With its robust, radio-ready production and supremely thumpin’ bass tones, World Wide Funk is everything you’d expect a Bootsy Collins album to be. The low-end shenanigans roll deep, and the guest list is wide-ranging and distinguished: Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten join up-and-coming bass stars Alissia Benveniste and Manou Gallo on “Bass-Rigged-System,” and neo-soul smoothness and OG hip-hop royalty meet on “Hot Saucer,” featuring Musiq Soulchild and Big Daddy Kane. Other highlights include the Snoop Dogg-co-produced slow-jam “Hi-Heels,” the country-tinged blues of “Boomerang,” epic Bernie Worrell solos from beyond on “A Salute to Bernie,” and the blazing Buckethead and Chuck D contributions to “Illusions.” There are dancefloor killers and bedroom groovers, a multigenerational cast of characters, as well as the vocalisms, double-entendres, and ear-tickling, envelope-enhanced street wisdom that have been his signature for four decades. In other words, it’s a Bootsy party, and it feels damn good.
At a time when so many 20th-century music icons are walking offstage, a vibrant new album by 66-year-old William “Bootsy” Collins, the first in six years, is cause for joyful celebration—and a recap, perhaps, of his jaw-dropping legacy. This year is the 50th anniversary of his band the Pacemakers, who became the J.B.’s when James Brown drafted them to help lay the foundations of funk in 1969. Bootsy’s subsequent work with Parliament and Funkadelic (as well as Parlet, Brides Of Funkenstein, Eddie Hazel, Fred Wesley & the Horny Horns, Bernie Worrell, George Clinton, and the P-Funk All Stars) is still the gold standard of organic Afrofuturist dancefloor magic; a 2016 tour celebrated 40 years of kick-ass solo albums that began with 1976’s Stretching Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band. In the ’80s and ’90s, Bootsy expanded his footprint, collaborating with a long list of characters that includes Bill Laswell, Buckethead, Deee-Lite, Fatboy Slim, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Manu Dibango, Keith Richards, Herbie Hancock, Cyndi Lauper, and Paul Shaffer. To his fellow bassists, he’s a constant source of inspiration (witness Funk University, as well as his mentorship of Benveniste and Freekbass). He’s so thoroughly hard-wired into pop culture—from West Coast hip-hop and out-there bass effects to soundtracks (Superbad, Guardians of the Galaxy), sports (Monday Night Football), commercials (Motorola, Old Navy), television (Yo Gabba Gabba!, Everybody Hates Chris), and games (Grand Theft Auto)—that it’s safe to say Bootsy’s right up there with George Clinton as the pre-eminent elder statesman for the funk in the 21st century.
You’ve been on the road since 2011. How’d you find time to do a new album?
It was a blessing to just create and be in the studio, you know? It’s a whole different thing. Back in the day, we used to do it all together—you’re on the road, you get a few ideas, you jump in the studio. But now I feel like I need to do one at a time. It just seems to work better for me.
World Wide Funk features a cross-section of hip-hop icons, bass heroes, and newcomers.
That was the main focus, especially with the young musicians and artists. When I was coming up, there were clubs everywhere; playing live was the thing. Nowadays, young players don’t have all those opportunities. So I want to help them be seen and heard. If I can fit in there, cool; if not, I’m cool with that, too. It just feels good to see other people light up and really be into what they’re doing.
How did you find Alissia Benveniste and Manou Gallo?
I met Alissia at Berklee. We got a chance to vibe, and after I let her know I was working on a new album, we started sharing tracks, and then she came into the studio. I met Manou over the internet; we started talking about tracks and playing together. She came in and stayed for two weeks, and not only was she recording some stuff on my album, I started recording on hers.
You got Alissia singing, too.
I talked her into it. She was trying to back out of it, but we hooked it up [laughs]. And now she’s taking vocal lessons and getting it together. That’s what I like doing now, coaching. The player in me is cool and everything, but I like being a coach now, too.
What do you look for in young artists?
Hitmakers are missing a lot of the organic, real stuff. Everything is kind of man-made, and you don’t get that real gut-bucket stuff anymore. I want the stuff that the hitmakers don’t want, that raw-dog stuff. Don’t get me wrong: Everybody’s looking for a hit, but that’s not my main goal. I want to highlight others.
You brought lots of guests to World Wide Funk. How’d you sort through everything?
I had to allow everyone to get it all out, but at the end of the day, I listened for what people would want to hear. Everyone should have their own space to shine; otherwise, they’re falling all over each other.
That’s part of the production process?
Yeah. We recorded so much stuff—I don’t know how many records we got after this one. There’s more to come.
