Iconic funk pioneer Bootsy Collins has recently been concentrating his efforts in the studio on nurturing a new generation of funkateers, acting as a coach for up-and-coming songwriters seeking to follow in his footsteps. As 2020 got underway, he started using his influential platform to support the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund, a charity designed to financially assist music makers affected by the pandemic. Taking that mission a step further, Bootsy conceptualized “Stars,” a collaborative new track designed to uplift and inspire during these trying times, with all the proceeds going back to MusiCares’ relief fund. Watch the video for “Stars” below and read our exclusive Q&A with the Funk Icon.
June 12, 2020 — By Alex Smith
Bringing an innate dexterity to his bass playing, the young, Cincinnati-born Bootsy helped fuel James Brown’s genre-splicing band, The J.B,’s, in the early 1970’s, forging the sound and style that would come to be known as funk, a deeply danceable hybrid of soul, R&B and jazz that put the emphasis on the rhythm. Honed by Brown’s demanding perfectionism, Bootsy’s already accomplished talents became synonymous with that sound and sensibility, crucially underpinning seminal Brown recordings like “Get Up (I Feel Like Being) a Sex Machine,” “Super Bad,” “The Grunt” and countless others with his nimble low-end tone.
From there, Bootsy relocated to Detroit where he met George Clinton, a visionary singer/songwriter/producer who was taking James Brown’s formula for funk to bold new frontiers. Bootsy was recruited to join Clinton in the burgeoning Funkadelic, the flashpoint of a long association that would birth the most celebrated and recognizable funk records under the banner of Parliament-Funkadelic. Within the ranks for Clinton’s so-called “P-Funk” collective, Bootsy leant his stellar playing (and distinctive vocal delivery) to classic albums like Up from the Down Stroke, Chocolate City, Mothership Connection, Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, Motor Booty Affair and several others. Cultivating a futuristic image to match his suitably otherworldly playing (augmented by the adoption of his signature Spacebass, a star-shaped instrument that fit his aesthetic to a tee), Bootsy Collins and Parliament-Funkadelic boasted a visually arresting brand. Bootsy also launched his own side-band, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, a tight, versatile ensemble that released five of its own albums, forever cementing Bootsy Collins in the firmament of the faith of funk. The rest, as they say, was funk history.
Bootsy kept writing, collaborating and performing live well into the next few decades, working with everyone from maverick producer Bill Laswell and Jerry Harrison of funk-acolytes in Talking Heads through leaders of a new generation of the groove like Deee-Lite and British electronic artist Fatboy Slim. In 1997, Bootsy was inducted as a member of Parliament-Funkadelic into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. An incalculably influential figure on hip-hop, Bootsy’s music and style have been sampled and emulated in countless recordings, making him something of a patron saint of the genre.
BMI caught up with the funk legend to talk about his pioneering music, his amazing legacy and his efforts to help his fellow music creators in this difficult time. Here’s what he had to say.
Tell me a little bit about “Stars,” your new single to support those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic you've put together with MusiCares. How did this idea come about?
While working on my new album for 2020, the pandemic hit. I was about 75% finished with the album. At that time, I saw gigs, shows and everything being cancelled for all my fellow musicians and myself. I thought “well, this is a great time for me to do something uplifting for the artists, for the communities and people all over the world.” At that time, I did not have the right song on the album, so I went through my archives and picked a song that I thought would be very appropriate. Once that was accomplished, I felt I needed a fresh voice and writing partner. Then I thought of EmiSunshine. She would be perfect for the vocals. I had just met her maybe five months ago, and she had a certain twinkle in her eye that felt good, and I thought it might be good on this song. That’s where “Stars” was born. We chose MusiCares to be the recipient of the funds from the downloads of the song to raise money for all the musicians around the word, because they have helped musicians in times of need and times like right now.
Your sound is both immediately recognizable and singularly your own. How did you
come to cultivate your particular style of bass playing? What were you trying to do?
I was searching and experimenting with sounds for my Spacebass. I wanted to be different from all the other bass players before me. I played with my fingers and thumb, so when I discovered the Mutron pedal, it made my Spacebass sound like it was talking from underwater. My engineer Jim Vitti, at the time at United Sound in Detroit, thought I was a stoner and playing around, so he hated to see me with all those pedals coming into the studio to record. He was so use to “plug and play.” Long story short, once he saw how people were reacting to my tone, my wet, watery sound, he jumped in and started helping me set it up in the studio, which made creating songs much easier. I could have more freedom to think about arrangements, changes, lyrics, concepts, etc.
