Grammy-winning funk icon Bootsy Collins shares lessons learned from James Brown and George Clinton and describes working on his new CD with people not known for music—like Dr. Cornel West and Rev. Al Sharpton.
Musician Bootsy Collins
Tavis: Pleased to welcome Bootsy Collins to this program. The funk music icon is, of course, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his pioneering work with James Brown and, of course, Parliament Funkadelic. He’s out now with a new solo project and it’s cold, featuring a who’s who of guests from music academia and beyond. More on that in a moment. The disc is called “Tha Funk Capital of the World.” From the CD now, some of the behind-the-scenes making of “Tha Funk Capital of the World.”
Tavis: Is there anybody who ain’t on this record? (Laughter) (Unintelligible) baby. Good to see you, man.
Bootsy Collins: Oh, man. It’s good to be in the house, Tavis, thanks for having me, man, definitely.
Tavis: No, man, please, you worked this thing out. Why, how did you end up with, like, every Negro on the planet – (laughter) it is the funk capital of the world, I guess.
Collins: It is. It definitely is.
Tavis: But seriously, from – you saw the names – Snoop, Ice Cube, Chuck D, Al Sharpton, Cornel West, Samuel Jackson, my boy Mike Philips, Sheila E., Bobby Womack, Bela Fleck –
Collins: Yeah, that’s right.
Tavis: That’s just halfway. I’m going to stop reading, I ain’t got enough time. (Laughter) But it’s a wonderful tribute to you, I think, Bootsy, that all of these folk wanted to appear on your stuff.
Collins: Yeah, and it was just a good, like a down-home good meeting of the minds and souls to just have people like Dr. West, Reverend Al Sharpton, Samuel L. Jackson, cats that are not really noticed as musicians, artists, that kind of thing.
What I wanted to do was have a musical biography of people I looked up to, people – where’d I get my funk from. The people that encouraged me, the people that inspired me, the people that had voices, and the people that really brought me through when I was having really tough times.
These voices. It’s like, where are these voices? I want to make sure that these voices showed up today because we need these voices more now than ever.
Tavis: How do they do when they get into studio with Bootsy Collins and you’ve got Cornel West on the mic, Sharpton on the mic, Samuel L. Jackson on the mic? How do they do when Bootsy picks up that bass? How does it work out?
Collins: They just act a fool. (Laughter) Act a fool. It was so much fun, man. Like I say, no pockets of resistance. Everybody that was involved with this record wanted to be on this record, and it was amazing for me.
I’ll tell you, the real shocking thing for me was to see Dr. West come in the studio laughing and talking and everything, and he asked me what the concept was. I told him, “Everybody got smartphones but we’re still making dumb decisions.” He said, “Hold it. Where’s a mic?” (Laughter) “Show me the mic.”
Got him to the microphone booth –
Tavis: And he just (unintelligible) freestyle.
Collins: He just went, right off the top, no write. It reminded me of man, this is the way we used to walk in the studio, and we’d just record it.
Tavis: It helps that the track you gave him to work with, though –
Tavis: – is called “Freedumb,” F-R-E-E-D-U-M-B, “Freedumb.”
Collins: Dumb, that’s right, that’s right.
Tavis: Where do you come up with concepts like this?
Collins: Well, they just come in. The concepts come in because of I guess things that I’m getting fed, things that I see, and then for me it’s always been the trick on words, the play on words, and I learned that in the streets.
Tavis: Yeah, growing up in Cincinnati.
Collins: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: In ‘Nati.
Collins: Yeah, the Nasty ‘Nati. (Laughter) We just loved the part of going around the bush and saying what you wanted to say, but making it like an extravaganza, like is he really talking about this, or is he talking about that? That, for me, is an art form, and to see people have different opinions on what is he talking about.
Tavis: So the message behind a song like “Freedumb” is what?
Collins: The message behind it is, like I said, we’ve got all these smartphones and we’re still making dumb decisions. The smartphones are smarter than us. Why is that? It shouldn’t be like that.
We’re the smartest – we’re supposed to be, but we’re making these dumb decisions that don’t make no kind of sense.
Tavis: We’re free to be dumb.
Collins: We’re free to be dumb and dumber, and it’s our choice. We don’t have to be like that.
Tavis: There’s a –
Collins: Dr. West came through and let them know no, no, you don’t have to be like that.
Tavis: You have a wonderful tribute on here to your man, the Godfather, James Brown.
Collins: Yes, yes, that’s right, that’s right.
Tavis: I love the story. I’ll let you tell it right quick, the story, (laughter) and you have to know James Brown to know that anybody playing with James was never good enough. (Laughter) I don’t care who you were, Bootsy Collins, you’re never good enough for James Brown.
Collins: Oh, no, not at all.
Tavis: You’re not – “Son, you gotta get on the one.”
Collins: You got –
Tavis: I love this. Tell the story about the night James pulled you off to the side –
Collins: He pulled me.
Tavis: – said, “Bootsy, you ain’t on the one.”
Collins: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter) Well, he used to kind of do that every night. (Laughter) But this one particular night he came up with the “one” rap. It was, like, he was sitting in the – he had a towel over his legs and naked, towel, and blood coming off his knees.
Tavis: From all that dancing.
Collins: All that dancing and everything. We done killed them. We done killed them dead.
Tavis: And you know you killed them.
Collins: And we know we done killed them and the people laying out there, they still in the aisle, they all dead. (Laughter) It’s like they ain’t got no more funk in them. We done drained them.
Then he called us back there and said, “Nah, nah, nah, son. Lemme tell you – you ain’t got the one. You didn’t give it to me; you didn’t get it on the one.” And we looked at each other like, “What is he talking about?” Because we know we done killed him. And he keeps calling us back in there with the same rap about we didn’t do it.
