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Besides George Clinton, Bootsy Collins is probably the mobster who is best known to people outside P-Funk circles. His rise to stardom (pun very much intended), beginning in the sixties as James Brown's bassist, then moving on to becoming one of the key members in the P-Funk empire (both as a musician/songwriter/producer for Parliament/Funkadelic and as the leader of his own Bootsy's Rubberband) has been well covered. But who is William "Bootsy" Collins? How does he think and feel? Isn't he scared of being attacked when he defies all the rules of security and walks through the audience during the song "Touch" on live gigs? Doesn't he ever get bored with being "Bootsy", with all its accessories? Is it true that he is living out his star image to the max (as a paper reported before Bootsy and the New Rubberband's first ever concert in Sweden)? Those were just a few of the questions I was hoping to get answers to as I dialed the number to Bootsy's studio in Cincinnati, Ohio, aptly titled Bootzilla Rehab.
The reason for my call was Bootsy's new album, the splendid "Fresh Outta 'P' University", issued in October '97. I was naturally curious about facts regarding the new CD and how he was signed to WEA Germany, but I also wanted to find out a little bit more about what's behind the tinsel and the stars. I knew I was in for a treat. I first talked with Bootsy in 1994, in conjunction with the release of "Blasters Of The Universe", but that was just a brief encounter, a fifteen minute "phoner", for a short-lived Swedish magazine called More Music. I remember being thrilled, but also nervous, to say the least. I have been a devoted fan since I was sixteen and heard "Take a Lickin' & Keep On Kickin'" and "Shine-O-Myte (Rag Popping)". Incidentally, that LP, "The One Giveth, The Count Taketh Away" is still one of my favorite P-Funk LP's. After that exposure, I picked up every previous Rubberband and P-Funk album I could get my hands on. Throughout the years, I have continued to buy virtually everything Bootsy put out, including the mediocre "What's Bootsy Doing" in 1988, yes, even the Metal excursions our hero cut as Zillatron (and trust me, that's a sign of true Funk allegiance. The only thing I hate more than Heavy Metal is a bad case of stomach flu).
Prior to the first interview, I expected Bootsy to be a hilarious individual and he was, answering questions such as what activities he enjoyed in his spare time with "uh, I cruise around the Bermuda Triangle, trying to get picked up by aliens". But what immediately struck me was how friendly and down-to-earth the man seemed. "Well, you know, I had to learn that", Bootsy explained as we chatted this second time around. "I think when I started out, I was probably pretty much living out that 'star thang' because when you're younger, you're always trying to prove yourself and you're always trying to come up with an image. Something new. That's what I was doing in the early days. But after I got to the point where I felt that I had established my own image, my own bass, my own glasses, my own stage show, my own record, then I guess I felt I could just be me. There are more 'me's' than just 'Bootsy' and 'Roto-Rooter' and 'Bootzilla', there are a lot of them in there, so I have to try and let them all get a chance to shine. The one you're talking to now is the cross between Bootsy and William" (laughs).
Maria "Funkyflyy" Granditsky: (laughs) Oh, really? So what's William like?
William/Bootsy Collins: Umm, he's pretty much like what you're talking to now. He's pretty laid back and he keeps eyes on the voices and tries to make sure they keep planted on the ground. They're space aliens, so they take off every now and then (laughs).
(laughs) My goodness! How many characters do you have?
Well, at the last count it was about seven. You will be introduced to a few of them on this new record. One that's gonna show his face is Boo-Man-Choo. He's fresh outta P University, he got his hi fool diploma and he's a low school grad. It's all elementary to him (laughs). Then look for P-Nutt-Butta and Jam. I won't tell you more because I don't wanna spoil it for you.
Thanks! By the way, I noticed that this is the same number I called the last time I interviewed you. I take it that you're still living in Cincinnati?
Yeah, I pretty much like it here. I like the space that I got to create in here and it's also where I can kinda get away. It's a good atmosphere for me. Usually when I'm out doing stuff, I'm just out in the wild, doing the wild thing. I don't really get a chance to just chill out until I come here, in my creative space. That's why I like it so much. It gives me a chance to break away and settle down a bit.
Have you tried living anywhere else?
Oh, yeah! I've lived in New York, Detroit, L.A, I've lived in Florida, but Cincinnati is.. I don't know, I don't even have to think about it here.
And your family is there too?
Yeah, that's probably the main reason, my mother's here. I've been taking care of her, she took care of me for all those years. It's just a good space, a good place for me. For the time. (Please note that this interview was made before Bootsy's mother passed from cancer).
I am well aware that you've been asked this a million times, but what was the biggest difference in working with James Brown and George Clinton?
