Many music stars from the last generation have trouble staying relevant and true to themselves in this era of overproduced pop music and personas contrived by corporations.
But that isn’t the case for legendary funk bassist and Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee William “Bootsy” Collins. Collins helped revolutionize James Brown’s sound in the late 1960s, was a key member of George Clinton’s futuristic Parliament-Funkadelic in the 1970s and went on to a prolific career as a solo artist and the frontman of Booty’s Rubber Band.
But, for Collins, it’s not about living in the past. It never has been.
“I can’t just sit back and think about what I used to do. Nah, it’s not about what you used to do,” Collins said after stepping out of a studio session on Tuesday to talk to the News-Press.
“It’s about what you’re doing right now…It’s much more influential for a kid to see what you’re doing now. It’s cool what I was doing back in the day, but it’s much more important to show these mugs what I’m doing now. I’m still hittin’ it.”
Collins had been on the road for about the last year and a half before taking a break to work on a new album, which is still in its beginning stages. “I usually put a lot of stuff down and see what catches me a month or two later and then I get back to it,” he said.
Collins announced on Twitter that he was in the studio with Pharrell Williams in early August. “[Pharrell’s] an inspiration because you don’t get too many cats that are up in it like that. He’s studied and he studies and he’s a perfectionist,” Collins said. “Being around that kind of vibe is a great thing nowadays.”
Although his primary focus is studio work right now, Collins is still playing shows here and there. He’s playing The State Theatre in Falls Church tonight. And although his focus is on the present, Collins isn’t averse to getting a little nostalgic.
“I would say beginning to have some fun the last three weeks of touring,” Collins said. “Before that you’re trying to make it all work flawlessly. Now I think we’re getting to that point where we’re looking forward to getting back on the road and people are having fun and it’s a good time. It reminds me of back in the day.”
Collins first came into the spotlight when he, his brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins and their funk band The Pacemakers were hired by James Brown after most of his band quit over a pay dispute. The Pacemakers formed the cornerstone of what came to be known as The J.B.’s and played on hits such as “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” “Super Bad,” and “Soul Power,” which became a turning point in Brown’s career.
After a brief period Bootsy and Catfish parted ways with The J.B.’s and formed another band called House Guests for a little while before they joined George Clinton’s band Funkadelic. With Funkadelic, Bootsy was able to experiment musically and fully form the unique stage persona he’s known for today.
“I think at that time we were the ones that were ahead of the curve, but we didn’t know that,” Collins said. “We were just trying new sounds and wanting to do things in another kind of way instead of the way we came up on.”
“And it gave us the opportunity to tweak sounds instead of using presets. When we were coming up we were making the sounds that are now used as presets. I didn’t know that’s what we were doing, but that’s what’s going to keep us in the DNA of sound. Even when we drift away – that sound is going to be there.”
• For more information about Bootsy Collins, visit bootsycollins.com.