BOOTSY COLLINS: TOUCHING BASS WITH THE MASTER OF FUNK
by Chris Sullivan
Amiable, engaging and very much not full of shit, Bootsy Collins is all that and more. The psychedelic, Funkadelic legend played bass on such landmark James Brown cuts as Soul Power and Sex Machine and was a leading member of the P-Funk (Parliament and Funkadelic) collective.
Now he's bringing music to a new generation through the Bootsy Collins Foundation and promoting his excellent Tha Funk Capital of The World – a record that brings together a diverse set of influences with the help of an all-star line-up including Snoop Dogg, Chuck D, Bobby Womack and Samuel L Jackson..
How would you describe Tha Funk Capital of The World ?
Some stuff that’s mixed and mashed and put together and got f**ked up, by me and different of people I’ve encountered. A mash-up of different elements that I grew up on. We tried to get back to our roots and the whole James Brown thing, then it’s got the Funkadelic vibe and I’ve got Samuel L. Jackson to do a rap on it. He’s a real fun, musical guy and, as nobody has seen that side of him, I really wanted to get him on the record. Who else? Doctor Cornell West, Snoop Dog, Ice Cube, Chuck D, Bobby Womack, George Duke and Ron Carter - all stars in their own right for their generation. I thought it was very important to collaborate with these people who thought loudly and stood out. I got some help from my friends.
How did you get involved with James Brown?
Well, actually we [his band The Pacemakers, comprising his elder brother Phelps’ Catfish’ Collins, Kash Waddy and Phillippe Wynne] got a name for being this new rhythm section that was on fire playing the live circuit in Cincinnati. We did some studio work and word started to spread. Two of the top engineers who worked with James Brown, Henry Glover and Bill Doggit, asked us to play on different records and then James Brown heard of us and was interested in these young guys making all this funky noise and asked us to work with him. I was 19 I think.
'PLAYING WITH JAMES BROWN GAVE ME A CHANCE TO LEARN SOME THINGS ABOUT LIFE'
And how was it working with him? I heard he could be a taskmaster?
Yes he was a taskmaster but I really needed it. I came out of a home with no father, my mother was raising us, and so the Godfather was really was like a father to me. I think playing with James Brown gave me a chance to learn some things about life. And we’ve been funking on ever since. I heard he didn’t approve of his band using drugs? He was always accusing me of being high on his set, and I was like, ‘No I’m going to get high after the show but not before the show.’ Understand, we had too much work to do. You had to pay a high price to be high on James Brown’s set. But he was accusing me of doing that and, I’m a kid, so I said if he keeps doing that then I’m gonna, so one day I did! So I took it and when he called me back there this last time I was tripping and I fell on the floor laughing and he thought I was a total fool, ‘Get this fool outta here!’ So he never called me back to give me another lecture, “There’s no hope for this fool, he’s just a crazy young kid,’ he said. And I was. But at the same time I was learning a lot from him, What would be your favourite James Brown tunes you’ve played on? Soul Power was my most favourite - there was something about the groove that was genius and we just fell into it and it just kind of happened. Sex Machine was kinda like that too. It was the first one that got released and a big hit.
You got very into the late-60s counter culture. Did that inspire you?
Oh man. That experience, that whole peace and love movement was so great and affected so many lives in a good way. It altered consciousness and allowed us to explore different spaces and things. Everyone had a good time and I wish it could have just gone on and on and on! But all good things have to come to an end. George Clinton, was that like a match made in heaven? Oh yes. We had the same interests musically and he gave me the opportunity to reach out and do things and find myself. It gave me chance to find out the things I had inside. I looked up to him, and he trusted me and that was a hell of a big deal for me and I didn’t want to let him down. I wanted to come out with things that he would love, not just like, but love. Every time he let me do that, I came through and it came out and he let me do that all the time.
I saw Parliament in 1976 and it looked like you were having a ball on stage. Whose idea was it to wear the diaper?
Oh, that actually came from George. One time, the costumes didn’t make it to the gig so we grabbed table cloths off the tables at the Holiday Inn. George grabbed a towel and wrapped it around him like a diaper. That’s what the funk is all about: being creative. Making things out of nothing. That’s what we started doing.
You’ve worked with some of the greatest… Who are your three biggest purveyors of the groove?
Of all time? I would say I really liked the 103rd Street Band, The Meters were extremely funky, Sly And The Family Stone and the Ohio Players. Who have been your favourite collaborators? I would say next to George Clinton, it would be Bill Laswell as he was so tied into so many different artists and genres that it helped me widen my approach - and to be given a chance to play with so many different artists was a dream. Keith Richards, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, after them people started saying ‘Wow, he can do different stuff!’
You encourage kids to take up music through the Bootsy Collins Foundation. Tell us about that…
Our mission statement is ‘Say It Loud: An Instrument For Every Child’. We started by adopting a school in Cincinnati and, at the beginning of May, we went there and started donating equipment and instruments with a store named Buddy Rogers. What’s different about us is that I will go into the school and will present an instrument and teach the children as they play. I have staff who will follow their GPAs [grade playing averages] and we will prove that how teaching music in a child’s life keep them on points for their grades. Our goal is to take it around the United States then abroad because many schools are having to cut their music programmes.
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