Best known as the lead guitarist with Parliament-Funkadelic, Hazel grew up in 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 New York City. Hazel occupied himself from a young age by playing a guitar, given to him as a Christmas present by his older brother. Hazel also sang in church. At age 12, Hazel met Billy “Bass” Nelson, and the pair quickly became close friends and began performing, soon adding drummer Harvey McGee to the mix.
In 1967, The Parliaments, a Plainfield-based doo wop band headed by George Clinton, had a hit record with “(I Wanna) Testify.” Clinton recruited a backing band for a tour, hiring Nelson as bassist, who in turn recommended Hazel as guitarist. Hazel was in Newark, New Jersey, working with George Blackwell and could not be reached. After Nelson returned from the tour, he tried to recruit Hazel. His mother at first vetoed the idea, since Hazel was only seventeen, but Clinton and Nelson worked together to change her mind.
In late 1967, The Parliaments went on tour with both Nelson and Hazel. In Philadelphia 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 Clinton to temporarily abandon the name “Parliaments”.
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 within two years. All three albums prominently featured Hazel’s guitar work.
The third album’s title song, “Maggot Brain”, consists of a ten-minute guitar solo by Hazel. Clinton reportedly told Hazel during the recording session to imagine he had been told his mother was dead, but then learned that it was not true. Music critic Greg Tate described it as Funkadelic’s A Love Supreme. In 2008, Rolling Stone cited this as #60 on its list of 100 greatest “guitar songs” of all time.
Nelson and Hazel officially quit Funkadelic in late 1971 over financial disputes with Clinton, though Hazel contributed to the group sporadically over the next several years. The albums “America Eats Its Young” (1972) and “Cosmic Slop” (1973) featured only marginal input from Hazel. Instead, Hazel began working with The Temptations (along with Nelson), appearing on “1990” (1973) and “A Song for You” (1975).
For the 1974 Funkadelic album “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On” Hazel co-wrote all of the album’s songs. On six of those songs the songwriting credit was in the name of Grace Cook, Hazel’s mother. Hazel also had a significant presence as arranger and lead guitarist on the same year’s Parliament album “Up For The Down Stroke”. In 1974, Hazel was indicted for assaulting an airline stewardess and an air marshal, along with a drug possession charge. While Hazel was in jail, Clinton recruited Michael Hampton as the new lead guitarist for Parliament-Funkadelic.
In the next several years, Hazel appeared occasionally on Parliament-Funkadelic albums, although his guitar work was rarely featured. One song that featured Hazel’s lead guitar is “Comin’ Round the Mountain” on Hardcore Jollies (1976). In 1977, Hazel recorded a “solo” album “Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs”, with support from other members of Parliament-Funkadelic, including vocals from The Brides of Funkenstein. He was completely absent from “One Nation Under a Groove” (1978), Funkadelic’s most commercially successful album. Hazel made another prominent appearance in “Man’s Best Friend” on the George Clinton album “Computer Games” (1982), as well as the track “Pumping It Up” from the P-Funk All Stars album “Urban Dancefloor Guerillas”.
Three collections of unreleased recordings have been released posthumously: The 1994 four-song EP “Jams From the Heart” (which Rhino Records later added as bonus material to its rerelease of “Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs”), 1994’s “Rest in P” and 2006’s “Eddie Hazel At Home”.
Other recordings by Hazel have appeared on albums by other musicians. Several albums produced by Bill Laswell, including 1995’s “Funkcronomicon” (released under the name “Axiom Funk”) have featured Hazel’s guitar. Bootsy Collins has also incorporated recordings of Hazel in some of his recent releases, for example, “Good Night Eddie” on “Blasters of the Universe”. The band Ween recorded a tribute to him called “A Tear for Eddie” on their album “Chocolate And Cheese”. There is an image of Hazel on the back of Primal Scream’s album “Give Out But Don’t Give Up”.
Hazel has been featured on a number of lists of greatest guitarists of all time. He was #43 on the list of Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time and was ranked at #88 in a similar list by Uncut Magazine. Hazel was a posthumous inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inducted in 1997 with fifteen other members of Parliament-Funkadelic.