VFW Magazine — February 2018
Change Language:
Founder Of Funk
Kari Williams


George Clinton Jerome Brailey William Collins Raymon Davis Tiki Fullwood Glenn Lamont Goins Michael Hampton Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins Eddie Hazel Water Morrison Cordell Mosson Jr. William Nelson Jr. Garry Shider Calvin Simon Grady Thomas Bernie Worrell

It was the summer of 1967. The smooth, soul sounds of Parliament Funkadelic’s first hit, “(I Wanna) Testify,” filtered through the radio waves as a founding member of the group waged war in Vietnam.

Vocalist Calvin Simon distinctly remembers hearing the song for the first time on the radio, then running for cover from a mortar attack.

“Here I am, No. 1 in the states, [but I’m] over here in the mud with an M-16 and a .45,” said Simon, who was drafted in 1966.

As “(I Wanna) Testify” climbed the Billboard charts, reaching No. 3 for R&B and No. 20 for pop, Simon remained in Vietnam and would not reunite with the group until 1968.


Simon served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968 with C Btry., 3rd Bn., 13th F.A., 9th Inf. Div., as a Howitzer section chief. The unit patrolled the Mekong River Delta, a task he said was really tough.

“Everything goes in and out with the tide,” Simon said. “You do everything in that river, and to see how some of those people had to live, some of the things you had to encounter. We had to do [a lot] that nobody knew about because we couldn’t report a lot of stuff.”

But what stuck out to Simon, an atlarge VFW member in Florida, was a conversation with a local man while patrolling the river.

“[We saw] this little hut, and we went up there to investigate and there was a little family in there — one guy, his wife and two little kids,” Simon said. “And they had this plywood setting on 4x4s with straw and an Army blanket on top of it.

“One of the most profound things about that day, this little guy, in broken English, said to me, ‘Why are you over here fighting me instead of back home fighting for your rights?’ ”

It was something Simon hadn’t really thought about when he got drafted. But he said he had to stop mulling over the question because being in Vietnam was mentally tough enough to begin with.

Regardless, the former doo-wop singer said his time in the service meant he was doing his duty.

“As a soldier, that’s what we are supposed to do, even if we don’t understand…,” Simon said. “When [orders] do come down, it’s your duty as a soldier to carry them out, as difficult as it may seem sometimes.”

He later applied the discipline he learned in the military to his music career, as it provided some “structure” in his life.

“If it hadn’t been for that, I don’t know if I could’ve made it as far as I did,” Simon said. “Your mind is a pretty powerful thing, and it can tell you to do things and not do things, and you’ve got to make decisions. Sometimes it’s harder to keep the genie in the bottle than others.”


Once he returned to the states, Simon went back to Parliament Funkadelic. Re-acclimating to the music industry and civilian life after Vietnam was, for Simon, “quite a transition.”

Swarms of fans sent him back into his warzone mindset. Parliament Funkadelic performed in Detroit in Simon’s first show back, and when fans were “on top of the limousine” and trying to get to the band members, Simon said, he wanted to reach for his .45.

“I’ve been back since ’68, and right today, I sleep with my M-16 across my chest — even though it’s not there — that’s the position I’m most comfortable in,” Simon said.

After leaving Parliament Funkadelic in 1977, Simon said he reclaimed his faith and chose to return to his gospel roots.

He launched his own record label, Simon Sayz Recordings, in 2004 and subsequently distributed his first solo album, “Share the News,” which reached No. 21 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart.

As Simon prepared to tour for that record, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer next to his vocal cords. In 2012, Simon’s wife was diagnosed with bone cancer. His music career again was put on hold.

It wasn’t until 2016 that a dream reignited his career. Amid a blue sky and rays of sunshine stood two robed figures — one in white, which Simon recognized as Jesus Christ, and one in gray.

“I was starting to wake up from the dream, struggling because I didn’t want to wake up… [and I] saw a lyric, and the lyric said, ‘Don’t hesitate, it’s not too late to ask Jesus Christ to be your lord and savior,’” Simon said. “And from that lyric and that dream, the CD was born.”

One song included on that album, “It’s Not Too Late,” was “A Soldier’s Story,” which Simon wrote as a way to connect with today’s veterans who might be struggling with suicidal thoughts.

“When you suffer from PTS [posttraumatic stress], if you haven’t been there, you can’t understand it,” said Simon, who was officially diagnosed with PTS roughly 20 years ago. “When I wrote the song, I started thinking about my situation.”

The opening lyrics, “Once upon a time, I was one of you,” let veterans know they’re not alone, according to Simon, who said faith brought him to the other side of his PTS.

“Some days are better than others,” Simon said, “but it’s gotten to a point where I can control it pretty much now.” USING FAITH TO MANAGE STRESS Simon said he has had symptoms of PTS since 1968 because of “the horrific things” he went through and witnessed in Vietnam.

“When you come home, those memories come with you,” Simon said. “First, you try drugs and whiskey trying to kill that feeling, but you can’t. You can’t ever forget the memories and the shame, sometimes, of the memories [of what] you had to do.”

When in those types of situations in a war, Simon said, there is a certain amount of adrenaline and fear.

“There’s a feeling that comes with that,” Simon said. “It’s like a drug almost, when you wake up in the morning like you want to hurt something, you want to see something flatter, because you’ve got to feed that monster because that’s what you had been dealing with.”

But rededicating his life to religion has helped Simon manage the effects of PTS, allowing him to “turn to prayer when things get too bad.”

“That has helped me tremendously,” Simon said, “and by me having that faith... [and] seeing the results of my faith in Him, that’s my stability right there, where I was trying to handle everything else myself before.”

‘Soulful Super Group’ Inducted into Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame

Parliament Funkadelic was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Vietnam War veteran Calvin Simon was one of the 16 men inducted with the band and said the honor proved that the band’s peers gave them “the recognition that we had earned.”

“We had to do things when it wasn’t conventional or traditional,” Simon said, “But we did what we felt was right, and in the beginning, we had real good messages for people.”

Prince, who inducted the “soulful super group,” said in his speech, that “they built Parliament Funkadelic and changed the world.”

“There was something futuristic about Parliament Funkadelic, and that was only fitting since they played a huge role in creating the future of music,” Prince said.

Simon was one of the group’s founding members, alongside George Clinton, Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins, Grady Thomas and Ray Davis. They originally called themselves The Parliament, but as the group’s sound evolved, the name changed to Parliament Funkadelic. In that form, the band garnered 15 Gold and seven Platinum albums.