It’s awesome that Stanley and Victor are on the album, too.
For me, it’s an honor to be able to reach out to these mugs, period. And they’re right on board. To have people surround you with love—“whatever you want to do, let’s do it”—Vic and Stanley have always been like that.
You also feature hip-hop OGs like Big Daddy Kane and Doug E. Fresh.
The hip-hop people I got on this record were important to hip-hop and for hip-hop, so to me, it only makes sense to have them involved. Each one of them has so much wisdom. I know what it was like for us, and I found out that it was pretty much the same for them—“funk” was a bad word, and when hip-hop came out, [radio stations] were like, “Oh no. We can’t play that!”
Your solo work and P-Funk legacy are part of hip-hop’s DNA.
I feel comfortable speaking about hip-hop and being around it because I’m a part of all of it. Funk is the essence of all that is.
What’s the connection between funk and hip-hop?
Hip-hop came from folks making something out of what they had, and what did they have? Records. We had instruments, they had records; different times, different era. But they made something out of nothing. That’s what funk is.
What does being funky mean to you?
Being funky is something that has to come up in you. There’s a certain amount of learning how to be funky, and that, to me, is not really funky. You got mugs running around playing this, that, and the other and trying to be funky, but can’t nobody fake the funk like that and be really funky.
The only way to be funky is, you have to know how to work with whatever you’ve got, and in the end it still comes up funky. Whatever you come out with, it comes up funky. You don’t really have to work at it; it’s in there. It can be in any style of music. You got funky jazz players, funky rock & roll players, funky country players.
Who needs to learn to not “fake the funk”?
We all can learn from that. We’re all guilty of faking the funk sometimes, but some of us are closer to bein’ on the one than others [laughs]. Players who have to work really hard and go without, those are the muthas that’s funky. When I grew up, the ones that were really hot, the really bad musicians, were the ones that didn’t make records. The cats I knew around the block, those mugs were fonk-kay! But they never made it. I consider myself blessed to come off the street knowing these bad mugs, yet somehow I got placed up in there some kind of way.
And now you’re passing that blessing on to the next generation.
That’s what it’s all about.
What inspired you to get into effects?
When I started out, I was searching for ways to not sound just like a bass player. When I hear an effect, it makes me play something different. It’s like certain women that touch you—you get a different feeling from different touches. Different sounds make you play different. I guess I was led by that, and it was always mysterious to me: “What does this sound like? What does that sound like?” And then I messed around and fell into that underwater bubble sound. I didn’t know that was going to be a signature sound that would be with me for years. I just knew I liked it. I was like, Wow! It was incredible. It was something I wasn’t hearing.
Folks must have been knocked out!
When I first brought it to the studio, the engineer was like, “Nah, you don’t need no pedal. Just do it like we’ve been doing it. Plug in and play.” Nobody was down with me when I did it. After the fact, of course, everybody thought of it. “Yeah, I bought Bootsy that pedal. Yeah, I bought him all that stuff, his glasses and those sound effects.” But the real deal is, didn’t nobody want to hear that stuff until it got recorded.
And the collection just kept on growing.
I kept adding pedals, the engineer stopped resisting me, and he started being like, “Whatever you got, bring it on!” We did that first thing, and next thing you know, they wanted me to hook everything up. One thing led to another, and eventually I had to get a pedalboard. Nobody else was using a pedalboard with bass back then. I just started hearing this stuff in my head, and I was like, how can I get this sound? I started looking around, going to music stores, and I was always looking and trying to find something that moved me. Whatever moved me some kind of way, it got out into the audience, and it started moving them, too. Once that started happening, everybody was like, “Yeah! That’s the sound!”
What did you learn from that experience?
It taught me a lot about how people react to your first thing. If they resist and you feel good-heart-heavy about it, go with it. I started building on it, and I’m still building on it. You’d be shocked at all the pedals that are hanging around, waiting to be used. On this album, I tried to give a little variety to my pedal thing, using old stuff and new stuff, too.
What can you say about the album’s production?
I record everything to tape, and then I have an engineer who helps me put it in Pro Tools, where I arrange, edit, and cut and paste. We mix in Pro Tools, as well. It’s the old world of analog and the new world of digital. I used to have to sit at the mixing board, moving faders and poppin’ buttons, but now, as long as I get everything on tape that sounds good, all we gotta do is put it into Pro Tools and move it around.
What’s your relationship to technology?
I embrace it, but you can’t just throw everything else away. That’s what this record is about—embracing the old stuff, the analog stuff, and the digital. But it’s bigger than me and this album. I’m trying to figure out ways to resist [the current paradigm] in a way that’s non-threatening, that pushes the peace, the power, the love, all that. It’s gonna take a while. I might not get there, but I’ve gotta do my part.
