There's nobody like Bootsy, baby. The man born William Collins is the bass guitar's main ambassador to the furthest reaches of outer and inner space.
His peerless funk resume, including stints with James Brown, George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic mothership and his own Bootsy's Rubber Band, is as stacked as his platform-heeled boots. As a hired gun, Collins's four-string services put the bounce in songs such as Deeee-Lite's ear-to-ear 1990 hit "Groove Is in the Heart."
Bootsy is back with a brand-new solo album, The Funk Capital of the World, which he describes as his "musical biography" and tribute to Brown, Clinton, Jimi Hendrix, Sly & the Family Stone's Larry Graham, and most of all his older brother "Catfish" Collins, whom he played alongside for years in Brown and Clinton's bands; he passed away last year.
Not at all like his outlandish Starchild persona over the phone, Collins says he became a bass player by accident. He wanted to be a guitarist like Catfish, but when his brother's bass player couldn't make a gig one night, Bootsy convinced him to let him put four bass strings on a regular guitar and step in.
"We played together ever since," says Collins, who turns 60 in October. "That's a perfect example of how funk works: Making something out of nothing."
Chatter: You must be so in demand with other people wanting you to play on their albums or live. Was it hard to find the time to make an album of your own?
Bootsy Collins: Any time I'm working with somebody else, I'm always coming up with ideas where I say, "Okay, I'm going to save that for myself." I might not even know what project it's going to be, but I know when I get something that I should do personally, myself, and I never know when I'm going to be able to do it. I just always log stuff.
C: Who was a tougher boss, James Brown or George Clinton?
BC: Oh, no question, James Brown. George wasn't like a boss, he was more like a director of confusion. It was great at the time. James Brown was more like a father around me, giving me lectures and telling me what to do around him. Of course I needed that, because [I grew up with] no father in the house.
I was pretty wild, doing any and everything I wanted to. I needed both of them. I needed the freedom from George Clinton, and I needed the discipline from James Brown.
C: Who was responsible for developing the Bootsy persona? Did Clinton have some input into that?
BC: I was always Bootsy. I was Bootsy when I was with James Brown. It was just putting the star glasses on. I used to draw star glasses on stick men in school. I was always trying to dress wild and crazy. My colors never matched because we were shopping out of the Goodwill.
C: What's a bass line you've always admired that you didn't play?
BC: Wow (laughs). That's a good question. This might not be the funkiest bass line, but it's certainly one to remember. What's the song called? How does the bass line go on "Bust a Move"?
C: I couldn't even sing it for you.
BC: I think it's that, or...what's the one for "Another One Bites the Dust"?
C: (Attempts to sing bass line)
BC: Yeah. That's a funky bass line. Also, "Come Together" is a memorable bass line. There's so many bass lines I admired back in the day. You don't really get those kind of bass lines today. Things have changed so much, and I was probably a part of helping to bring that in, along with the master mother plucker, Larry Graham.