Bootsy Collins

Still the grand high priest of funk at 65, Bootsy Collins re­turns tells us about star-stud­ded new al­bum World Wide Funk, hats, girls, star-shaped basses and get­ting burnt by the busi­ness

Guitarist - - Contents - Words Henry Yates

Bootsy Collins’ tele­phone man­ner doesn’t dis­ap­point. “Are you keep­ing the funk alive?” he de­mands as his open­ing gam­bit – thus set­ting the tone for the head­scratch­ing and snig­ger-in­duc­ing en­counter to fol­low. In a world of dour, sleeve-mut­ter­ing bassists, the 65-year-old is like an ex­plo­sion in a charisma fac­tory. His wardrobe sug­gests a trol­ley dash through the set of Boo­gie Nights – all star shades and gar­ish smoke­stack hats – while his pat­ter is the kind of hot-but­tered-funky drawl that make us feel sud­denly very squeaky-voiced and sub­ur­ban.

Bonkers Bootsy is a much-loved car­i­ca­ture, of course, but it’s not the full pic­ture. Be­hind that per­sona is a heavy­weight mu­si­cian with wa­ter­tight pedi­gree. In a ca­reer as glit­ter­ing as his garb, Collins made his mark in the early-70s be­hind soul god­fa­ther James Brown, brought the low-end to Ge­orge Clin­ton’s Par­lia­ment and Funkadelic, then drove the P-Funk scene with his pi­o­neer­ing Rub­ber Band and os­ten­ta­tious cus­tom Space Bass.

It’s some mea­sure of the re­spect he com­mands that new al­bum, World Wide Funk, gath­ers a roll-call of es­teemed veter­ans and ris­ing stars for 15 ri­otous, hip-buck­ing grooves. Are you pleased with World Wide Funk? “Oh yeah, man. The hard­est thing about that record for me was get­ting started. But each day I worked on it, it kept get­ting clearer. It’s like start­ing a love re­la­tion­ship with a chick. I had a re­la­tion­ship with this al­bum, y’know? I didn’t know what she was gonna say at first. Then she started speak­ing to me. And I was kinda shocked. One day you wake up and re­alise, ‘Hey, this thing is a mon­ster!’” What is it about funk that you love so much? “Funk is the root of ev­ery­thing. Funk is the essence of all that is. So that means that you can’t start noth­ing with­out funk. Funk was born be­tween an a-hole and a pee-hole. So how you gonna not be funky? I mean, ev­ery­body was born be­tween an a-hole and a pee-hole, and we all got some of that on us. And then they try to act like they’re not funky. But you’ve gotta be funky, y’know?” How did you want this al­bum to make peo­ple feel? “I want them to feel the en­ergy, the hap­pi­ness, the joy and good vibes. That’s the whole thing be­hind World Wide Funk. It’s to elim­i­nate the pain you’re go­ing through and hope­fully bring a smile on your face. Y’know, I might say some­thing to­tally stupid out of the clear blue that will make you laugh while you’re groov­ing. For me, this al­bum is right on time. We’re in a deep place. So if I can pull any­body up, that’s what I’m here for. It’s big­ger than us. I gotta spread that hope and joy. Be­cause that’s the best rem­edy for our tri­als and tribu­la­tions.” What can bass do that guitar can’t? “It’s the thing that brings you the one [that is the first beat of the bar]. Rhyth­mi­cally, the bass can move those fre­quen­cies. Those fre­quen­cies are like the essence of life. They can help you get in tune with a woman. Or stay in tune with the woman – while the guitar is go­ing all over the place. That’s good, too. But the bass is the ba­sics. With­out the base­ment, can’t noth­ing be built on top. That’s ba­si­cally what the bass is. It starts in the base­ment and it moves to the top. And it can shake you pretty hard.” What was your ap­proach to bass on the new al­bum? “I was get­ting back to play­ing melodies and basslines. To me, that’s what the bass needs. I had to­tally got away from that. So this al­bum, for me, goes back to the be­gin­ning, and takes it to a higher en­ergy level.” What are your favourite bass mo­ments? “Worth My While, Push­er­man, World Wide Funk. It’s the mo­ments when I went out and then I come back, y’know? That to me is kinda my sig­na­ture. I want to play it, then go out, take up the space a lit­tle bit – then bring it back to the one. I liked what I did on Come Back Bootsy along with Eric Gales. He was play­ing guitar and I had to fol­low his so­los, and try­ing to play guitar lines was a stretch. Es­pe­cially with Eric, be­cause he’s kinda deep.” What bass tone were you shoot­ing for on the new al­bum?

“On­stage, I do all this hard fuzz stuff, and on this al­bum, I wanted to es­tab­lish that, along with the talk­ing bass sound. I got the whole ped­al­board thing go­ing on. There’s the Big Muff, the Mu-Tron III, the Mor­ley Fuzz Wah and for de­lay it was the Even­tide [H9]. I used these preamps from War­wick Jonas Hell­borg, along with a couple of M9 Mesa/Boo­gies. De­pend­ing on the song, I go back and forth, see what sounds best.” The Mu-Tron has al­ways been key to your sound, hasn’t it? “Def­i­nitely. That was the start of my whole sig­na­ture sound. I was us­ing that when no­body knew what the heck that was. When I did the Stretchin’ Out al­bum [1976], my en­gi­neer at the time didn’t like it. He was one of those Mo­town en­gi­neers up in Detroit. So he was like, ‘Why you hook­ing up pedals? Come on, man, just plug that thing in!’ But I didn’t want to sound like ev­ery­body else. I wanted to sound wa­tery and rub­bery and wet. Then he started help­ing me get the sound.

