Bootsy Collins started his superb new album, The Power Of The One, before the pandemic. Then the pandemic hit and he was forced to finish the star-studded record, which features appearances from George Benson, Snoop Dogg, Christian McBride, Branford Marsalis and more, remotely.

Despite the upheaval during the process of making the record, Collins, speaking over Zoom from his hometown of Cincinnati, is remarkably centered and calm about all, including being off the road for over a year after ear surgery in 2018 forced him off tour pre-pandemic.

So, what is the key to his chill demeanor? Talk to Collins at length, as I did, and he says the key is his balance. Collins, a Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer and one of the most respected bass players ever (Rolling Stone listed him as the fourth greatest bass player of all time this past July) , found his balance in an unparalleled way in the annals of music.

Over the course of our 40-minute conversation he talks at length about how he found that balance between playing with James Brown and George Clinton in Parliament-Funkadelic.

From being one of the most influential sidemen to a certified solo star of his own, Collins has lived an incredible life in music. I spoke with him about that life, The Power Of The One and more.

Steve Baltin: I’ve spoken to a lot of artists who say they found a creative freedom in 2020. Did you feel that making The Power Of One?

Bootsy Collins: Oh yeah. What I did, I just pretty much went to what I loved best, and that’s the music. It kept me sane, creative, thinking about people. It was just a whole outpouring of good vibes, love vibes, gratitude and how great we have had it. It kind of makes you think about how good we really have had it and we’d just taken it for granted. So you pour all of that into your music and you try to lift people up and have fun with it again because we know we’re gonna get back, but we don’t know when. So we gotta give each other hope. And that is so inspiring for this album. It just made me feel good all over.

Baltin: A lot of artists have spoken about music as a healing power during this time and using their music to make people feel better. Was that the case for you?

Collins: Yeah, cause music is a healer and we’re supposed to bring people together. This whole concept of The Power Of One is the power of all people coming together. That is the one power. So in order to feel better about one’s self we have to come together and start feeling good together about what we’re doing and what we are and start listening a little more to each other. This album shows it don’t matter what kind of genre of music you play, it’s all music. And it just depends on how you look at it. So I look at the world as a whole. And this album is directed at this whole not just a section of people or a section of this or a political point of view or religious point of view. None of that, it’s just music to help you feel better about yourself.

Baltin: How did your ear surgery in 2018 influence this album?

Collins: I had a chance to settle down a bit before COVID hit. And when COVID did hit I had I guess a little jump because I kind of went to summer school for it if you will. And when COVID hit it was like, “Wow, what do I do now? I’m about 50 percent done with the record.” And we had a blast because it was like we got a chance to do a lot of stuff with the live musicians. So that was the great part. When we got down to having to record by email and WeTransfer and talking over the phone, that’s actually how George Benson and I had to do our part. It kind of was a bummer at first until we both realized this is the way we gotta do it and it can be done. And we started to have a little more fun with it. That’s kind of the way we started it all off. After that it was like, “Wow, send it back to George.” He started grinning and laughing cause he couldn’t believe it either. We did get the opportunity to make a record together. And that, to me, is the next best thing to being there, doing this record together. And we did it.

Baltin: So you got a longer break at home. How have you handled that?

Collins: Once you get into it and start thinking about it, it hits you, “I’ve never been at home this long.” But at the same time I realized maybe I needed to settle down for a minute and get these creative juices flowing because I wasn’t feeling like I was doing the music the way I should. I wasn’t paying it as much attention as maybe I should. The road takes all of that. It’s not just playing on the road, it’s keeping up with everything. There’s a lot that has to be done to stay out there. And a lot of people love it, like George Clinton. He can’t live without it. That’s what they live for. I live for the music and however I can get it out, I’ll take it. As long as I can get this music out of me I’m good. And so it kind of proved itself when I did this record, to me, that you could still do this, regardless if you’re in the studio with your boys or you have to do it over the internet. Yeah I like one over the other one but it didn’t matter in this case.

Baltin: But George has said he’s retiring from the road. Will he actually do it?

Collins: George, the road is hanging around his neck. He cannot, that’s the biggest joke in the world. When he said that I was like, “Come on, George.” (Cracks up) That was so funny. And he knows, he has to have an audience. I mean, he has to have an audience. That’s why when we used to go fishing all the time that became out audience. George loved fishing. There are two things in this world you cannot take from George. And that’s an audience with him being onstage. He don’t even have to have a band onstage. As long as he’s onstage, he’s good. That or his fishing. That’s his relaxation. You take those two things away you have no George Clinton (laughs).

Baltin: What have you learned being around guys like George and James Brown?

Collins: I think first of all being a musician is different than being a frontman, which I was kind of put into to being the frontman. All I wanted to do in this world was to play with my brother in a band. That’s all I wanted to do. When I first started playing at nine years old all I could see was me and my brother playing together. And none of that never changed. No matter where I went to, once we got with James Brown I got lessons. Everything was a lesson to me, everything was a listening session. I was being taught, I was being schooled. And even though I was a cocky kid I was always trying to be disciplined. I know I needed to be disciplined cause I was a fool out in the street. And it was like, “Okay, James Brown. Now this is the biggest opportunity in the whole wide world for me. So I gotta be on it and I gotta practice, I gotta make sure I got it down. And I gotta listen.” And we were already playing over at King Records. So that gave me a jump on it. That was kind of my summer school, King Records, because you had to learn how to play with other artists.

Baltin: What stood out playing with James?

Collins: James Brown taught me, “All I need is the one. All that other stuff you playing is great, I love it, I don’t understand it. But give me the one and I’ll love it.” So I started playing “the one.” He started to smile, he started to be groovy and he started to be happy onstage. So that made all of us happy. But of course he would always tell us we weren’t happening. He would always try to cut you down. So I got an opportunity early on to be cut down while at the top of the game with James Brown. And every time he called us back there he would cut us down talking about, “Uh, you ain’t on it, son. You don’t got it, you don’t have the one.” Once we heard that so much we knew he was crazy because we were killing the people. The people were loving the show. And James would call us back there right after the show, “Nah, you all ain’t got it.” And he kept saying that. And it was like, “Either this fool is crazy or we missing something.” And I knew we weren’t missing anything because we wanted to be the tightest band and show him we could actually play. And he recognized that to other people. But with us he would never admit it. He would never say to us, “Ah, man, you all killing me, you killing me.”

Baltin: And what about playing with George?

Collins: Once I left him and got over George and started being able to do what the heck I wanted to do, any and everything I wanted to do, I think I got the balance in between those two. I think I got the balance in between James and George. Because George wanted me to do anything I felt like doing. He’s like, “Bring that funk, give me that one.” As a matter of fact he took the one that I brought over from James Brown and he claimed it and he said everything is on the one. So he took it ever further. So the whole thing became about the one. And we emphasized and reemphasized it on all the music. If you check it out we just start laying a heavy one and it became a thing. But to answer your question, the balance, for me, came between James and George Clinton. If I hadn’t had those two I don’t even know if I would be here talking to you now because it was a very deep situation. And to be able to make it through James Brown, all the other stuff in between and the George Clinton Parliament-Funkadelic thing and to be able to be here and talk like maybe I might still have a little sense and to be able to record music and play, I cannot be ungrateful or not thankful. There’s no way. And that’s the difference I think between a lot of the musicians that go through the crap that we all go through. I’d rather feel the goodness of the music that I have left. I don’t live off my past. I’m looking forward to creating and help creating the future.

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