Bootsy Collins

Date of Interview: 03/25/2011

Over the past four decades, Bootsy Collins has captivated the world with his funky bass and psychedelic soul. As the unforgettable member of backing bands for James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic, Collins also earned fame and critical acclaim under the banner of Bootsy’s Rubber Band.

In 1997, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized Bootsy Collins for his musical influence as a major pioneer in the development of the funk music genre. And through the use of digital technology, Collins further cemented his legacy with the launch of Funk University in July 2010, an online school for musicians, which features lectures and instruction from guest bassist professors such as Les Claypool, Meshelle Ndegeocello, John B. Williams and Victor Wooten.

On April 26, 2011, Bootsy Collins will release Tha Funk Capitol of the World via Megaforce Records. In the midst of a promotional campaign for the album, Bootsy Collins managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on the influence of Phelps “Catfish” Collins, contemporary voices of hope, and the birth of funk.

Clayton Perry: As the undisputed “funk machine,” what do you consider to be your greatest, and perhaps underrated, contribution to the contemporary music landscape? What elements do you see people taking from your career, style or persona, in general?

Bootsy Collins: I see a lot of artists and musicians grabbing stuff and making it their own. For me, that’s pretty uplifting. I don’t look at that as taking something from me. I just feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, and I’m giving what I’m supposed to be giving. It’s just a privilege for me to be able to do that. Being there and actually hearing it coming back from some of these different younger cats, that’s an honor for me. I love that. When I look out and see the younger generation picking up stuff, actually I think that, that is great. That’s pretty much what we’re here to do, kind of pass stuff on anyway. Whether I’m recognized for it or not, I’m not really that kind of person where I’ve got to get recognition for every little thing I think I’ve done. I just like to see people take stuff and do something with it. That’s what my main issue is. Whatever you grab a hold of, really do something with it.

Clayton Perry: As you said the word “uplifting,” it made me reflect on the tone of your album, as there are several uplifting tracks. As an educator, I really gravitated towards “Minds Under Construction.” When you have the opportunity to speak to youth, what is the central message that you want to convey to them?

Bootsy Collins: The main thing would be to really key in on their actual skills. It’s a difficult thing, because you’ve got way more things today to distract you than we had. I mean you carry in your pocket the biggest distraction of them all. You’ve got your iPhone, your telephone, your smartphone. We had nothing like that. We were blessed that somebody in the family had a phone in the house. It’s like so many distractions now. My message is mainly just to try to stay focused on your craft and get as good and as great as you can with that. If you can keep your mind focused on that… You’ve got so many different videos out. You’ve got so much sex right up in your face for everybody to see. The words that’s used is just so right up in your face. Everything is so right up in your face. It’s like everybody sees it. Everybody hears it. So it’s like there’s really nothing really hidden anymore. Everything is right in your face. How do you stay focused? And I think you have to think more like an athlete, especially the old-school athletes who got up and went to camp for three or six months to get ready for this boxing match. It’s like no sex, no drugs. It’s just you focus on your boxing, on your technique, on your skills. And that, to me, is what has to be balanced out with what’s happening today. It’s a difficult thing. It’s like saying that is one thing, but then you have to try to live that. And that’s what I try to do. I try to be living the part instead of talking about it so much. Be that example. And that’s what I try to do.

Clayton Perry: When you look back on the recording experience for Funk Capital, what memories immediately come to mind?

Bootsy Collins: Man, it was mind-blowing. First of all, I felt like I was totally there. For the first time, I felt like I was in the room. I was part of this world. I was here. And that was a big deal for me: coming up, making this character and being the individual that you want to be, and dedicating all my time, all my efforts, all my everything to this musical endeavor. That’s a world of its own. Everything else is locked out. It’s like I was saying about the distractions. The only distractions I had was the ones that I let in. That was pretty easy for me to just devote all of my concentration and attention on what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be. For a lot of people, that’s kind of difficult, so it’s a tap dance. You have to dance lightly with it, because it can wear you out, and it wore me out. Actually, building that monster was like Frankenstein. Frankenstein, that boy turned on you. And that’s a real thing, you know? You see it all the time when these child stars get hooked on these characters and don’t know how to come out. That’s what happened to me. I got hooked in that Bootzilla character and I couldn’t go to the store and be William. I couldn’t be a regular guy. I couldn’t dress like a normal person. I still have a little problem with that, but at least I know. The awareness has got a lot to do with it as well.

Clayton Perry: You are well-known for “spraying outer space bass” over the recordings of James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic. In addition to the power of “the one” downbeat, is there a particular science to making a track “funky”?

Bootsy Collins: When you are funk, you don’t even have to try to make it. It’s like asking Mike Tyson, in his day, how do you go out there and hit somebody that hard? That’s what he does. It ain’t like it’s something you have to try to do. It’s automatic. Funk is not just in the music. That’s just the “over layer.” Funk is the way we live. It was a funky situation in every situation we was in, because we didn’t have no money to get us out of it. And that’s what funk is. As a matter of fact, here’s my slogan about funk. You can put this down, because this is something for you to think about, analyze and decipher: “Funk is the continuation of nothing but the very essence of all that is.”

