How Bootsy Collins Became A Bass Player

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Recently Rocks Off had the great pleasure of speaking with one William Collins, known around the world by his platform-heeled nickname, Bootsy. The man with the mellow voice and star glasses is on any short list of best bass players in the world, thanks to his long years with James Brown, as George Clinton's Deputy of Funk in Parlaiment-Funkadelic, his own Bootsy's Rubber Band, and his copious low-end-for-hire work on songs like Deee-Lite's "Groove Is In the Heart."

Bootsy will be at Warehouse Live next Thursday with a typically outlandish entourage, the "Funk U-Nity" band including Public Enemy's Colonel Hardgroove and fellow P-Funk alumni Blackbyrd McKnight, Bernie Worrell, Razor Sharp Johnson and Frankie Kash. Humble and thoughtful over the phone, the Cincinnati-born Collins calls his new album, The Funk Capital of the World (aka his brain), a tribute to the men who inspired him - Brown, Clinton, Sly & the Family Stone's Larry Graham, and most of all his older brother "Catfish," who passed away last year.

Bootsy is a superhero, so here's his origin story, straight from the Starchild himself.

Rocks Off: How did you become a bass player?

BC: Actually, it was kind of thrown on me because I started out playing guitar like my brother, and I wanted to emulate him. He was eight years older than I, and I didn't have a father in the house, so I looked up to my brother as that.

I wanted to be like him, I wanted to do everything like him, you know - wear clothes like him. I couldn't afford it. So I wanted to play guitar like him. What happened was he played in clubs almost every weekend, and he didn't have a bass player. I told him that I could do it.

Then of course, older brothers are very down on their young brothers, and he was like, "Aw, no, get out of here. You don't even have a bass." This is the perfect example of funk: I told him to get four bass strings and I would make the guitar into a bass.

Of course he laughed at me and everything, but he got me four bass strings. I took the guitar strings off and put on the bass, and he wound up letting me play bass because he couldn't get a bass player. So from that very night, I was a bass player that one time, and that was it.

We played together ever since. That's a perfect example of how funk works. Making something out of nothing.

See next week's Houston Press for a longer version of this conversation.

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