Eddie Hazel (April 10, 1950 - December 23, 1992) was a pioneering guitarist in early funk music in the United States.
Born in Brooklyn in 1950, Hazel grew up outside 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 the city. She worked in Brooklyn as a silk presser; Eddie occupied himself from a young age by playing a guitar, given to him as a Christmas present by his older brother, as well as singing in church. At age 12, Eddie met Billy Bass Nelson, and the pair quickly became close friends, singing and playing the guitar, soon adding Harvey McGee, a drummer, to the mix.
In 1967, The Parliaments (a Plainfield-based doo wop band headed by George Clinton) hit the charts with "I Wanna Testify". Clinton recruited a backing board for a tour, hiring Nelson. Eddie was in Newark, New Jersey working with George Blackwell and couldn't be reached. After Billy Bass Nelson returned from the tour, he tried to recruit Eddie. His mother at first vetoed the idea (since Eddie 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.
Maggot Brain is perhaps the definitive musical statement by Funkadelic, and the titular track's twelve-minute guitar solo is Eddie Hazel's defining moment, and the one piece of music for which he has remained a legend. 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 (see P Funk mythology).
Eddie Hazel was not the only Funkadelic member to have drug issues. Tawl Ross left the group because of a bad LSD trip and/or a speed overdose. Tiki Fulwood also used drugs with Hazel, leading George Clinton to suspend their salaries so that they would not spend the money entirely on drugs. As a result, America Eats Its Young (1972) featured only marginal input from Hazel. Instead, Eddie began working with The Temptations, appearing on Zoom (1973) and Song For You (1975).
In 1974, Hazel was indicted for assaulting a stewardess, along with a drug possession charge. While he was in jail, Clinton added Gary Shider, Ron Brykowsky and Michael Hampton to Funkadelic. Hampton was Hazel's replacement as lead guitarist. Like Hazel, Michael Hampton was a seventeen year-old guitar prodigy. Eddie finally returned to Funkadelic for Let's Take It to the Stage (1975), but he was no longer the obvious lead guitar. With the added time, Hazel recorded Games, Dames & Guitar Thangs for Warner Brothers (with special help from The Brides of Funkenstein).
Notes: Eddie Hazel sometimes received credit for contributions as Grace Cook, his mother's name.