The 'World Wide Funk' Of Bootsy Collins

Oct 30, 2017
Originally published on October 31, 2017 2:05 pm

With his signature top hat and star sunglasses, Bootsy Collins is considered by many to be amongst the godfathers of funk.

But before he became one of the biggest forces ushering in the funk era, Collins was playing with James Brown, the godfather of soul, back in the early '70s after the two met at Cincinnati's King Records. Later, Collins joined Parliament-Funkadelic — the music collective headed by George Clinton, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

In the '80s, Collins became a solo artist with his first record, Ultra Wave, and has been going strong ever since. His latest album, World Wide Funk, is his first in six years and is out Oct. 27.

"I mean it gets to the point where those kind of things have to come to you," Collins says. "And you gotta take time to let them come because before, when you're out there on the road just hitting it and then recording and hitting it and recording — that was in the younger days. Now it's either the road or you're in the studio, so I had to take time off of the road and start recording."

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly spoke with Collins about how he got his start at King Records, the song that was influenced by the 2016 presidential election and his close friendship with the late Bernie Worrell. Hear the radio version above and read on for an edited and extended transcript.

Mary Louise Kelly: Some people listening might not know that Cincinnati has this whole rich history of funk and soul. King Records — where you got your start — started there.

Bootsy Collins: King Records was kind of like our Motown [Records]. It was the spot where all the stars were at when they came into town. You would want to go see them and get close to them if you could. So that was the spot and nobody could actually go in until we made friends with this one guy who was an A&R. His name was Charles Spurling. And we asked him to come hear us; we was all excited, you know? And he actually came and heard us and thought we was pretty good. Next thing you know he invited us over to King and that's how we got in the front door of King!

And you were how old?

I had to be around 16? And I didn't get to meet James Brown until I was, like, around 18. But during all that time I got the chance to work inside of King with different artists and that's how James Brown heard about us. That's how we actually wound up with him.

Are there things you know now that you wish you'd known then? What advice would you tell the 18-year-old Bootsy Collins?

You know what, I'm pretty pleased with that rebellious boy.

He did alright.

'Cause he knew he needed a father figure in his life. You know, I grew up with my mother, brother and sister. I didn't have a father figure in the house so the godfather, he played that role seriously. He always treated me like a son and he would always give me these lectures like: "You're not on it. You need to stop doing this and stop doing that." So I was being disciplined and it was good. It was good for me.

Is there a song on this album that you can't stop tapping your toe to, that makes you want to get up and dance?

Oh, you know what, I'll tell you which one it is. It is "Bass-Rigged-System." Yeah, I love that one.

I think I can feel your foot tapping from here.

Yeah [laughs]. I got a chance to call on some of my compadres, my best friends, and the vibe was just so intense. And everybody that's on [the record] got a chance to shine.

And what's going on at the beginning of the song — when we hear, what sounds like audio from the congress floor discussing the HR 8791 Homeland Terrorism Preparedness Bill?

Well you know, all of this campaign stuff was going on during the time that I was...

Presidential campaign stuff?

Yeah! And all of that was going on while I was trying to record the record. And I was like, "Oh yeah. This will definitely fit right into the groove," because I named the song, if you noticed, "Bass-Rigged-System." And so, all of that kind of ties in.

Little political commentary in there. Well, that might be the first funk bass tribute to the 2016 presidential campaign.

I think so, I think so. [laughing] I really like that one a lot.

One of the songs on the album, "A Salute to Bernie," is actually a tribute to a friend of yours: Bernie Worrell, a bandmate at Parliament-Funkadelic. He passed away last year. Tell me about your friend and why you decided to dedicate a song to him.

Oh man, I don't know if you can get any closer than Bernie Worrell and myself. He was closer than a brother. He played all the keyboards in [this song] and when we got together I was the one that was always musically wrong. You know, not knowing what notes you should play and you shouldn't play, I didn't know any of that. I just know what I heard in my head. And what he did, he took whatever I did and he made it musically correct. And that's what I loved about him so much, was he embraced what I did and he worked with me. And he never pushed me away and we just kept getting closer and closer and closer. It was a personal thing we had [that] I've never had with anybody else.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

They say James Brown is the godfather of soul. Well, you could make a pretty strong case for our next guest, who used to play with Brown, as the godfather of funk.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LADIES NITE")

BOOTSY COLLINS: (Singing) Where my ladies at, baby?

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing) I'm in the place to be.

COLLINS: (Singing) Where my ladies from?

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing) I'm in the place to be.

KELLY: That is Bootsy Collins. Collins played with James Brown back in the early '70s. Later, Collins joined Parliament-Funkadelic. That's the music collective headed by George Clinton. In the '80s, he became a solo artist, and he has been going strong ever since. He's just released his latest album, "World Wide Funk." And he's with us now. Bootsy Collins, welcome.

COLLINS: Hey. How are you today?

KELLY: I'm well and glad to have you with us. So we're going to talk about this first album in six years. Congratulations.

COLLINS: Oh, thank you. Yeah, I mean, it gets to the point where those kind of things have to come to you, you know? They're like songs. I mean, you know, you can't just do a track, you know? And you've got to take time to let them come 'cause before, when you're out there on the road just hitting it and then recording and hitting it and then recording, that was in the younger days, you know? Now it's like it's the either the road, or you're in the studio. So I had to take time off of the road and start recording.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOMERANG")

COLLINS: Victoria got a secret, y'all. And I can tell because I'm out on bail. Dig it now. (Singing) Just like a boomerang.

KELLY: You recorded this at home in Cincinnati. You're in Cincinnati today as we talk to you. And this is where you grew up, right?

COLLINS: Yeah, this is the home front right here.

KELLY: You know, some people listening to us might not know that Cincinnati has this whole long, rich history of funk and soul. It's where you started. I mean, King Records where you got your start is...

