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Bootsy Collins On His Special Blend Of Funk


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. And we're about to get funky with a special rebroadcast.


BOOTSY COLLINS: (Singing) We're going to turn this mother out. We're going to turn this mother out. We're going to turn this mother out...

MARTIN: He played 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.

We last talked with Bootsy about his latest album, "Tha Funk Capital of the World." On it, he blends what's hot now - hip-hop beats, spoken word, even a little Latin flavor - with the classic soul and funk for which he is known around the world. And Bootsy began our conversation by telling us about the funk-inspired outfit he decided to wear for the interview.

COLLINS: Oh, today, I'm pretty low key. You know, I got the - 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 you got on? I mean, you're wearing some glasses. You got the - some color. What's happening? What you got? What do you got?

COLLINS: I can't see 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 and...

MARTIN: See? That's what's I'm talking about. 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 funk 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'm so glad that he was there.

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

COLLINS: Yes, yes.

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

COLLINS: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: That's hard. 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...


MARTIN: ...for a tribute to James Brown. That track is called "Still the Man."

COLLINS: "Still the Man."

MARTIN: We have to play it because it's too hot.

COLLINS: Please.


REVEREND AL SHARPTON: This is Reverend Al Sharpton. James Brown, 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: And he goes on to preach.


MARTIN: How did that come about? How did - 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 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...

MARTIN: Well, many people might...

COLLINS: ...that's what I 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...

COLLINS: Exactly.

MARTIN: ...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, in part, because...


MARTIN: ...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 - 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, 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 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 (censored). 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? In a different era.

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, OK, 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.


MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. This is a special rebroadcast of y interview I'm speaking with Bootsy Collins, talking about his album, "Tha Funk Capital of the World."

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 also...


MARTIN: 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 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 their programming is 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 been taken away and...

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

COLLINS: It's not...

MARTIN: ...worked 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 play 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 talking about.

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


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.


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.


MARTIN: And you came up together.


MARTIN: Him on the guitar, you on the bass, and you have 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 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.


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.


MARTIN: Here is.


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 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 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 you 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...


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


MARTIN: You like that?

COLLINS: Hit us with some "Mirror." Yeah.

MARTIN: All right, "Mirror Tell Lies."


COLLINS: (Singing) Mirror, mirror all in my brain, uh, can you excuse me while I go insane? You tell yourself that's who you really are, but you made a little money and people call you a star.

MARTIN: That was a special rebroadcast of my conversation with legendary funk musician Bootsy Collins. We were talking about his album, "Tha Funk Capital of the World." And he joined us from member station WABE in Atlanta.


COLLINS: (Singing) You thinking hard who you can rely on. Well, I'm a tell you right now, you better just fly on. 'Cause the truth will turn to love and love turns into strength. But mirrors tells lies.

JIMI HENDRIX: Music has a lot of influence on a lot of young people today, you know.

COLLINS: (Singing) Well, now the things you seek is very...

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Happy Memorial Day. Let's talk more tomorrow.


COLLINS: (Singing) It's all right to buy some things. But look at what happened to all the kings and queens. Yeah. Mirror, mirror up on the wall, some get fat, some gets tall. Yeah. Mirror, mirror all in my brain, uh, you need to excuse me...

HENDRIX: And they can do anything they want to do. It's up to themselves with the right intentions.

COLLINS: (Singing) And when you know you got the strength, you can carry on. You keep going and going and going until you go. Truth turns into love, love turns into strength. But mirror tell lies.

HENDRIX: A matter of fact, what we're trying to stress also like music should be done outside in a festival type of way, just like they do it anywhere else. And like if they can have more gigs like this in Harlem. You know, you can play outside say for instance three days, and the fourth day you play half the day outside, for instance, and maybe the other time in the Apollo, you know, four shows or whatever, you know. And the idea of people really listening to music over the sky, you know, in such a large body. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.