Bootsy Collins is the Man Who Put Bass In Yer Face
He is an original funk ‘n’ roll wild child, the Godzilla-toned high minister of the all-powerful “one,” a sly dog who with his trademark psychedelic stovepipe, knee-high platform boots and star-studded bass guitars — makes the Cat in the Hat look tame.
Inspired by Jimi Hendrix and tutored by no less an authority on the big beat than James Brown, Bootsy has stomped his way through the last 40 years of music history and lived the high life. He has been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame along with the other members of Parliament-Funkadelic.
And yet, after spraying outer space bass all over classic recordings by the Godfather of Soul, P-Funk, and his own trail-blazing groups including, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, the Sweat Band and Praxis, Bootsy has arrived at a kind of Zen-like balance that he credits for inspiring his new album Bootsy Collins “Tha Funk Capitol of the World”.
The secret that I learned,” he explains from Bootzilla Word Headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, “is that you can not tell the Universe what to do. When the Universe is ready, it will tell you – then you got to be ready. When the Universe told me it was time to record my new album, Lord, I was ready!” So was an elite coterie of Bootsy’s friends, a blend of musicians and cultural giants who took up temporary residence in Tha Funk Capitol of the World to help the illustrious Mr. Collins create a collective masterpiece so full of grooves, grit, guts and glory that he calls it “the best thing I’ve ever done — a whole new chapter in the life of Bootsy.”
His booty shakin’ co-authors include a staggering A-list of real-life heroes: the scholar Dr. Cornell West, the activist Rev. Al Sharpton, the actor Samuel Jackson, rappers Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Chuck D, P-Funkers George Clinton and Bernie Worrell, percussionist Sheila E., R&B legend Bobby Womack and guitarists Buckethead and Catfish Collins — the latter Bootsy’s brother and longtime six-string foil, who passed away during the disc’s making. From the opening “Hip Hop @ Funk U” to the closing “The Munchies 2011,” Bootsy Collins’ “Tha Funk Capitol of the World” is a percolating playground of soul-deep rhythms and layered melodies punctuated by lyrics that range from meditations on the nature of truth to the joys of fun-loving hipness to spiritual transcendence. And while Bootsy’s bass is the album’s heartbeat, it’s his voice that brims with giddy delight, goosing up the blissed-out vibe.
As much as “Tha Funk Capitol of the World” stays sonically in Partytown, many of its songs do reveal higher ambitions. “Freedumb” features Dr. West testifying about the deceptions and distractions of the modern world while Bootsy brings his thunder, and “Minds Under Construction” is Bootsy’s ode to the creative potential of youth. “Young people have so much intelligence and ambition and desire, and we need to help them harness that and express it, instead of letting them become lost under the weight of poverty or drugs or the other pressures of today,” Bootsy explains. “There are real messages on this album that I wanted to share, and, again, that idea of being open to the Universe, of just getting in the zone and letting the songs and the ideas come right through me, was so important in realizing that.”
“Mirrors Tell Lies,” which samples Jimi Hendrix’s song “Roomful of Mirrors,” is a dream-come true for the head chancellor of Funk U. “To be able to share a stage or a song with Jimi was something I fantasized about as a young man listening to him on cassettes while I rode in James Brown’s bus between gigs,” he says. “And suddenly, just as I’m about to turn 59 years old, it happens.”
Another zenith is “Still the Man,” a Brown biography authored and rapped as a sermon by Rev. Sharpton. It’s a thoughtful and heavily funky analysis of Brown’s style and impact, set to a groove plucked from the same bag as “Super Bad,” “Soul Power” and “Sex Machine,” classics Bootsy and Catfish helped put the shake to during their early ’70s tenure in Brown’s band the J.B.’s. “In a way, Mr. Brown is the biggest influence on this whole album,” says Bootsy. “When I joined his band, he took me under his wing and taught me about the business, but the most important thing he taught me about was the ‘one’ — the downbeat that always drove his music and is the engine for all great funk.
“What’s funny about that is, I was a guitar player before I joined Mr. Brown’s band, and I wanted to play bass like Jimi Hendrix. Eventually, that’s exactly what I did, adding effects and freeing up the instrument to go anywhere I imagined it could go, and that’s how Bootsy became Bootsy. But Mr. Brown wanted me to just keep it simple and keep on hitting that ‘one.’ I used to grumble about it, but today I’m thankful.
Recently I’ve been volunteering to teach music to young people, and all they really want to know about is how to really get on that ‘one.’ And in 2008 I did a James Brown tribute tour, and I found myself just getting back to the really basic, driving old-school way that Mr. Brown wanted me to play. I loved it! That led me to be open to that sound and style as the foundation of Bootsy Collins’ Tha Funk Capitol of the World when these songs started coming to me. Ultimately, though, there was a bigger lesson in James Brown’s music, and in Jimi Hendrix’s, which Bootsy absorbed and applied to everything his image, his sound, his style and all 22 of his earlier albums as a leader. What he heard from his inspirations wasn’t just driving beats and high-flying sonic architecture, but freedom.
What all of this — my music, my life — is about, is liberty, Bootsy explains. It’s about pursuing the sounds and ideas and things that you believe in and that you feel. The best music urges you to open your mind and your heart and take a bigger look at the world and what you can bring to it. That’s really what Bootsy Collins’ Tha Funk Capitol of the World trying to teach.