It’s now such a widely-used term, but as one of its primary architects, how do YOU
Funk is always making something out of nothing. When we were babies, we were little bottles of funk just waiting to be poured out on the world stage. Then we began to analyze what we could do to funk thangs up. You see, funk doesn’t rely on number that count because numbers don’t count. We do! That is the pure nature of what funk is. Life began being funky, it was nothin’ but a word that became flesh and now we don’t want to smell the fumes we all made from it. Everybody’s funky. We just forgot how. What difference does it make whether you are a bull or a cow? Funk is my mother and my father.
Of all the records you’ve played on, is there a particular recording you are most
proud of and why?
That would be “I’d Rather Be With You” [from 1976] I think I found myself on this song because I used to tell all the girls that line and it always worked, so when I got a chance to record it, the song was so real to me. It was like sharing my inside story to a world I never knew. I was talking to multiple people at once, which at the time, was amazing to me. Remember, there was no internet. I found the sound I had always searched for on my Spacebass, and our singer Gary Cooper helped create that magical vocal sound with his voice combined with mine. We already knew the combo was killer, it was just a matter of getting in the studio to record it. That song was on the first album [by Bootsy’s Rubber Band] called Stretchin’ Out in a Rubber Band, produced by George Clinton and myself. It will always resonate with the Geepies, the Rubber fans and funkateers.
What advice would you give to young songwriters and music creators coming up today,
looking to emulate your impact?
Use this time for practicing, resetting your priorities, developing people skills in your communicating, and always take the time to join BMI if you have not done so as of yet, if you are a writer. I would also say, if you listen to a lot of songs recorded back in the day, the writer or the artist was going through something just like you and I are now. The key to the song is for you to become one with the words or whatever you are playing. You become the audio and visual for the people that are listening or watching. This is a very good time to write and create because our situation is real and it is affecting all of us at the same time. That means everybody can relate to what you are saying. So say it or play it.
You have worked with so many incredible people over the years. What lessons have you
learned along the way?
To always be humble, hungry and disciplined around your fellow musicians, because we are all finding our way. Musicians love to party and serve the people what they want, good times and beautiful music. Each person that I’ve worked with, I have always learned more than just music from them. By stacking up the good vibes that they shared, I made it a part of my being so that whatever I am to whomever is reading my script, they will act out their part in life. Each person is unique in their own way, and there are so many captivating people, ideas, productions, creative artworks out there that you can’t help but be creatively inspired with these kinds of people around you that are citizens of the universe. I am so thankful to each and every one of them for spending some time in the pit stop, changing wheels and strings together.
A couple of weeks back, your fellow BMI songwriter Iggy Pop released an amazing
recording his did in 1985 with you on a cover of “Family Affair” by Sly & the Family Stone.
How did that come about, and why was it shelved for so long?
I was working with Bill Laswell and he suggested it to Iggy and myself. I was coming off the road and learning how to become a better studio musician again, like when I started working at King Records in 1967, when I had to play with everyone. We had a great time recording the song, but like most artists, they be feeling out things that are going on in their lives and maybe that second verse may have been too close to home for Iggy at the time, or it could have been a number of things. Maybe the company didn’t like it, etc. etc. But, for some reason, Iggy kept the tapes around and one day if fell out of the stash. I think the timing could not have been better. I must say, hearing his voice on that song for me was so inspiring and uplifting. You know with time comes change, but his voice sounds as strong and clear as ever, or even better. I am so thankful for Iggy and Bill Laswell, he kept me sane in a time I was freakin’ out by setting up lots of artists to play with. The funny thing is in 2018, we recorded two more songs together with Iggy, I can’t tell you the names because I don’t know what he wants to do with them yet. The Iggster does it again, but he is usually on point with his timing. Let’s see where it leads.
What is the songwriter’s role during troubled times like these?
We don’t get opportunities like this often, where everybody is affected. So that means we as writers and artists have to carry the torch for the people and become the voice of the people and lift them up at a time when they can’t. We have the medicine in our songs and in our writing and performing skills that will heal people and change outlooks on cloudy days. If there was no rain, there would be no rainbows! Yes, take it personal! This is your time to shine!