LSD, George Clinton, James Brown and Beyond. A Talk with Bootsy Collins
Bootsy Collins was destined for intergalactic Superstardom. School was in by the time he was 15 years old, standing outside of King Records in the Cincinnati cold waiting on the glimpse of the Godfather of Soul. After a couple of years, word was out on Collins and his Brother Catfish. James Brown invited them in while his band was on break and after listening to them and feeling their energy he signed them up and they toured the world with him as the JB’s. But Times were a Changin’, and after only 11 months of travelling the world, Bootsy wanted to expand his mind to be able to see that world in a different way. The next stop was George Clinton’s house, where the two met for the first time and boarded the spaceship that would launch Parliament Funkadelic into the Psyche of the Universe forever. We caught up with Bootsy at his home In Cincinnati, where he had just got in from practicing, getting his band ready for their show in Macon on November 2.
You grew up in Cincinnati right? Are you there now?
Hey Man, yep. I sure did. And I’m still here. We’re rehearsing every single day up until show time. But yeah this is home.
Your brother Catfish was a guitar player right?
Yes he was. I got into playing music from Catfish. He was 8 years older than me. And he was the father figure in our house. So naturally I wanted to do what he was doing. And he was a guitar player. He actually made his first guitar out of fish string. We were poor and he couldn’t afford one, so he spent a lot of time building that thing. It was pretty deep. He was dedicated to making that guitar. I watched him go through all of that. And I guess it did something to me.
When did you start playing the bass?
Well he needed a bass player one night in the club. His band was playing every week. I was too young to be going in the clubs. But this particular time, I begged him to let me do it. And you know how big brothers can be. You’re the scum of the earth. But it was an uphill battle for me to prove to him that I was worthy. And all that empowered me, instead of putting me in a cage, it made me want to do it that much more. But he finally broke down and we did it that night. And since that first night, after that, we became a band. He was impressed with how eager I was. Even though I didn’t know much at that time. They loved the fact that I had the nerve to get up there. All of that encouraged me. He played the heck out of guitar, so I knew I couldn’t’ compete with that, so I dove into that bass.
James Brown was your big break. How did that happen?
We were over at King Records almost every day when I was fifteen years old. We were playing around clubs and stuff, but we were hanging around King Records during the day. That was when the rap started, about those Collins boys, and our band and our rhythm section. Charles Spruling was an A&R guy at King Records, he befriended us and he wanted to hang with us. He recognized that our energy was pretty unique. He wanted to get us on some of his records. So we stated going in and working on some of the things that he was producing. Once we got in the door, we said “Oh Yeah, this is it.“ Once we got in the door, we knew we were gonna get down. We really had the attitude that nothing was going to get in our way. We really set our mind to it.
What about the first time you Met James Brown. Tell me about that day.
Man, First of all I never thought that would happen. He was a huge deal. He was pretty much next to God. And when you are young, you don’t really analyze things. I just thought if I could get over to King Records and SEE him that would be a big deal. That was good enough for me. Getting the chance to meet him was out of our reach. We just never thought it would happen. We took the next thing, at least we will get a chance to see him, and MAYBE he’ll hear us. And one day, he told Bobby Bird. His band was on break and he was feeling something. So he told Bobby Bird to see if those Collins boys were out on the sidewalk. And there wasn’t a day we weren’t out there. So Bobby opened the door and told us to come on in. I almost broke the door trying to get in there. That was when I first met the Godfather. I wish I could have seen the look on my face. I was dumbfounded. It was so unreal. It was such a moment. Nothing really registered except that I was standing there.
And just a few months later, you’d be sitting on a bus with him making sounds on your bass while he wrote Sex Machine on a paper bag. Your 18 years old. That’s got to seem pretty surreal.
Hecky Naw. Man. We actually done that. It’s hard to believe. He didn’t even ride the bus. He Flew. For him to want to ride the bus, to want to vibe with us, was pretty special. But at that time, we didn’t know the scope of what was happening. We were just in the moment and happy to be there man. Having fun. But yeah, looking back it’s pretty hard to believe.
After leaving the JB’s how long was it before you joined up with George Clinton?
It was just a few months. But first of all, that era was coming in, where it was more about bands. Bands playing to the audience and singing and acting the fool, and not being so duded up. It was more of a free spirit coming in. It was actually there when we were with James Brown. Jimi Hendrix was on the scene and live, and all the hippies. And we’re with James Brown. Now he was at the top of black music, and we’re wearing soon, and have our shoes shined, and have our hair looking just so. But there was this wild thing coming in, and we wanted to be wild. But we couldn’t be wild while we were with him. Now days, people can pick up a computer and go wherever they want to go. But we had the chance to experience that in real life. Most people back then didn’t even get a chance to get out of their community. But still we wanted to do something and be a part of something different. We wanted to get freaky. So when we had the chance to play with Clinton and Parliament, we knew this was what we wanted to do. We wanted to get wild, we wanted to party with the girls and get high and act the fool and dress the way we wanted to dress. We were in the right spot.