James was like a sergeant-at-arms (laughs). George, he'd be sitting in a corner, high on LSD and you would come in and do whatever you wanted. Then when he got finished spacing, he'd come over and do his part. He didn't have anything to do with anything. As long as you left him a track, he was cool. But James wanted to be a part of everything and he made sure everybody knew that. To me, all of it is good. It gave me both sides of the coin, one was the head and one was the tail. I learned from both. Not to be too tight and not to be too loose. It's about being just right. It was a good training expedition with George and the Godfather of Soul. That's the best people to learn from, especially where I came from; being fatherless, just living in a house with his mother. James was right on time with that "daddy-vibe". I can't say that I liked it then, I didn't see it like I do now.
It's been well publicized how heavily drugs were being used by P-Funk members and you've been open about your substance abuse. Did you start taking drugs after you met George, or were you already using it while in James's band?
James's whole thing was all clean. He wanted his whole thing to be straight and clean, shirt pressed, shoes shined, everything. That was good, that gave me a discipline in itself, even though I rebelled on a lot of it. When we got with George, he didn't care what was happening. He liked how crazy we were looking and dressing. I kinda liked being with George more so at the time, because George let us do what we wanted to do. But I needed both lessons.
But did everyone within the P-Funk movement do drugs? That's what it's been presented like in books and articles.
Yeah.. Why not? You would have done it too (laughs).
(laughs) No way. We learned in school how dangerous that shit is. We'd even have whole anti-drug theme days, where former junkies would come to the classroom and lecture us.
You learned in school, huh? (laughs) Well, the junkies came and spoke to us too and then we got loaded, all of us together (laughs). No, I hear what you're saying. But that was it. It was like that when I was coming up. We couldn't wait to get to the next high. Even if you were getting high right now, you were still waiting to get to the next one. It was like that, day in and day out. When we were with James, we were doing drugs, but we were doing them in a rebellious way. We were hiding and doing it. But with George, it was the thing to do. We were young and we were experimenting with everything. James didn't allow it, but George did, so we loved George (laughs).
I've seen a lot of negative things on the Internet about George Clinton, mainly about how he ripped his musicians off. How do you feel about that whole issue?
They got some legit issues, but at the same time, I don't think you can't blame what happened on George, or on anybody. I refuse to go with that myself. There are a lot of things that happened, back in the day, but I'm not gonna blame it on George because it was just some stupid stuff I didn't know. Coming from the James Brown school, I had learned a lot of stuff before I got with George. It was from one extreme to the other. To me, you go through things like that and you learn from it. You add it on to your life, to try to make your life better. Instead of dogging people, learn something from it. And keep stepping.
A lot of people have asked me to ask you what your brother Phelps "Catfish" is doing.
(laughs) It's funny because I was just watching a video downstairs that somebody taped. It was like a roast, you know, a radio station roasted me one month ago. A roast is like a get-together where people come down and talk about you and dog you out, the way you came up, the knucklehead things that you did, stuff like that. Anyway, somebody had sent me a tape of it and Catfish was all in it, that's why I laughed when you said "Catfish", because I was watching it right before you called. It was pretty funny. Catfish is not playing guitar no more, he's doing like a home-front thing. He had been in the business around ten years before I got in it, so I guess he's had enough of it. He's moved on to not doing nothing at all out here. I didn't understand it at first, but I understand where he's coming from now. But I'm not tired yet, so I'm still at it.
That's what I wanted to ask you. You will be forty-six, two weeks from now, on October 26. Congratulations in advance! Now, I'm not saying that you're old, certainly not in the negative meaning of the word, but have you ever felt that you've grown out of wearing those star-glasses, the costumes and all that wild Bootsy gear? I mean, do you ever think to yourself "I'll better dump these accessories because I wanna be seen as a dead serious musician"?
Umm.. Not really. Not like that. I've thought maybe of getting younger artists out doing stuff, like I used to do a lot of. I don't wanna do it day in and day out like I used to, but I still wanna do it. I'd like to have younger people around me and that I'll be involved with them a lot more now, as opposed to me being the main focal point. I like being out front, doing what I do, but then I also like playing in a band too. I'd like to do stuff like I did with Deee-lite. I went out and played with them and they were the stars, that was cool. I wanna keep creating those situations for myself so I don't have to be out front all the time. Then when I do have to be out front, I can do it to the max. It's one of those things where you have to create situations that'll keep you out there as long as possible.
Have you felt that over the last few years, with the "old school revival", that the climate and appreciation for guys like yourself and other Funk veterans has improved?
Yeah! This is an excellent time for us. This is my time to be out front. I'm ready! I've put both guns in the holsters. They're ready and they're loaded (laughs) We're getting ready to come out and do our thang. But I'm always trying to plan ahead too and in doing so, and in working on this album, I've met a lot people that I hope to be involved with, on their records and in their situations. I'd like to be more in the background, playing or producing again. Just being involved on certain people's projects. I like doing that.
You have produced some of my all-time favorite records. Sweat Band and Godmoma, just to name a few.
