Encore: Bootsy Collins Brings Back The Funk

Before Bootsy Collins helped usher in the era of funk, he played bass for James Brown and George Clinton's Parliament Funkadelic. Now he's back with a new album called "Tha Funk Capital of The World." Collins blends hip-hop, spoken word and Latin flavor with the classic soul and funk for which he is known.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, the last in our miniseries of recipes for your Fourth of July feast. But, first, on this Independence Day, it's time to enjoy your freedom to get funky.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BOOTSY COLLINS: Right now it is indeed my funked up pleasure to introduce to you from the silver screen to HD to Blu-ray, tell me what I say... (Singing) We going to burn this mother out.

MARTIN: He helped usher in the era of funk playing bass for James Brown and George Clinton's Parliament Funkadelic all before striking out on his own. Of course we're talking about Bootsy Collins. Here recently talked with us about his new album, "The Funk Capital of the World." On it he blends what's hot now: hip hop beats, spoken word, and even a little Latin flavor with a classic soul and funk for which he is known around the world.

And Bootsy told us what inspired his latest music.

COLLINS: I looked at this album as my whole musical biography. I wanted to express how important it was to have people in your life that inspired you. They say, where'd you get your song from? Well, you know, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix. These were very important and influential people, not only to the world, but to me as I was coming up.

My brother was number one Phelps "Catfish" Collins, who was eight years older than I. And I looked up to him because I didn't have a father in the home. So my brother was very important to me. And he played guitar. So that's what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a guitar player. So he was the first one to inspire me to do something with my life. And I was so glad that he was there.

MARTIN: I want to talk a little bit more about your brother and, again, we lost him, I think it was last year.

COLLINS: Yes.

MARTIN: And I'm so sorry for your loss.

COLLINS: Yes.

MARTIN: Hard to lose a sibling. But I wanted to ask, you've got some unconventional collaborations on this album. You've got Al Sharpton on the mic for a tribute to James Brown. That track is called "Still the Man."

COLLINS: "Still the Man."

MARTIN: We have to play it.

COLLINS: Please.

MARTIN: 'Cause it's too hot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STILL THE MAN"] THIS IS REVEREND)

AL SHARPTON: This is Reverend Al Sharpton. James Brown is the godfather of soul. He was not just a hot entertainer, he was not just a prolific performer, he was a historic figure. He changed music as we know it. I remember when I used to speak sometimes at his show. He would always smile when I would say there were four Bs in music: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Brown.

MARTIN: The four Bs.

COLLINS: Ain't it funky now?

MARTIN: He goes on to preach.

COLLINS: Yes.

MARTIN: How did that come about? Who approached who?

COLLINS: Well, actually, you know, I knew Reverend Al from back in the day, but what inspired me to do this was when James Brown passed, you know, it was just a void. And we knew how important, you know, he was and how important to us as black people James Brown is and I didn't want that to die. And after hearing what Reverend Al Sharpton do what he did at the funeral, it was like a no-brainer. I got to get him to do this over a JB's track. And he was as hyped to do it as I was. So when I asked him, he was, like, what do you want me to talk about? And I told him exactly what he did at James Brown's funeral - that's all he has to do. And when he got the music, that's what he did.

I mean, he didn't think about it, he didn't write it down. It was like - it comes straight from the heart. And that's what wanted.

MARTIN: People might not remember that James Brown was a mentor to Reverend Al Sharpton as well.

COLLINS: Yes.

MARTIN: In fact, he wears his hair in tribute to James Brown. But this was a huge break for you touring with his band. You were only 17 years old, as I recall. But you didn't stay long. In part because James Brown was known as such a tough taskmaster and you clashed. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

COLLINS: Well, it wasn't that we clashed so much. It was just - there was a lot of things that was going on during this time, you know? It was - the LSD thing was coming on strong, this peace and love thing is going on and bands want to come up and do the wild thing, you know. It's a whole new generation coming in and I'm a part of that. And I'm with James Brown, but am listening to Jimi Hendrix. So that kind of sparked the thing of, you know, I want to just be in a band and just we can freak out and just do crazy stuff. You know?

MARTIN: So it's what they call now creative differences? Is that what this all...

COLLINS: Yeah. Yeah, I would say that. You know, because I needed the discipline that James Brown had to offer me because, like I said, I came up in a house with no father. And he, you know, he definitely was the godfather. He wanted to make sure he made that father impression on me and he took it seriously. You know, I got lectured every night, which at that time was great. Because, like I said, I needed it.

