Bootsy Collins on playing with James Brown, learning from Hendrix, and LSD
Interview: Funk master Bootsy Collins on James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, supernature and The One
Having gained an enviable reputation while still a teenager – as the fleet-fingered, funk-defining space bassist with James Brown’s original J.B’s, alongside his guitar-playing elder brother Catfish – William ‘Bootsy’ Collins sealed his legend with Funkadelic, Parliament and Bootsy’s Rubber Band.
Inspired by Hendrix, Bootsy formed pioneering funkmetal fusion trio Hardware with Buddy Miles and Stevie Salas, before working extensively with Bill Laswell and Buckethead as Zillatron. Bootsy’s World Wide Funk album is out now.
Do you believe in God?
I don’t know what he looks like or where he came from, but yeah, absolutely.
What were you like at school?
I was a kid that loved to go to school. I really liked art, music and gym class, but being in classrooms doing history, social studies and math, I wasn’t so good with that.
How would you define funk?
I’ll give you an example. You have a six-string guitar. James Brown says he needs a bass player. You don’t have the money to buy a bass, but you can get four bass strings from your friend, put them on your guitar and take the job with James Brown. Funk is making something outta nothing. You take whatever you’ve got and use it to do whatever you’ve gotta do. Funk is the raw ingredient of the essence of all that there is. It’s everything but it’s nothing. And so that’s what funk is.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned during your time playing with James Brown?
Discipline. But he also taught me about The One. I started playing guitar to be like my brother Catfish, who was eight years older than me, but never really learned how to play bass. Then when we got with James Brown he was like: “I love all that stuff you’re doing, but you’ve gotta give me The One.” I didn’t know what The One was, so he explained it to me: “Always hit The One, the downbeat. In between that you can play whatever you wanna play.” So that’s what I started doing. And once he started liking it, I felt I was on the right track.
Which are the best and worst drugs you’ve taken?
LSD was probably the best, because it took me to places that I would never even think of. It opened my mind to a lot of things that I would never have been open to. The late sixties, early seventies was just a really good period. The music that was going on in that era was perfect, so the LSD was right on time. The worst one was cocaine, the one I got addicted to.
What’s your biggest regret?
Wow. I’ve never thought about any regret. I’ve always felt everything that should happen, happened. It’s like everything was already in place, I just had to get there. So I don’t have no regrets – I’m just glad to still be breathing.
Did Jimi Hendrix change your world?
Totally. It wasn’t just him as an entertainer or a guitar player, it was his whole embodiment of being a space being that did what he wanted to do, played the way he wanted to play, dressed the way he wanted to dress. And all of that sent signals. He was like a milestone or blueprint, especially for young black musicians coming up. It was like, “If he can do it, it can be done,” and that’s all I needed to know.
What was your biggest waste of money?
I was gonna say the drug thing, but I can’t really even say that. While it was a waste of money in a way, on the other hand I got what I got, and that had a lot to do with it.
Have you ever had a supernatural experience on stage?
Oh yeah, a lot of times. Nobody’s really with you when it happens, you just go off into the music and it’s like tripping. Supernatural is what it is, it’s so beyond the imagination, an out-of-body experience. Instead of being up on stage and playing, you’re flying high and watching the people, you’re omnipresent, and it’s one of the best feelings in the world. Or out of this world.
What’s the biggest misconception about you?
Just because I play funk doesn’t mean that funk is all I like, and that all the people I know are funky people. I do know a lot of funky people, but that ain’t all. People put me in that one corner and just assume, “That’s all he is,” but I like playing all kinds of music.
Where do you stand politically?
I call it politricks, man. By comparison to the funk, politricks don’t even count. It’s messing stuff up more than it’s helping, and funk ain’t down with it.
What in your life are you most proud of?
I’m probably most proud of my mother, that she put up with me, because I was a complete fool, and I never understood how deep down I was until she was gone. What will be written on your tombstone? He came, they saw, and we funked.