Bootsy Collins Brings Back The Funk

Originally published on May 19, 2011 12:03 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

And now we're about to get funky.


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...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (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. You know who I'm talking about - Bootsy Collins. Now he's back with a new album called "The Funk Capital of the World." On it he blends what's hot now in music. 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 Collins joins us now from member station WABE in Atlanta. Mr. Bootsy Collins, thank you so much for joining us.

COLLINS: Yes, I'm so happy to be here. It's a pleasure.

MARTIN: Well, I do have to ask, you know, you're known for your attire.


MARTIN: What are you rocking today?

COLLINS: Oh, today I'm pretty low key. You know, I got - you know, I don't even look at my outfits as kind of out there. It's just stuff that I just kind of put on, you know.

MARTIN: What do you got on? I mean, you're wearing some glasses, you got some color, what you got? What do you got?

COLLINS: I can't see what without my star glasses, you know, I got to have those on. Got my top hat happening, little black sparkles going on here and there.

MARTIN: See, that's what I'm talking about.


MARTIN: So, what's the inspiration for the album? You were saying it's good to get back out there. What inspired this?

COLLINS: Well, actually, 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 there was - 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.


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


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. We have to play it. Because it's too hot.

COLLINS: Please.

MARTIN: Here it is.


The 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's go on to preach.


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 I was trying to figure out who I could get that would just make it official.

And after hearing Reverend Al Sharpton do what he did at the funeral, it was like a no-brainer. I get 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, well, 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, you know, it's just there. It's in the heart. 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.


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.


MARTIN: But you didn't stay long.


MARTIN: In part because James Brown was known as such a tough taskmaster and you all clashed, if I have that right. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

COLLINS: Well, it wasn't that we clashed so much, it was just, it was a lot of things that was going on during this time, you know. It was, you know, the LSD thing was, you know, was coming on strong and 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 and but I'm 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 they call it?

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 you're the - some of the work from that period is 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, makes you think that you don't need nobody else.

I'm just glad to have come up in a 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) dough, 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 funk, funkability, you know, and whatever happens happens.

MARTIN: I see.

COLLINS: Wasn't no pre-programming, no preplanning. The funk just, you know, just showed up and whatever happen happen, so...

MARTIN: So some of that, 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 talking 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? They're a different era.

COLLINS: Well, you know, the other fun 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 (unintelligible) ? You know, that for us was and that came across in the records.

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

COLLINS: That? 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 this and all of that and you have to try to convince her that she needed 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: ...was 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: Maybe you should write a relationship book.

COLLINS: Maybe we should write it together.

MARTIN: Oh, I don't know.


MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm 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, all inclusive. All inclusive.

COLLINS: I'm being forced to.


MARTIN: Well, you know, I was going to ask about 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 got as we also...


MARTIN: We previously mentioned Al Sharpton, but Dr. Cornell West is on it.


MARTIN: 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, because before that, you know, it wasn't cool to be black. It wasn't cool to be funky. We didn't realize we liked 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 they're programming us so heavy about everything else and all these other things distracting us we're not realizing that we're 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 being taken away. And...

MARTIN: But is that so wrong, though? I mean a lot of people work for that...

COLLINS: That's not right. It's...

MARTIN: have the opportunity to do, live wherever they want, sing with whoever they want, however work for 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 away 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 got your iPhone. Nothing's wrong with it. But when you're being completely separated from people and working with people, that's when it become bad for your health and that's what we talking about.

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


MARTIN: ...and album that has a lot of other voices on it, a lot of people on it and showing how it should it been done.

COLLINS: That's 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 at, love themselves, and be aware of who you are and your history. Go back and connect the dots. You know, you could even Google it, baby.


COLLINS: You know, that 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 because I know they don't know who, you know, Miles Davis, Thesellonious(ph) 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 brother, older brother Phelps, known as Catfish...


MARTIN: ...whom we spoke of earlier and as we mentioned, he passed away last year and we're so sorry about that. You came up together.


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



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

COLLINS: Well, actually, we had recorded that probably about four maybe five years ago.


COLLINS: And I had recorded for another project, another album. And, of course, I didn't have creative control so it's 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.


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

MARTIN: Well, hold on. All right let's play a little bit of it.


MARTIN: Let's play a little bit of it...


MARTIN: ...before we let you go. Here it is.

COLLINS: (Singing) Don't take my funk away, don't take my funk away. Don't you do it 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, don't take my funk away. Now don't leave...

MARTIN: Nobody could take your funk away.


MARTIN: That can't happen. 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 do, what we want to be, but we don't have the resources, we don't have the money to get these things. But it just, it takes the belief, it takes your 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 tore 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 you a 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 me 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 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 should we go out on? We can play, we have a Jimi Hendrix song. We got...


MARTIN: We got 'Mirror Tell Lies." Want that? You like that?

COLLINS: Yeah. Hit us with some 'Mirrors." Yeah.

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

COLLINS: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: His album is called 'Tha Funk Capital of The World."


MARTIN: And he joined us from member station WABE in Atlanta. Could you hit me with one more with one of those, baby. You know, you know how you say go baby. Come on. Hit me with one of those.

COLLINS: Ah, funk it up, baba.


COLLINS: Yeah baby.

MARTIN: All right.


COLLINS: Hey, Michel?


COLLINS: You know your thing could be melody, baby. Yeah, baba.


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

COLLINS: Thank you so much. All right.

(Singing) Really ain't that bad...

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. And remember, to tell us more, you can always go to and find us under the Programs tab. You can also follow us on Twitter. Just look for TELL ME MORE/NPR News. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.