Taken from Classic Rock (Nov 16, 2017)
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
by Ian Fortnam
Bootsy Collins (Photo: Dave Carlo / Press)
Having gained an enviable reputation while still a teenager â as the fleet-fingered, funk-defining space bassist with James Brownâs original J.Bâs, alongside his guitar-playing elder brother Catfish â William âBootsyâ Collins sealed his legend with Funkadelic, Parliament and Bootsyâs 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. Bootsyâs World Wide Funk album is out now.
Do you believe in God?
I donât 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 wasnât so good with that.
How would you define funk?
Iâll give you an example. You have a six-string guitar. James Brown says he needs a bass player. You donât 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 youâve got and use it to do whatever youâve gotta do. Funk is the raw ingredient of the essence of all that there is. Itâs everything but itâs nothing. And so thatâs 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: âI love all that stuff youâre doing, but youâve gotta give me The One.â I didnât know what The One was, so he explained it to me: âAlways hit The One, the downbeat. In between that you can play whatever you wanna play.â So thatâs 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 youâve 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.
Whatâs your biggest regret?
Wow. Iâve never thought about any regret. Iâve always felt everything that should happen, happened. Itâs like everything was already in place, I just had to get there. So I donât have no regrets â Iâm just glad to still be breathing.
Did Jimi Hendrix change your world?
Totally. It wasnât 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, âIf he can do it, it can be done,â and thatâs all I needed to know.
What was your biggest waste of money?
I was gonna say the drug thing, but I canât 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. Nobodyâs really with you when it happens, you just go off into the music and itâs like tripping. Supernatural is what it is, itâs so beyond the imagination, an out-of-body experience. Instead of being up on stage and playing, youâre flying high and watching the people, youâre omnipresent, and itâs one of the best feelings in the world. Or out of this world.
Whatâs the biggest misconception about you?
Just because I play funk doesnât 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 ainât all. People put me in that one corner and just assume, âThatâs all he is,â but I like playing all kinds of music.
Where do you stand politically?
I call it politricks, man. By comparison to the funk, politricks donât even count. Itâs messing stuff up more than itâs helping, and funk ainât down with it.
What in your life are you most proud of?
Iâm 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.