Funk ’round L.A. – Part 1:
Bootsy’s Back In “Tha Funk Capital of the World”
By Joy Childs
Sentinel Contributing Writer
At “An Evening With Bootsy Collins,” which took place at the Grammy Museum(tm) at L.A. Live last week, there he was, the bass guitar god in all his funky regalia-from multi-colored, high top hat, to his gold-colored shoes-and, of course, accompanied by his trademark star-shaped “space bass” and his starry-eyed glasses. As he would no doubt say in that tongue-in-cheek, sexy-sly voice of his, ‘Yeah, baby, Bootsy’s back!’
He wasn’t there for a performance per se, although he did briefly jam with his Funk University students at the end. The summa cum laude alumnus of the bands of the very architects of funk in the ’60s and ’70s-Bobby Byrd, Hank Ballard, James Brown and George Clinton, William E. “Bootsy” Collins gave the overflow crowd an anecdote-by-anecdote account of his funk history: from the halcyon days of his youth in the 1960s with his older brother, guitarist Phelps “Catfish” Collins and drummer Frank “Kash” Waddy in one of their earliest funk iterations called The Pacemakers, to his days as a member of the James Brown’s backup band during which time the so-called J.B.’s recorded with The Godfather on “Sex Machine,” “Superbad” and “Soul Power,” to his days as Parliament-Funkadelic’s bass man, as Casper the Funky Ghost and as Bootzilla, through the founding of Bootsy’s Rubber Band and beyond.
He had endless jokes and crazyfunny stories about his older brother/father figure/mentor “Catfish” who played guitar; about the early instrumental jazz influences of Booker T and his “idol,” Wes Montgomery; about how his mother took him to Sears to buy his first guitar with the savings from his paper route and how he then converted that guitar into a bass guitar; about how he and The Pacemakers went out on the road with Hank Ballard and Bobby Byrd and how those gigs led to James Brown sending his Lear Jet to bring the band to Columbus, GA, where Brown hired them on the spot to be his new backup band, thus giving birth to the J.B.’s; about how JB was like a second father figure to him; about why he left James Brown; and about how Mallia Franklin (the P-Funk vocalist known as the Queen of Funk introduced his band to George Clinton and how “hanging out with George Clinton taught him a lot about himself … “
“Tha Funk Capital of the World,” out in April, marks Collins’ return with his first new album in five years. Talk about collaborations? He’s got Chuck D, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Cornel West, Samuel L. Jackson, Musiq Soulchild, Ice Cube, The Bootsy Girls … and jazz great Ron Carter.
When he’s asked how the collaboration with Ron Carter came about, Collins exclaims:
“I wanted to make sure that we introduced people that pioneered the music. I mean, Ron Carter-come on! (Audience applauds loudly) It’s like, how do I make this work? This is my musical biography … and I wanted to make sure that I put as much music and as much pioneering on this album as I possibly could …”
About his online Funk University, he explains that it reaches out not just to people who play funk:
“I use the term funk ’cause that’s where I came from, that’s me, that’s what I’m recognized for. So that’s what I gotta call it! Is that all it’s gonna be? Nah. Right now it’s gonna be about funk and bass. But at the same time we’re expanding. I mean, people like Ron Carter, want to be like [him]. It’s like, ‘How’d he do that?’ I mean, he got this big bass! And those things are hard to play! Believe me-I actually tried the upright bass after school . . . cuz I played B flat clarinet in school (Audience howls) – and I played first C clarinet! Let me tell you why I played clarinet. . . It wasn’t because I was the teacher’s pet-although that would have helped! … It was because I went to summer school. And it was because I sacrificed the time and put the time in it … ’cause I didn’t wanna play clarinet. I wanted to play guitar but they didn’t have that in school. So it was like, ‘I need to be in a music class,’ I don’t care what I’m playing. I need to be in music. You know, I’ll play guitar when I get home. But when I’m in school, I need something to inspire me. To give me a reason to go to school … ’cause some of us need that-more than just getting educated, more of a reason. I needed more of a reason [to go to school] than to learn about social studies. That’s a great thing too. But if you say, ‘You go to social studies and you can go to band practice,’ I’d say, ‘Oh, band practice! What do I hafta do in social studies?’ So it’s like, certain kids need certain inspirations. And we gotta start catering to that instead of treating all kids alike … Playing that upright is so hard. I tried it. . . . but I kinda half put myself in it ’cause I asked myself, ‘How are the chicks gonna react to this … when I’m carrying this thing home? How I’m gonna have my hand around them’… So that was totally out!
It was then that the master went to work with three of his Funk U students, telling the audience, “What I’m gonna do is take you back in the day where I kinda started with James Brown … where bass amps started … This is kinda going back to when we had bass lines and we all could walk down the street and hum bass lines … “
Collins et. al. then closed out his appearance by jamming on “Cold Sweat,” on which he did a very funny/funky imitation of JB, saying “Hit me … on the one.”
But the funky fun was in full effect when he asked for some volunteer “go-go dancers” (from the audience) to join him. That’s when The Bootsy Girls (who play on track 4 of “Tha Funk Capital, on “JB-Still the Man” featuring Rev. Al Sharpton) jumped up and, along with other audience members, jammed with him-on the one, of course!
Next week: Read “Funk ’round L.A. Part 2: The Bootsy Girls.”