MARTIN: Well, after that you worked with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Who can forget that? What are you proudest of from that period? You have to know that some of the work from that period are still classics that have to be played at any party. If there's a party, it has to be played or it's not a party.

COLLINS: Well, you know, it goes beyond music for me. I'm proudest for coming up in that time where we needed each other, where we had to play as a band, where we had to show up as a group - as a unit. Regardless of our individuality, we were still family. And today, we're taught to do our own thing individually and given the tools to do it. The smartphones and the computer separates everybody; it makes you think that you don't need nobody else.

I'm just glad to have come up in the time where I know I needed somebody else and I had to talk to somebody else. And, you know, it was like the real deal and not the (bleep). You know? Meaning I could get in the car and rap to a chick, you know. And, you know, the next thing I know I don't know what's going to be happening, but I'm going to give it my, you know, my full funkability. You know? And whatever happens, happens.

MARTIN: I see.

COLLINS: Wasn't no pre-programming, no pre-planning. The funk just, you know, just showed up and whatever happened, happened. So...

MARTIN: Well, some of that though, if you're talking about sex though. Some of that is HIV/AIDS. I mean there are - do you know what I mean? I don't know. You're not just talk about sex. But it's in part what you're talking about is that part of the thing is that doing whatever is deadly, right?

COLLINS: Well, you know, but the fun part of it was actually trying to get the sex. You know, who had the best rap? Who had the, you know, the game rap to get in there and get down? You know, that for us was - and that came across in the records.

MARTIN: So that's been lost? You think that the art of the rap has been lost?

COLLINS: Oh, yeah. Yes. Come on, please. I mean everything is so in-your-face now, you know, it's like telling you exactly what I want. You know? What I liked about it was, you know, when the chick comes in and, you know, she ain't showing you all of this and all of that. And you have to try to convince her that she needs to come out of that. You know, that's funk.

Today, she just walks in ready to get down. That ain't no fun. You know, we were looking forward to having some fun with it. You know?

MARTIN: So the pursuit was the...

COLLINS: The pursuit, the experience...

MARTIN: ...the art of it.

COLLINS: ...the whole art of it has been taken out of the game. Now it's like, okay, give me this and I'll see you later. Give me that, I'll see you later. It's all, you know, it's nothing there.

MARTIN: May be you should write a relationship book.

COLLINS: Maybe we should write it together.

MARTIN: Oh, I don't know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Bootsy Collins, the Funk Machine. He has a new album out called "Tha Funk Capital of the World." And he's also dropping some knowledge on some other topics...

COLLINS: I'm being forced to.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, you know, I was going to ask if that's the fact that maybe - you were saying earlier that one of the things that you liked about that era is that you realized you needed people. Is that partly why you've got so many collaborations on this? You've got, as we previously mentioned, Al Sharpton but Dr. Cornel West is on it; also Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Chuck D, all of that. You know?

COLLINS: And if you notice all of the people that I do have, have respected voices in their era and in their arena of what they've done or what they're doing. For me, when I was growing up, we had these powerful voices in the community, which told us to be black was cool. 'Cause before that, you know, it wasn't cool to be black. It wasn't cool to be funky. We didn't realize we like being black until James Brown said: Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud.

Then we realized it's a good thing. But those types of things we're not getting now on the level that we need them, because their programming is so heavy about everything else and all these other things distracting us, we're not realizing that were being separated. When we was in the cotton fields and working together, sweating and singing, nobody else understood that. It's like what the heck are they singing about? But we had faith and we worked together. We did everything together.

Now that's been taken away and...

MARTIN: But is that so wrong though? I mean a lot of people

COLLINS: That's not...

MARTIN: ...work for that to have the opportunity to do, live wherever they want, sing with whoever they want, with however, whatever kind...

COLLINS: It's nothing wrong with it. But it becomes bad for you when you throw the baby out with the bathwater. You don't want to throw all that way and just play with yourself. Because that's all you're doing is playing with yourself when you get on the computer by yourself, in your room. And even when you're traveling, you've got your iPhone.

Nothing is wrong with it. But when you're being completely separated from people and working with people, that's when it becomes bad for your health. And that's what we're talking about.

MARTIN: So partly, you want to set an example by producing an album...

COLLINS: Yes.

MARTIN: ...that has a lot of other voices on it, a lot of people on it and showing how it can be done.