So it’s like, “I gotta tell you what the one is. You gotta stop playing all that other stuff – well, tell you what. Play what you feeling, I love what you feeling, but gimme that one. Gimme that one. And the one is, one, (makes noise) one. Every time I give you that thing, one, you bring it down on the one. One.”
If you listen to the records, every time he’s doing this, we’re giving him that one. (Makes noise) Every time.
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughs)
Collins: So it’s like that’s the one that he taught me, and ever since he gave me that, it locked my bass playing up. Because I was a guitar player and I didn’t get taught how to play bass. I was forced into playing bass because I wanted to play with my brother, Catfish, who was the guitar player, and I wanted to play with him.
Tavis: The late, great Catfish.
Collins: Yeah, yeah. So in order to play with him I had to switch my guitar into a bass.
Tavis: What was James’s line about heel-to-toe, something like that?
Collins: Oh, “If you ain’t on heel and toe, you got to blow. You got to blow.” That was his name, that was it. (Laughter)
Tavis: It cracks me up every time I hear this or think of this – you are regarded as one of the coldest bass players ever to walk the face of the planet, and that’s not how you started. You started on guitar and had to work your way into the bass to play with your brother.
Collins: Yes, yes.
Tavis: Yet you end up being – I think “proficient” is an insult. You’re not proficient; you’re one of the coldest cats to ever pick it up. How did that happen?
Collins: I don’t even know. I just know that I had this unstoppable drive that wasn’t nothing going to stop me from doing this music. I didn’t know – and it wasn’t a drive about making all the money in the world, about being famous. My drive was getting my mother up off the floor from cleaning these houses, scrubbing it with the toothbrush.
My drive was that, getting her out of the ghetto where we was at. My brother, playing with him. Those were the two things that drove me to just play this music. I didn’t know when it was going to happen, didn’t know where, but I knew I had to do it.
Tavis: Cincinnati has produced some great artists, but when we think of great artists and record labels we think of Detroit, we think of Memphis, of course Motown and Stax, et cetera. What was the music scene like in Cincinnati?
Collins: Oh, man.
Tavis: How did you get into the funk in Cincinnati?
Collins: King Record was the spot, man. That was the melting pot for all the funk that was coming up in that area. James Brown was the kingpin of that one. You had Hank Ballard, who actually wrote “The Twist.” You had Bill Doggett, Arthur Prysock, Isley Brothers. All these people were recording right there at King Records.
We were, like, young and wanting to be around just to see these artists come into King Records. We didn’t have a chance, we felt like, to play with these people, but it was like just hanging around just to see them. Then we got an opportunity, one of the A&R guys came over to the club and wanted to hear us.
He came over and heard us and said, “Oh, no, y’all got to be my studio band.” So he took us over in King Records. That was our first opportunity to get in King. We knew once we get in there, it’s on, because it’s about getting down, it’s about throwing down.
Tavis: You mentioned earlier what you took and what you learned from James Brown. What did you take way – we know what you brought; we hear that on the record. What did you take away from hanging out with George Clinton all those years? (Laughter) What’d you learn from that? We know what you brought to the party. George Clinton couldn’t have made it without Bootsy.
Collins: Oh, man.
Tavis: But what do you learn from a guy like George Clinton?
Collins: Well, you know what? George Clinton actually extended everything I thought in the first place as far as the cosmic view, as far as there’s no walls behind the sky. George Clinton gave me a belief in myself that I needed.
As a young man coming up without a father in the home, he gave me the freedom to experiment with myself, experiment with my music. Like right there, it’s like he said, “Go ahead and do it. If you want to do it, go ahead and do it,” and he kind of opened the door for me to let me do it.
He trusted me. So anybody that trusts you back in the day with their works, and we called our drugs our works, so anybody that trusts you with that trusts you with their life.
Tavis: Why is it that you think you’re still here making this good music? In other words, how did you survive? Drugs took out so many people, and you had your own issues, of course. But you’re still here; you’re still funking it up and putting it out. What do you make of the fact that Bootsy Collins is still doing his thing and you survived that period?
Collins: Well, I think basically all my mama’s prayers. My fans, all of them was praying for me and hoping that I pulled through. The fact that every mistake I made I tried to make sure I learned something from it – not only learned something from it, put an action to it.
That’s what we fail at. We learn a lot, but the actions we don’t put behind those things that we learn and we continue to make the same mistakes. I think that’s where I kind of grew, right there.
Tavis: I’m glad you’re here, man, and still doing what you do. How’s my favorite restaurant in Cincinnati doing?
Collins: Oh, yeah, we’re still kicking and looking forward to kicking it even further. We’re looking to do the whole Black experience club thing.
Tavis: All right.
Collins: Open it all the way up.
Tavis: If you’re in Cincinnati they got a great restaurant called Bootsy’s (laughter) that you got to go check out. You’ll have a good time and you’ll enjoy the food. But until you get to Cincy what you can do is pick up this new project, and trust me it will – it’s funky. It’s called “Bootsy, the Funk Capital of the World.” Bootsy, honored to have you on, man. Thanks for your work, man.
Collins: And don’t forget we’re into the second semester of Funk University.
Tavis: I love it.
Collins: Larry Graham, Stanley Clarke.
Tavis: Teaching online.
Collins: Verdine White. Everybody at the funk capital. It’s FunkUniversity.com.
Tavis: Yeah, Funk U.
Collins: Yes. (Laughter) (Unintelligible)
Tavis: (Unintelligible) baby. (Unintelligible) baby.
Collins: Wind me up. (Laughter)
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