“And the record came out and peo­ple started re­ally get­ting into it: ‘Oh man, how d’you get that sound?’ I was just try­ing out dif­fer­ent stuff to see what was gonna stick. That one stuck to me pretty hard, be­cause it just sounded so un-bass-like.” Are you still play­ing your sig­na­ture War­wick bass? “Yeah, def­i­nitely. We took that all around the world for a good four years, and I was like, ‘Well, I gotta do some stuff on the record with this, be­cause it’s got that funk on it.’ I like the shape. I like that it ain’t as heavy as my orig­i­nal Space Bass. That’s re­ally heavy. But I never even paid any at­ten­tion to that, be­cause it was al­ways my baby any­way. I didn’t care how heavy it was. The harder it was to play, the bet­ter. It was good for me. But then, when they made the War­wick, it’s much lighter. I would say it’s eas­ier for me to play. But I still haven’t had any­thing to touch the sound of that orig­i­nal Space Bass. It’s just so thick. It’s deep. The War­wick is the only thing that came close. That’s why I love the War­wick. It proved it­self.” Where’s the orig­i­nal Space Bass now? “It’s right here in my lit­tle med­i­ta­tion room. And it ain’t goin’ nowhere! Last time I took it out, I went to Europe in 1998 – and they lost it! It was on the same plane as me, and we get off over in Europe some­where, and they couldn’t find it.

“Bernie Wor­rell had a friend with the air­line, and the only rea­son we found it was be­cause she ac­tu­ally walked down in the [bag­gage han­dling area] and saw it just sit­ting by it­self. Once we did that tour and I got back home, I said, ‘Nah, it’s get­ting too deep. I can’t take this out any­more.’ That’s the orig­i­nal one, y’know, the 1975. So I’m like, ‘Nah, I can’t’. Be­cause it got stolen too, back in the day. So then, when this hap­pened, it re­minded me of that. I didn’t know if I was gonna get it back!” Do you own more basses or more hats? “[hoots with laugh­ter] That’s pretty good, man. I never counted them. That’s close, man. Prob­a­bly more basses.” When you play a star-shaped bass, ev­ery­one is go­ing to look at you. Does that ap­peal? “Oh yeah, that was al­ways the in­ten­tion. When we started, it was like, ‘I wanna play, be­cause I wanna get the girls, I wanna take them out, we’re gonna have some wine.’ It was all about play­ing to get the girls, y’know? Back then, it wasn’t about get­ting paid, it was just about get­ting on­stage and hav­ing fun with the girlies, y’know? I guess that kinda stuck with me. And so any­thing stupid – or any­thing that looked crazy or weird – I was all into it.”

“Funk is the root of ev­ery­thing. Funk is the essence of all that is. You can’t start noth­ing with­out funk. You’ve gotta be funky”

Bass-Rigged-Sys­tem fea­tures you, Stan­ley Clarke, Vic­tor Wooten and Manou Gallo. That’s got to be the most bass le­gends ever as­sem­bled on one track, right? “Oh man, that’s what I was shoot­ing for. And they re­ally came through. When it’s time, you just can’t stop, so I prob­a­bly got more stuff that we didn’t use than what we did. So there is a part two and part three to all of that. I al­ways cut more than what I need.” What was it re­ally like play­ing bass for James Brown? “When I first got there, I guess he was an­noyed that I played a whole lotta basslines, in­stead of just lock­ing with the groove and givin’ him some­thing he could hold on to. I was all over the place, be­cause I’d learned on a guitar, y’know, so I didn’t know noth­ing about what a bass was sup­posed to do. I was lis­ten­ing to my boy James Jamer­son – I was try­ing to be like him, get his lines. I mean, no­body could never play like him. But I was try­ing to get what the bass is all about.

“James Brown was like, ‘You gotta give me the one. You can play all that other stuff when­ever you want to – but give me that one.’ When he told me that, it cleared ev­ery­thing up for me. What­ever came to me, I played it, but I made sure, with the drum­mer, I was with the down­beat. And it started work­ing.” Was it dif­fer­ent with Ge­orge Clin­ton? “Ge­orge gave me the free­dom to do what­ever I wanted. His phi­los­o­phy was: what­ever you can bring to the ta­ble, bring it – ’cos I’m funkin’ with all of it.” How proud are you of the Rub­ber Band? “Oh yeah, very proud of that time. But I got in­tro­duced to the busi­ness part of it – and I hate that. Y’know, the mu­sic, play­ing in the band, that’s the beloved. That’s what you get in it for. Then you find out you gotta take care of busi­ness, pay peo­ple, do this, fig­ure out that. It’s like, ‘Aw, man’. I think that’s the downer for a lot of mu­si­cians. Y’know, back in the day, you get in it to play. But it’s kinda like Ge­orge said: the big­ger the headache, the big­ger the pill. That’s true. The big­ger you get, the more busi­ness you have to take care of. It’s crazy. You need ac­coun­tants, lawyers. That’s why Jimi and all these cats freaked out, man. They didn’t want to hear noth­ing about busi­ness – they just wanted to play!”

Bootsy and his fa­mous Space Bass dur­ing the 1970s P-Funk hey­day of the Rub­ber Band, Par­lia­ment and Funkadelic

Bootsy Collins al­ways de­sired his bass style to sound rub­bery

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