Photo: Michael Weintrob
Bootsy Collins: "I'm Hoping The World Comes Together Like We Did On This Album"
GRAMMY winner and 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Bootsy Collins has been embodying the funk and sharing his grooviness for decades, ever since he joined James Brown's band in 1969. It was then, from the Godfather of Soul himself, he first learned the Power of the One, or the importance of synching on the one-beat.
With George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Bootsy's Rubber Band, his solo records and endless collaborations, he's harnessed that funky power and grown it into a philosophy, a way of life. Through it all he's always bringing the funk into new spaces and to new ears, whether directly—Fatboy Slim's GRAMMY-winning 2000 dance anthem "Weapon Of Choice" wouldn't soar without Collin's voice—or through those he's influenced like Childish Gambino on his infectiously groovy GRAMMY-winner "Redbone." He is the true definition of a living legend, yet he's incredibly humble and always interested in learning more and working with other artists.
On his new album, The Power of the One, released today (Oct. 23) on his own Bootzilla Records, we witness the almost-69-year-old (his birthday is Oct. 26) thriving in his musical playground. It's playful, funky, joyous and filled with talented collaborators from across the musical spectrum, including Snoop Dogg, Dr. Cornel West, Branford Marsalis, Ellis Hall and up-and-comers Brandon "Taz" Niederauer and Emmaline. While he had to adapt to virtual collaboration when they pandemic hit—the album was about half done at this point—he is undeniably thrilled with the result and rightly so.
"To be around these people, they made the record become what it is because to have the older people with the younger people and everyone in-between, all this going on on the record. And just making music together. It's like making love, it's like making friends. In a time like we're in now, to do that, what else could you ask for? It's just a great feeling. I can tell you, I know they had the same kind of feeling," Collins told us recently over the phone.
We caught up with the master himself to learn more about finishing the album during quarantine, bringing together the talented collaborators, mentoring younger artists over the years and, of course, the Power of the One.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. I hope your day is good so far.
Yeah. Just gearing up, getting myself together to go out there and do it one more time, you know? We got the record off. That was the good part for me, was to at least get through it because it is a very deep time that kind of hit us out of the blue. Getting through it was a beautiful thing. It actually helped keep me sane.
I bet, having something to work on. And my first question is about your new album, The Power Of The One, which is coming out pretty soon. What do you hope this album offers to the world and to its listeners?
I'm hoping the world comes together like we did on this album. All the musicians, everybody that really put their time and energy in it—and they really, really wanted to do it. It wasn't like somebody forced them to do it or paid them on such a big scale that they just had to do it. Everybody joined me and did it because it was fun.
It reminded everybody that, even in a difficult time, each and every one of us can get some kind of joy out of it and at the same time, help somebody else share some good vibes. If we didn't get nothing else but some good vibes, that was really good enough because everybody needs some of that right now.
I think on this record, that's what it's really all about. Good vibes, being in the kitchen cooking up something a little different here and there, using a different recipe. Even a recipe that's not traditional. On this album, that's what I wanted to show—it doesn't have to be a certain traditional record. It could be everybody together just having a good time because, to me, that was the main thing. Stop stressing yourself. Have a good time doing it and doing it with somebody you want to do it with. That's key. I think everybody felt that and it comes off of the record like that, from what people are telling me.
You're right, I think we all need some good vibes right now.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That to me is what the Power of the One is, the power of all of the people coming together and just doing what we have to do to get through it, to get over the hump. Putting all of our differences all by the wayside because we all realize we're just human and we need each other. We're coming up in a time where people don't really feel like they need each other because the technology we have is saying you don't need nobody. You can take your office with you. You got it right there in your hand, your iPhone, and you really don't need people.
Once you get used to that, it turns on you. It's like a Frankenstein monster. The monster is cool and everything, but one day he wakes up and realizes he's a monster and turns on you. I think that's what happened in the world. We got to take the power within all of us where we're standing. I think this music will help in our healing, help in our focus, and help us to have a little joy and a little fun along with all the deepness that is going on. That's what I wanted to do with this record, really just to put some joy and fun in everybody's lives.
Can you explain the Power of the One a little more, both like musical technique and the philosophy?
Well, actually The Power of the One grew out of when I worked with James Brown, he was always saying to the band, "You got to put it on the one. Give me that one and you can play everything else, but just hit it on the one." On every measure you count, the emphasis is on that down beat. To this day, even on a computer, when you have a four by four [beat], you got that one. You'll hear that click louder on the emphasis on that one beat. That brings everybody's focus to it.
