a tragedy for the music world on top of the tragedies he already experienced throughout his life. Tributes over the years would come, however, with artists like Ween and John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers) recording tribute songs to honour his impact on their music and others.

Eddie Hazel’s work is not as vast a library as many of the legendary guitarists of the 20th century, owing to his personal problems and early death. In a short time, he had a powerful influence that is still felt today, across genres of all stripes. In focusing primarily on Maggot Brain the depth and power of Eddie Hazel and his legacy can be felt. This was just one song among many that Hazel worked on – many of his tracks had unique and lasting influences throughout the music world in their own way. The fact that we can highlight just one track, and it has had the impact that many work their careers to establish, shows the way in which an African American artist shaped and changed the music world, and the sounds of generations of artists who followed him.

Prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster, full of sorrow and joy – go listen to Maggot Brain.


Maggot Brain on Apple Music

Maggot Brain on Spotify

Maggot Brain on YouTube

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