You did so much stretching out on the albums you made with Bill Laswell in the ’90s.
I’ve always looked to the underground, people like Bill Laswell, who isn’t your “formula” cat. I like the experimental thing. People who are into that gravitate toward me, as well. When I see that and feel that around me, I try to encourage it, because we’re losing that creative edge.
Do you think you’ll ever revisit the freaky flavors you conjured with Buckethead back in the day?
Funny you should mention that. We’re working on it right now. We have about eight tracks so far, and I’m really getting into it. We’re going all the way out this time. I’ll be busy with promotion and stuff for this record, and then I’ll take a couple months to get into the thing with Buckethead. It’s gonna be outside on the out—it’s already headed in that direction. All I gotta do is put the envelope on it. It’ll hit the streets around May or June.
I assume it’ll be different from World Wide Funk.
I’ve gotta have different outlets. It’s like wearing clothes: I gotta be able to wear whatever I feel like wearing. People look at us and say, “Oh, yeah, that Bootsy and Buckethead … they’re crazy,” and that’s cool with me, as long as I can express myself.
With all the stuff happening in the world today, how do you stay upbeat?
You’ve gotta be able to laugh about it. This ain’t our world, man. We’re just passing through. But get all the information that you can, all the wisdom you can, and pass it on. If I don’t pass it on, ain’t nobody gon’ get it, because they ain’t teaching it. And that’s the truth.
Thank you for being you!
I came, they saw, we funked!
Solo albums World Wide Funk [2017, Mascot]; Tha Funk Capital of the World [2011, Mascot]; Fresh Outta P University [1997, Private I]; Keepin’ dah Funk “Alive” 4: 1995 [1997, Rykodisc]; What’s Bootsy Doin’? [1988, Columbia]; The One Giveth, the Count Taketh Away [1982, Warner Bros.]; Bootsy? Player of the Year [1978, Warner Bros.]; Ahh …The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! [1977, Warner Bros.]; Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band [1976, Warner Bros.]. As Zillatron Lord of the Harvest [1994, Rykodisc]. With James Brown Sex Machine [1970, King]; Funk Power 1970: A Brand New Thang [1996, Polydor]; Love, Power, Peace: Live at the Olympia, Paris, 1971 [1992, Polydor]. With Parliament Motor Booty Affair [1978, Casablanca]; Live: P-Funk Earth Tour [1977, Casablanca]; Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome [1977, Casablanca]; The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein [1976, Casablanca]; Chocolate City [1975, Casablanca]; Mothership Connection [1975, Casablanca]; Up for the Down Stroke [1974, Casablanca]. With Funkadelic Uncle Jam Wants You [1979, Warner Bros.]; One Nation Under A Groove [1978, Warner Bros.]. With Axiom Funk Funkcronomicon [1995, Axiom]. With Hardware Third Eye Open [1994, Black Arc].
Basses Warwick Bootsy Collins Spacebass, Warwick Bootsy Collins Infinity Bass
Strings DR Strings Bootzilla Bootsy Collins signature
Rigs Mesa Subway D-800 head, Ampeg B-18 combo, Hughes & Kettner Bassbase 600 head, Warwick Hellborg preamps, SWR Mo’Bass head, Mesa M9 Carbine head, Alembic F2-B preamps, Monster Power PRO2500 power amp, SSI 1x12 cabs, Mesa Subway 1x12 cabs, Crown power amps, JBL 2x18 Sub-Cabs
Effects dbx 120XP Subharmonic Synthesizer, Boss Digital Delay DD-1, Boss BF-2 Flanger, Mesa Flux Drive, Eventide H-9, Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, Electro-Harmonix HOG 2, DigiTech Bass Whammy, Stone Deaf Fig Fumb, Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synth, Darkglass Micro- Tubes, DigiTech Whammy, Electro-Harmonix Metal Muff, DOD Thrash Master FX59, Pigtronix Mothership 2 Envelope Synth, Panda Audio Future Impact, Darkglass Duality Dual Fuzz Engine, Chunk Audio Octavius Squeezer, DOD Envelope Filter F25, Mu-FX Tru-Tron 3X, Xotic Robotalk, Mu- Tron (Haz Labs reissue), Amp Tweaker Fat Metal, Lovetone Ring Stinger Ring Modulator, Radial Firefly Tube Direct Box, Korg Toneworks G5, Digitech XP300 Space Station, Eventide Pitchfactor, DOD Bass Synth Wah, DOD Synth Wah