This is where we all meet up, right here on the one. I, out of that training with James Brown, I took that over to Parliament-Funkadelic and George Clinton made a whole concept out of everything's on the one. He even made a record called "Everything Is On The One." I guess with all of that growing and experiencing the one, it grew to me as even bigger than just being a musical term. Now for me, it's more everybody is part of the Power of the One.
It's like everybody's around that one wall and everybody gets that certain frequency all at the same time and that wall will come down. That's the Power of the One. We just have to realize that that's what we got to do, everybody's got to be in sync with each other. Once we began to be in sync with each other, all of this mess that we're going through falls down. I want to get people to realize that we do have that power within ourselves.
We got to get focused and quit running from each other. We've got to all come together on the one and that's when you get the Power of the One. I'm just trying to redirect people to come together. It doesn't matter who your father is—I just have to respect your father and you have to respect mine. That's the Power of the One, when you realize that none of that stuff really matters.
We're all on this spaceship mother earth and we're traveling through time and space on earth. This is our mothership. Nobody's throwing us out. We're on it together and the sooner we realize that, the better. Because you can't be here and be better than somebody else. I'm not better than nobody else. Out here, I'm just like you.
It's really about us getting along and getting together while we're here. This is the opportunity for us. It's just like this album. This album was the opportunity to put all these beautiful people together that are not necessarily supposed to be together on a record. I'm just crazy enough to believe that if we can do it on an album, we can certainly can do this in a world like we have today.
That's mainly the reason I wanted to do something like this, to show that it's bigger than all of us. It's much bigger than what I think it should be or what you think it should be. It's much bigger than that and that's the Power of the One that's within all of us. No one's got it more, no one's got it less. Everybody has their power, you just have to develop it.
"It's really about us getting along and getting together while we're here. This is the opportunity for us. It's just like this album. This album was the opportunity to put all these beautiful people together that are not necessarily supposed to be together on a record. I'm just crazy enough to believe that if we can do it on an album, we can certainly can do this in a world like we have today."
That's some philosophy right there.
[Laughs.] I hope you got it down. I'd like to read that book myself. [Laughs.] Oh, man. That's the top layer at least. I'll have to keep digging and we'll get more of it coming up. For now, that's where I'm at. I just want people to respect and believe in each other, and dig in on each other. We got to get back to having some kind of fun. I think that's got a lot to do with why this has happened. These kinds of tragedies, it's like man, if you can't wake up after this, you're already dead. I know we're not dead now.
We're being hard headed. We are thinking we're something that we're not. We're all human. We haven't transformed yet into that other frequency. Until then, we got to deal with each other. We got to start learning how to because we've been learning the complete opposite. Now, the One has introduced us, now you have to know and love and trust each other. There's no other alternative now. We are past that point. It's either that or the other craziness.
I feel that. There are a lot of really great collabs on the album, but I wanted to talk specifically about the creative process behind "Jam On" with Snoop Dogg and Brandon Taz. How did that one happen?
Oh, man. That was a track that Snoop and I had done and hadn't really finished. We did it for another album. It was like, man, that track would show a lot of fun and that you can mix different things and come up with something that is not new in a sense, but I guess fresh for today. It brings the old with the new, the guitar playing from Taz, his new energy that he's got, with Snoop's raps and my own peace vibe going on. I thought that would be a beautiful, what you would call, a sandwich or a dinner. Sure enough, it was so easy to put together. I talked to Taz, then I went to see him at a concert. This was all before the pandemic hit.
We got to vibing and I was like, "Man, we should go in the studio." And sure enough, we went to Sweetwater and recorded all of his stuff. And Snoop and myself, we did our parts here at the Bootcave [his home studio]. We got lucky on that song, because got about 60 percent done with the album [before the pandemic] and the rest of it we had to start sending out on WeTransfer, that kind of stuff.
We send them to artists and they send you back what they did and then you get on the phone and talk about what needs to change, what key to go to and this, that and the other. That was a much harder way of recording than being in the studio with the actual person. That's when it's really fun. I got a 50/50 deal on recording this album—recording half live and then the other 50 percent we had to record basically on the internet.
That was something I had to get used to, but at the same time, I don't think I'll ever get used to that. But I learned how to do it, enough to get it done. We started adding horns, all kinds of different stuff, but I had to send the actual file to the person. That particular song, "Jam On," we got that pretty much done in the studio, so that was a blessing because we had fun doing it.
I'm sure so much of creating funk music is being in the studio together riffing off each other and going with the flow. That must have been different to not have that tangible element of it for part of the album.
Yeah, yeah. It's totally different. It's just like you and the guy you're talking to, it's different when you're together than when you talk on the phone. The phone is the next best thing, but being together, there is nothing like that. That's the start of the difference right there. It's like when you can actually touch the guitar, when you actually see what the bass player is playing, you can actually hear what the singer or rapper is singing or rapping. You can actually see them. It's like, wow. This is so cool.