Tell me about meeting George for the first time?
We had been called to Detroit by a band called the Spinners. They needed a band a lead singer. We had Felipe Wynn that was singing with us, when we played the clubs and stuff, without James. We came back to Cincinnati and reformed the band, and Philippe was singing with us. And we got a call from the Manager of the Spinners wanting us to come down and play with them. They paid for us to come to Detroit. We had run out of James Brown funds, so we couldn’t buy posters no more. So we said, well,Funk it, we’ll do it. This chick named Malia Franklin came to a show and went on and on about how we looked like Funkadelic and how we should meet Funkadelic. I told her I wanted to meet George. We knew who he was, just from people telling us about him. So she took me over there and knocked on the door. When I walked up to the place I started hearing this music. (Sings the Adams Family song) I was loaded too. So I knocked on the Door and it kind of crept open. I was like “Oh My God” and we walked in. It was completely dark. I looked over in the corner, and there was a guy with a white sheet on. He had black lights on him. He was the only thing lit up in the house. He had these Chicken feet on. I was like “Wow, that’s what I’m talking about.” Big Yellow Chicken feet. I already knew, this was it.
We sat down and started rapping.
What was the weirdest thing you ever saw while playing with Parliament funkadelic?
George & I were traveling in Torono Canada back in the early 70’s & we actually saw a UFO & it sent down something that hit the car. It was like mercury that melted & rolled right off the car but then right before it hit the car it was daytime with traffic everywhere, once that happened it was night time & we were the only ones on the road. Sure we had been taking drugs, but we both seen it at the same time & experienced the same exact feelings & emotions at the same time as well. The Conclusion that we made was we lost time somewhere & to this day we know this story is real no matter how it is explained off.
I’m assuming these tours were quite different from James Brown tours? Drug Policies probably differed greately?
Yup, drug policy was entirely different, James 1st policy was: No drugs allowed at all.
Then after he felt that I was still getting high his 2nd Policy was: NO GETTING HIGH ON HIS STAGE. Well that was a bummer because he accused me of being High all the time and I really wasn’t I just happened to look High all the time, sometimes I was, and sometimes I wasn’t. But he kept on accusing me so much that I said, FUNK IT, I may as well just go ahead & get high on his set because he’s going to accuse me anyway.
So I did, But getting High & Taking LSD is quite a different kind of getting high that you never knew what was going to happen or what you were going to see. So Yes, I am guilty as Charged & the price was worth it at the time because that led to me leaving & Meeting the Grand-Marshall of Getting High & allowing everyone to get Laid. (The Honorable “GEORGE “Coke-Cain-Head” CLINTON. Dang them was some good old days. I understood what Jimi Hendrix mean’t when he said: ‘Cuse me while I kiss the Sky”. You Have to be (EXPERIENCED) to undergo that kind of Transformation out of the normal reality of plastic make believe world. Nothing was make believe when you was (TRIPPIN’), you actually did not owe nobody Nothing, you actually felt Freedom in it’s raw form, you actually became a Human Being in a real Spirit world for that whole Experience. Words or deeds cannot ever Explain that communion with that parrallell Universe.
When did you get your star glasses?
I was walking in LA looking for someone to make me some Star Glasses. Not just a pair of Star Glasses, but Star Glasses that had reflective Mirror in the lens so when a kid looked into my eyes he/she would see themselves. My concept behind that was to let everyone know that (Everybody is a Star) that old Sly & the Family Stone song stuck with me because I was on the back of the James Brown Bus listening to Jimi Hendrix & Sly Stone while I was with the Biggest entertainer of our Time. So with the Star Glasses the person would think they would see me in the glasses, see my eye’s & what is really inside me, but they winded up seeing themselves. I always felt that if they could see themselves in me then that would give them the power. That is what George Clinton & James Brown did for me, allowed me to believe I was cool.
What is your daily routine like these days?
I don’t have a daily routine other than being thankful to wake up & do something in this day that needs to be done that maybe I did not do yesterday because yesterday is done, it is over, has been written. Today I have another chance to write my own history I will be taking full advantage of that. Read any good books lately? Read mine which ain’t even out because I am still writing it. I would love to be a GOOD READ for someone at some point.
Who do you listen to these days?
I honestly have no preference of who I listen to. I am always around someone that is trying to get their groove on. I am out of the trying mode anymore I just have to do or don’t do. I get off on what kids are getting off on. What excites them excites me. When I am winding down, Classical music helps to clear my mind & it keeps my dynamics about music & life available to me. Feeling & Dynamics are being replaced by a straight line of Loudness. Which I understand oh so good. But ther is a price for buying into one thing & one thing only. I love all kinds of music.
I’m just Bootsy baby!!!