COLLINS: Yep.

KELLY: ...A Cincinnati label.

COLLINS: King Records was kind of like our Motown. It was the spot where all the stars were at. And when they came into town, you would want to go see them and get close to them if you could. And so that was the spot. And nobody could actually go in until we made friends with this one guy who was an A&R. His name was Charles Spurling. And we asked him to come hear us. We was all excited, you know? And he actually came and heard us and thought we was pretty good. Next thing you know, he invited us over to King, and that's how we get in the front door of King.

KELLY: And you were how old then?

COLLINS: Let's see. I had to be, like, around 16. And I didn't get to meet James Brown until I was, like, around 18. But during all that time, I got a chance to work inside of King with different artists. And that's how James Brown heard about us. That's how we actually wound up with him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET UP (I FEEL LIKE BEING A) SEX MACHINE")

JAMES BROWN: (Singing) One, two, three, four - get up. Get on up. Get up. Get on up. Stay on the scene. Get on up.

KELLY: Things you wish you'd known then that you know now - what would you - what advice would you give to the 16- or 18-year-old Bootsy Collins?

COLLINS: You know what? I'm pretty pleased with that rebellious boy (laughter).

KELLY: He did all right.

COLLINS: Yeah, he - you know, he - because he knew he needed a father figure in his life because, you know, I didn't - I grew up with my mother and my brother and sisters, so I didn't have a father figure in the house. So the godfather, you know - he played that role seriously. He always treated me like a son, and he would always give me these lectures, you know? Like, you're not on it, you know? You need to stop doing this and stop doing that. And you know, so I was being disciplined. And it was good. It was good for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET UP (I FEEL LIKE BEING A) SEX MACHINE")

BROWN: (Singing) Can we hit it, and quit? Hit it.

KELLY: Is there a song on this that you can't stop, you know, tapping your toe to, that makes you want to get up and dance?

COLLINS: Oh, you know what? I tell you which one it is. It is "Bass-Rigged System."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BASS-RIGGED SYSTEM")

COLLINS: (Singing) Don't you want to get all funked up, all funked up?

(Laughter) Yeah, I love that one, man.

KELLY: I think I can feel your foot tapping from here.

COLLINS: Yeah (laughter). Oh, man, yeah, I got a chance to call on some of my compadres, my bass friends. And you know, the vibe was just so intense, you know? And everybody that's on there got a chance to shine.

KELLY: And what's going on at the beginning of the song where we hear this voice say...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BASS-RIGGED SYSTEM")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As John Haller) Congress shall now vote for approval of HR 8791, the Homeland Terrorism Preparedness Bill, as said bill requests emergency response funding up to and including - oh, I'm sorry. This section's classified.

COLLINS: Well, you know, all of this campaign stuff was going on during the time.

KELLY: Presidential campaign stuff.

COLLINS: Yeah, yeah. And all of that was going on while I was, you know, trying to record the record. And I was like, oh, yeah, this'll definitely fit right into the groove 'cause I named the song, if you noticed, "Bass-Rigged System."

KELLY: Oh.

COLLINS: And so all of that kind of ties in, you know?

KELLY: A little political commentary in there.

COLLINS: Yeah, yeah (laughter).

KELLY: Well, that might be the first funk bass tribute to the 2016 presidential campaign I've heard (laughter).

COLLINS: I think so. I think so (laughter).

KELLY: You win that one.

COLLINS: (Laughter) I think. Oh, man, but yeah, I really like that one a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BASS-RIGGED SYSTEM")

COLLINS: (Singing) Supersonic, aerial diabolic, space-bassaphonic (ph), (unintelligible) - yeah, I'm perfect for funkin' (ph), you see. Feel the resistance.

KELLY: Bootsy Collins, before I let you go...

COLLINS: Yeah.

KELLY: I have to note. The last time you came on NPR was when your last album came out, and you talked to my friend and colleague Michel Martin. And you told her all about where you were wearing that day. And I have been jealous ever since. You were apparently wearing your trademark star glasses and a top hat.

COLLINS: Yeah.

KELLY: So I'm hoping you are going to let me one-up Michel Martin and tell me you came even better dressed for our conversation (laughter).

COLLINS: Well, I don't know if I'm better. I would say - I do have my trademark stars on (laughter). But I'm kind of low-key today.

KELLY: Low-key today - well, the star glasses...

COLLINS: Yeah.

KELLY: You've got that going on.

COLLINS: Well, I figured since it was you, I said, well, let me just calm it down a little bit, you know?

KELLY: (Laughter).

COLLINS: We're just going to chill, you know, and just feel good about life, you know? And I kind of calmed it down a little bit. I don't have my top hat on. I have a cowboy hat on (laughter).

KELLY: Well, you know, I'm wearing the top hat on the neon pink suit. Did you know that?

COLLINS: Oh, my goodness (laughter).

KELLY: No, I'm teasing you. I'm wearing old Levi's. You've got me beat anyway.

COLLINS: Oh (laughter), oh, man. But it's really a good vibe and a good chance to talk to you and spread that funk around the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORLD WIDE FUNK")

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Bootsy Collins (laughter)...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Where's the party at, y'all? You ready? Here we go.

COLLINS: (Singing, unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Once upon a time...

KELLY: That is funk master Bootsy Collins talking about his new album...

COLLINS: Oh, yeah.

KELLY: ...There you go - called "World Wide Funk." Bootsy Collins, thank you.

COLLINS: Oh, thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORLD WIDE FUNK")

COLLINS: (Singing) So put them hands together.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) There's a party on this side...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) Party on this side...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) ...Party on that side...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) ...Party on that side...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) ...Party right here.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) Party right here.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) You know what?

COLLINS: (Singing) This is a worldwide... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.