Sometimes, if you want Bootsy Collins to play at your party or speak to your benefactors, all you have to do is ask – and he’ll magically appear.
That’s what drummer Justin Faulkner did with the former Parliament-Funkadelic member and Pacemaker (the name of James Brown’s band with his brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins). The man, affectionately known as “Bootsy,” is back as he’ll host the Community Unity Music Festival, Aug. 2-3.
All this is happening at a very busy time for Bootsy who just started his own Bootszilla label for archival records (“Five Song EP Vol. 1” and “My Mind Set Me Free: The HouseGuests Meet The Complete Strangers & Bootsy, Phelps & Gary”), in addition to new material like the recent sessions he played with Branford Marsalis and Faulkner.
Busy or not, he took out some time to chat with us.
Tell me a little bit about how you found yourself working with Justin and Branford in the first place.
I ran into Branford and Justin playing festivals, several festivals in a row. All kinds of musicians take part, and [it’s one of those things where] you meet and get friendly and always say, ‘OK, we’re going to get together, come produce stuff. Let’s hook up.’ It all boils down to never getting around to it. This particular time, however, I was working on a new album where I wanted to stretch beyond my usual funk. I wanted something jazzy as well. So, I hooked up with (another Philadelphian) Christian McBride, Branford and Justin. These cats know jazz so well, and play it so well…. man. They caused a spark, and we had a good vibe together – a really heavy vibe. Awesome. The album that our jam will be on just got pushed to February 2020 release. We’ll be talking.
From there you and Justin forged a deeper relationship?
Yeah. And it’s just starting out.
So, if I am a drummer and Bootsy Collins says he wants to play with me, what are you looking for from that position?
Just for someone to lock in, and sprinkle whatever their specialty is on the music we’re making together. Say it’s the jazz thing. I want them to lock into that groove, be really consistent, steady, and able to bring the dessert – that’s my word – their flavor to the meal. The difference between, say Bernard Purdie and Justin Faulkner. They both have different flavors, but they both have consistency while allowing me the colors that I want to have. Same thing with Clyde Stubblefield. That’s how I pick and choose.
One more Philly question. Remember the time you and George Clinton were each all in silver coming out of the mothership at the old Convention Center in West Philly? That was in 1976. Since then, what is your take on this city?
Philly has always been supportive of is, way in our corner, even before it was cool. When funk when was a bad word, Philadelphia adopted us. The people. Radio wasn’t down with P-Funk at first, but once the people spoke, and made hits of songs before they were even on records. Butterball, Georgie Woods. They eventually gravitated toward us and dragged us into their universe.
You’re doing a new label that is both new material and archival stuff. Where do you have the old stuff hiding?
It’s never hiding. I just have to put my finger in the right bag. Once I started archiving old material onto the computer and using ProTools, it’s been easier. But I have so much stuff that we never put out, that once I started, I’m never looking back – especially since I have new ideas to go with the old.
That album you did with your brother and other James Brown band alumni as the HouseGuests. That thing sounds fully formed and ready to go. Why did it never see the light of day?
I didn’t want it to conflict with Bootsy’s RubberBand at the time, or the funk we were making then. The HouseGuests is funky, but a different animal from what people were used to from us.
Working with James Brown and working with George Clinton, and knowing all the while that you had something equally worthy to say – even though you did write a lot with George – why did you choose such complicated men to pair with? What drew you to such stringent band leaders?
They were just great. James Brown was THE cat. I wanted to learn. I wanted to work with him. Never thought, though, that I’d ever get that chance to play with him. Just getting close to it, to him, was enough at first. In Cincinnati, we had King Records which was his. I always took any opportunity to go there, hang out, even though we never got invited inside. We just wanted to see the artists coming in and out. So getting a call from [James Brown’s bandleader] Bobby Byrd to be in the band was mind-blowing. We were just a local band playing the chitlin circuit. When that happened. Anything became possible. We were invincible. So when I ran into George, the rest became history fast. He was more open than James, freer to allow me to go into the studio and do what I wanted, on tracks for Parliament, for Funkadelic. When we hooked up, things started happening.
George was easy because he wanted the funk, right?
Yes. James, on the other hand, he wanted you to think – to know – he thought of everything himself. He had to be in the center, in the front, all the time. Yet, he was the man, you know. It was a big difference. And I learned from both of them – I learned the freedom to do whatever I wanted from George. And from James, I learned discipline.
Anything else before we let you go?
You know, I have another great Philadelphia memory, and it’s because of James. In 1970, playing at your Spectrum in the round. And the whole thing, the whole stage was spinning. Like a turntable. That might not seem like something now, but back then that was really amazing. I’ll never forget that.