Clayton Perry: Okay, I’m going to think on that.

Bootsy Collins: Funk, for me, is like having nothing and having to create everything that you need out of nothing. That’s what funk is. And people that don’t live that life or don’t have that lifestyle, wouldn’t really have no idea how to do that, because they’re so used to being able to get what they need. Coming from the street, coming from where we came from, you just had to go with what you had. Whatever you had, you had to make it work. Most people on the other side, they don’t have a clue about that. You can learn so much, but you can’t learn that. You have to actually experience that. When you experience that and go through it, then you get the idea: “Oh! Okay, this is what they’re talking about.” It’s like a person that’s not addicted to drugs telling somebody that is addicted that he shouldn’t take drugs. I mean, this cat has no idea what the guy that’s addicted is going through. It’s very easy to say you shouldn’t do this, you should do that. But he’s not in that situation. It’s a kind of a “catch-22.” How do you deal with that?

Clayton Perry: Looking back on the early years, what life events gravitated you toward the bass guitar, as opposed to other instruments?

Bootsy Collins: Well, actually, I started playing guitar because my brother was playing guitar. Catfish Collins was eight years older than I. Not having a father in the house, I wanted to be like my brother. He was cool. He was older. He was a teenager. I’m like eight, nine years old, and wanted to be like my brother. Because the kids I hung around with, they laughed at me. I didn’t have the right clothes. My gym shoes weren’t up to grade. I didn’t have the Converse. I used to wear these knock-off gym shoes, which was $1.50, $2.00 a pair. So I wasn’t really on it with the style. I wasn’t up-to-date. And even the groceries. Carrying the welfare bags. People used to hide to carry the welfare. I used to carry mine because I was just glad to be able to eat. And then the same kids that were laughing at me, they were on it, too. So, that to me was funny. It was like, “You mothers is laughing at me, and y’all sitting up here eating with me.” But all of that is part of what forced me to want to play bass is because my brother played guitar, and I wanted to play with him. And the only way I could play with him was I had to switch to bass. And I did. Mama had bought me a $29 guitar and once I found out I had the opportunity to play with my brother, it was like: “Okay, how do I get a bass? I can’t ask Mama to go buy me no bass, because she did all she could do to get me the one I had.” I knew she would be like: “Boy, can you make up your mind?” I had to ask my brother could he get me some bass strings. And he got me some bass strings, and I put them on the guitar. And that was my first bass. It was a guitar turned into a bass. You know, a gig came in. His bass player couldn’t make the gig. So, my hand was in the air. I was like: “Take me!” And big brothers, they’re not into their little brothers. He didn’t want me around, but it was like I had to prove to this cat that I was worthy, I could do it. And he let me do one gig, and from that one gig, we went to James Brown, the whole Parliament-Funkadelic, and Bootsy’s Rubber Band. We played that one time, and that’s it. That’s how I got on bass, and never changed.

Clayton Perry: As you speak about the influence of your brother, I noticed that Dr. Cornel West makes two guest appearances on Funk Capital: “Spreading Hope Like Dope” and “Freedumb.” Since guest features tend to be coveted spots on an artist’s project, I would like to know more about the personal relationship you have with him behind-the-scenes. How did he become attached to – and so deeply invested in – this particular project?

Bootsy Collins: Oh, my. This cat, man. We had met probably about seven or eight years ago, and we always spoke about doing stuff together, but really nothing never materialized. And when this project came about, I called him and talked to him about would he be interested in doing this record with me.  He was like, “Where do I need to come? What time?” He was as ready as I was. It was just such a blessing, man. Him and his brother is such funk fans, music lovers. They just love to love. That alone was enough for me. I mean, this cat just has so much passion for what he does. He is just so intelligent. And not only intelligent. He’s got feelings with his intelligence. Most people with that much knowledge and wisdom don’t really have that kind of feelings for other people. But he’s totally different. He’s a brother. He’s a true, true brother. He’s a remarkable, remarkable man. And I was just honored that he wanted to jump in with no pockets of resistance. He just wanted to give it all. And he’s like anything I want to do, he’s there. Rev. Al Sharpton, the same thing. Samuel L. Jackson, the same thing. And the same thing for Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and Chuck D. The reason I wanted these cats, too, was because they have voices of hope, and that’s what I feel is missing now. People don’t have no real voices out there to hang onto. These voices on this album, I believe people will feel—not only hear—but feel the passion and the love that they have for people. And that, I think, is what’s missing. Everybody’s talking about me, me, me, me, me; and nobody’s talking about the people. Nobody’s showing the people. And that’s what this album does for people, because it’s really about the people. Who’s doing anything for the people? If I don’t do nothing else, I want to give them hope. That comes very sparingly. The whole system is not giving the people no hope, at all.

For more information on Bootsy Collins, visit his official website: http://www.bootsyalbum.com

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