You lose all of that part, so I think it's cool for people that are growing up doing it that way. But if you're not used to doing it like that, it's a different ball game. It is something you have to learn on the job. Like I say, it's good to know the new way of recording and stuff. I think I'll continue to learn, but nothing is going to take the place of actually being in the bed together. It's like, "How are you doing?" "Oh, I'm okay. I'm laying in the bed by myself." I'm like, "Yeah, I wish I was there." [Laughs.]
What is your favorite part of collaborating and how was it adapting that, like you were saying, during quarantine?
Well, it was really cool for me with the collaborating part because I got a chance to collaborate with people that I hadn't before. Like Branford Marsalis, who's just the greatest. His genre is jazz and he's just an incredible saxophonist and I never got a chance to record with him [before]. We talked about it, we've been to each other's shows and stuff, but we never actually did anything together.
That was a highlight for me to play with him and to play with Christian McBride, who plays the upright bass. He is just incredible and to have him in the studio and watch him play it. That was my first instrument that I was supposed to learn how to play on, but I found out I just couldn't play that big, old upright bass. It was too much work, man. I had to carry it home from school. The girls would look and laugh at me. It was like, "Ah man. I got to get me a new instrument." So, for him to bring that big, old bass to the Bootcave and hook it up and start playing it, it was just a great experience.
And then to have George Benson? Come on, you can't get no bigger than that. He's played with all the jazz greats. To have him want to get on the album—I had no idea that he really wanted to play on the record until I talked to him. We always have done festivals together in passing, but we never got a chance to work together.
I got a chance to work with some of the best, the people that I looked up to, and I got a chance to work with the young ones, like Kingfish, that are the new musicians. Speaking of Taz, he's 17 years old. And Kingfish is 19 now. These guys are just blowing the roof off with the guitar playing. To have this kind of energy around, for me, is the cream of the crop. It don't come no better. Then on "Lips Turn Blue" there's Emmaline. She's like a young, fresh Ella Fitzgerald. The way she sings, her voice takes you back to that time. But she's just out of college. She's just so sharp and professional.
To be around these people, they made the record become what it is because to have the older people with the younger people and everyone in-between, all this going on on the record and just making music together. It's like making love, it's like making friends. In a time like we're in now to do that, what else could you ask for? It's just a great feeling. I can tell you, I know they had the same kind of feeling.
It was just a great way to express yourself in a time where you're supposed to be locked up and locked down. Everybody's got a chance to release that feeling and we got a chance to put it on a record to share it with the world. I wasn't looking at the big picture, I was just looking at whatever song we were doing, putting our whole heart and soul into it. I didn't have to tell nobody to do that because everybody was ready. You didn't have to tell anyone, "Man, I want you to love this song." They just loved it. You could tell they loved it.
I think it's more amazing because of the time that we're living in right now. It affects us much more now because I think before we have taken music and people for granted. We've taken everything for granted. We thought it was always going to be great, we were going to be working all the time. All of a sudden, they pull the gigs away from us. No more festivals, no more club dates, no more Colosseum dates.
All of that stuff, it didn't just happen to the music world. Everybody had to push the reset button, like "Wait a minute, what the heck is going on?" We are still going through that and we have to figure out ways to do things differently. I'm hoping this album, The Power of the One, helps reset people to know that, "Hey, we got to deal with each other. Ain't nobody going nowhere. We're all in this together."
You've also worked with a lot of younger musicians over the years on their projects, like Snoop and many others. What does mentorship mean to you and why is it important?
Oh, man. I would say because it gives you what you really need. It's like the energy that you've shared all your life, it comes back to you through the young musicians and artists. When I got with James Brown, I didn't understand about the energy and how it excited him. He was excited by the energy that we brought. I didn't really understand that until I got older and I started realizing, "Okay, this is what he was talking about and this is what he was feeling." Once you get older, you start feeling it, especially when you start having grandkids. Oh my God, those guys have got energy up the wazoo. I never knew that I was like that at one time.
At some point, I was as crazy as they were. That crazy energy can be turned into something and when it is, it can be magical. Some of these kids are able to turn it into something and you'd really be surprised. You just have to be in the mix and that's why I make sure I'm always in the mix, that I'm always learning from the younger people. And hopefully they're learning something from me, but I'm not in it for me.
I'm in it to learn something that I didn't know how to do. Coming from them, that's a beautiful thing. I look forward to that. A lot of older people look at kids like, "Oh, they can't teach me nothing." But I don't agree with that. I would like to continue to learn from them and be around them because they make me younger, they make me feel young. It's a great energy and hopefully I'm as good to them as they are to me.