Well, I'll come back to that after I have done what I gotta do now, promote my record and the Bootsy's Rubberband. I wanna promote that as much as I can because it's definitely that time. But like I said, I wanna be producing younger acts too. I have fun doing that. That's something I really enjoy doing.
What have you been doing, recording-wise, after "Blasters"? I heard the single ("Baby Bubba") that you cut with rapper Dru Down earlier this year and I love Kyle Jason's "Generations". (Kyle is a vocalist, producer, songwriter and keyboard player who toured with George Clinton last year. His debut, the neo-classic-Soul-concept-album "Generations" came out in October '97 on Sony and is well worth checking out. Bootsy plays drums, bass and guitar and also co-wrote and co-produced several of the tracks).
We toured a lot around "Blasters", so I'd say around the middle of '96 was when I really started to think about recording this album that's out now. I was touring and then I started getting involved with recording again with different people. Nowadays, it's like two different arenas, recording and touring. When I started way back in the day, doing both was nothing, you didn't have to think about it, the road and recording. But now, you have to set up each and every thing. Today, they do a lot of pre-production in the studio, but all we did was go in and cut, you know? I guess some of today's programming has rubbed off on me because I find myself having to set time around for touring, putting that together and then setting time around for recording. But like I say, back in the day, we didn't ever think about nothing, we just did it (laughs). It's funny, I don't know how we did that stuff. It's like "wow". I know I was there and I know I did it, but.. And we were partying at the same time too! That really surprises me today, I'm thinking "how in the heck did I do that?" Because now, there's so much planning ahead to be made, so much with putting the record and the tour together. But we did everything at the same time back in the day. I'm puzzled, but I'm not wasting time trying to figure it out (laughs). I hope that made some sense.
It sure did! I can relate to what you're saying. I don't know where I found the time to do all the things I used to do either! I guess one explanation could be that as one gets older, one's priorities change. I mean, what I had for dinner was the last thing on my mind fifteen years ago, I'd eat anything. But now, that's one of the main issues of the day and demands careful planning (laughs).
(laughs) I guess that's what happens. Everybody's always talking about "well, you're growing up", but I never looked at it that way. I still feel that I'm doing same stuff, I can do the same stuff I used to do, but I'm looking back now and saying "how in the heck did I do it?". We partied every day and I'm trying to figure out how I got anything finished. Today you even have to set a time for partying! (laughs).
So, did your previous album,"Blasters Of The Universe", do as well as you had hoped?
Well, it did a lot as far as keeping us out on the road and getting new fans familiar with me. I think it did its job. It wasn't a commercial record and it wasn't a radio record, meaning something the record stations was gonna play. But I knew that in the first place, I just wanted to do something that was like an alternative thing, a record certain people would clock into. That's what it did, certain people and new fans also, kinda checked it out and picked up on it. People came out and they were ready for the live thang. So it did real good for our tour. I think "Fresh Outta 'P' University" will do more for getting radio audience listeners more familiar with me. I think it's more radioactive. That's what I had planned anyway and I hope that I planned it right. But you never know, you just have to wait and see.
Compared to what it was like, say fifteen to twenty years ago, there are very few artists today that have a unique and distinct style that is completely their own, in the way they dress, sing, play or whatever it is they do. Most importantly, where did the humor go? Where are the fun songs that cracks you up?
To everybody now, as it is, nothing's funny any more because
everyone's trying to get paid, everybody's trying to get a hit, you know? When I was
coming up, we weren't trying to get a hit or get paid, we were just trying to do our
thing. The only thing we were really trying to do was to be recognized for our
originality. It was more about that than anything else. In the end, that paid off because
then we started getting paid! (laughs) When I started out with George, he didn't have us
up on the billboard list. We were just doing the show to be doing it, just letting the
fans see us and in doing that, the fans wanted "Bootsy". They started hollering
"we want Bootsy" and that's where we got that from. I don't know, but I think
it's a different mind set now. When you're used to playing with people, when you're in a
band, then you're used to playing with each other. People nowadays aren't used to playing
with each other because they don't have to. All they need is a sampler and a record and a
voice to put on and then they got a smash record. So they're not used dealing with each
other. Plus the mentality of the world is different now, it's "I can do it myself,
'F' you, I don't need you". We didn't come up that way. We needed each other and we
knew it. It's a farmer's mentality. You have to get up and plant the seed and see if it
grows, but you can't just wait around, you have to water it and take care of it. Nobody
has time for that today. Everybody wanna plant the seed and "OK I want you to grow
now. I want you right now. And if you don't come up out the ground right now I'm
gonna shoot you!" (laughs) That's pretty much what's going on today and it's
being spread by, I mean, TV is full of it and you can't fault TV because it's just a
reflection of what's going on in the world. Nothing's funny to people no more and that's
what makes me keep my original point focused. To me, that is what's funny. I try to bring
it across on my record, in my dress, in what I do and what I say because to me humor is
important. You should have a dose of that and I guess giving it is what I'm here for.
© Maria Granditsky