COLLINS: Yes, showing. You know, it ain't really about me and this album. It's about spreading awareness now, and hoping that we get some real talent and some wisdom with that real talent at an early age. And that's what I'm trying to get them to do - love where they're at, love themselves and be aware of who you are and your history. Go back and connect the dots. You know, you can even Google it, baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: You know, that's why I got - that's why I put on those things like, if you check out the jazz greats on the tribute, I wanted them to Google up those names, 'cause I know they don't know who, you know, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery. They have no clue who these cats are that opened the door for us as musicians. And I want them to check that out.

MARTIN: One person who opened the door for you, helped open the door for you was your older brother, Phelps, known as Catfish, whom we spoke of earlier.

COLLINS: Yes.

MARTIN: And as we mentioned, he passed away last year. And we're so sorry about that. You came up together.

COLLINS: Yes.

MARTIN: Him on the guitar, you on the bass, and you have track on the album called "Don't Take My Funk."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: Yes.

MARTIN: How did that work? Did he...

COLLINS: Well, actually, we had recorded that probably about four, maybe five years ago. And I had recorded it for another project, another album. And, of course, I didn't have creative control so it was like this is a little bit too old for what we're trying to do. We're trying to make you new school. We're trying to make you commercial.

So I went with it. I had committed myself. But at the same time, it was like I knew that that wasn't really me. On this album I got a chance to be me. I got a chance to bring who I wanted, who I felt that people needed to have hope in. I'm spreading hope like dope.

MARTIN: Okay.

COLLINS: And that's what this album is all about, spreading hope.

MARTIN: Well, hold up. All right, let's play a little of it before we let you go.

COLLINS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Here is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T TAKE MY FUNK AWAY")

COLLINS: (Singing) Oh-oh, now. Don't take my funk away, don't take my funk away. Don't you do it away, baby. Don't take my funk away, don't take my funk away. Been looking for a long time. Don't take my funk away, don't take my funk away. Ah, I can't do without the funk. Don't take my funk away, save it for a rainy day. Now don't leave my heart...

MARTIN: Nobody could take your funk away. That can't happen.

COLLINS: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: That could not possibly happen. You know, before I let you go, I can't let you go without asking you, what is funk?

COLLINS: Funk is exactly what we've been talking about. Funk is the absence of any and everything you can think of, but the very essence of all that is. And saying that, I'm saying funk is anything that we create in our minds that we want to, what we want to be, but we don't have the resources. We don't have the money to get these things. But it takes the belief, it takes her mama's prayers, it takes a community, it takes all of that to help build a mug's confidence in himself.

Because we've been torn down so much, it's like we don't even believe in ourselves no more. So it takes all of that. And that's what funk is. Funk is that driving force that you know is there when ain't nobody else there, and you can create the things you need. Give your perfect example. I played guitar when I first got started because of my brother, Catfish. I wanted to be just like him.

So the opportunity came where he needed a bass player. And I said I'm the man, I can do it. It's like you don't even have a bass. I said, well, if you give me four strings, if you can get four strings, I will have a bass. And I made a bass out of that guitar.

And that same bass that I played with him that night was the same bass that I played all the way up until we got with James Brown. That's funk, making something out of nothing

MARTIN: All right.

COLLINS: And that's what we as people are known to do.

MARTIN: Well, you heard it from the master himself, that's what funk is.

COLLINS: Yes, it is.

MARTIN: So what shall we go out on? We can play - we have a Jimi Hendrix song. We got...

COLLINS: Ooh.

MARTIN: ...we have "Mirror Tell Lies." Want that?

COLLINS: Yeah.

MARTIN: You like that?

COLLINS: Hit us with some "Mirror."

MARTIN: All right, "Mirror Tell Lies." That is the legendary Bootsy Collins.

COLLINS: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: His new album is called "Tha Funk Capital of the World." And he joined us from member station WABE in Atlanta.

Could you hit me with one more, with one of those baby? Is that, you know, you know how you say: Go on, it's like that, baby. Come on, hit me with one of those.

COLLINS: Ah, funk it out, babah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: Yeah, baby.

MARTIN: Alright.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: Hey, Michel. You know your name could be Melody, baby. Yeah, babah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Yeah, I'm done now. Bootsy Collins, thank you.

COLLINS: Oh, thank you so much. All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SONG, "MIRROR TELL LIES")

COLLINS: (Singing) 90 miles per hour really ain't that fast. Come on, you keep looking for a heart that you can rely on. Well, Ima tell you right now, you better just slide on. Because truth would turn to love and love turns into strength...

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.