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- Posted on Apr 26th 2011 3:15PM by James Sullivan
Were you and Catfish very close?
Oh, yeah. The closest. He was eight years older than I am. He was like the father in the house who I didn't have. I looked up to him. That's exactly why I picked up the guitar -- because that's what he was doing. I was like 8 years old, and he was a teenager. I wanted to be just like him -- practice in the band, have the little girlies hanging around. Finally, my mother was able to buy me a $29 guitar. Before I played with him, I actually played in a few other groups. He was hearing about me, how good I was getting. Once I did that, it was on.
How'd he get his nicknames? Did he like to fish?
He did love to go fishing, but he looked like a catfish! The whiskers, the eyes. My mother gave me my name. I once asked her why, and she started looking in the sky and said, "Well, you look like a Bootsy." I didn't question that.
You've often said you wanted to play bass the way Jimi Hendrix played guitar.
Catfish introduced me to the guitar, and Jimi took me all the way. And not only the guitar, but his whole style, his outlook on life, the freedom. His whole expression just dumped on me, and I soaked it up. The peace-and-love thing was in, and that was such a great time. To me, he was singlehandedly doing it: the music, the way he dressed and spoke, how cool he was -- everything. I never got a chance to meet him, but his girlfriend actually traveled with us with James Brown. She wanted me to go to New York to meet him, but we were working and I never got the chance.
What was James Brown's impression of Hendrix?
You gotta remember, we're talking about James Brown. This cat wouldn't give it up for nobody! Matter of fact, I was the only one who could get away with playing somebody else's music on James Brown's bus. I had Hendrix on in the back, blasting. That was unheard of. The older cats would look at me like, "Are you crazy?" I never thought nothing of it. It was just my thang. I was loving on Hendrix.
Everybody knows James Brown was rigid. Then you went to George Clinton, whose group really let it all hang out -- sometimes in diapers.
It was probably the best experience I could've gone through. There's this military discipline thing, which I definitely needed, coming from a family with no father. I was able to do pretty much any crazy thing out in the street. James Brown helped discipline me, and I think he did a pretty good job. I was pretty cocky, self-fueled, pretty dominant, and he kind of calmed that down. I really wanted to learn the secrets, and I knew and respected what he'd done and was doing. He took me on the plane while the rest of the guys were on the bus. I wanted to go hang with the chicks. I thought he was just keeping me from having fun. Later, I realized he was trying to show me the business end. All I wanted to do was play music. I didn't give a nickel about the business.
How did you tell him you were leaving his band?
That happened right here in New York. I was put up to it -- "Go ask him for more money." I was like Mikey [from the Life cereal commercials] -- "Let's get Mikey. He'll do anything!" I had gotten away with asking for raises, separate rooms for the guys, and he did it. But this particular time [impersonating Brown's raspy voice], "Oh, no. I know what they doing. Ain't gonna let 'em get away with it." So I went back and told 'em. And they faked me out -- "OK, then, we're gonna leave." I went back in and told him. But the ones telling me they were gonna leave, they didn't, and we did. I remember it so vividly. We [Bootsy, Catfish and drummer Kash Waddy] were on the Trailways bus back to Cincinnati, trying to figure it out, like the Three Stooges. "What are we gonna do next?" We weren't really thinking about the consequences. If I pull a gun, I have to shoot it. These other mothers [said,] "Oh, we were just bluffing." I can't tell the man I'm quitting, then go back and say I didn't mean it. No, I can't do that. I gotta move.
Did you ever wish you had a little more discipline than the extreme freedom you had in P-Funk?
[Laughs] It was nuts, man! We had a good time for about four years, and then it was, "OK, this is getting a little out of hand." I would come to the gig now to get high. I used to do this for the music and the people, and now I do it to get high. I needed to go upstairs and find myself. You put yourself in a situation that's out of control. If I hadn't been with James Brown for that time, I probably would have lost my footing. My mother always told me when I got to a certain point and I didn't know what to do, just stop.
That's clearly Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker playing horns on a couple of tracks on the new album.
Then there's Steve Jordan, Sheila E., Bela Fleck, some of the Cincinnati Symphony, Musiq Soulchild, Buckethead, Bobby Womack. It's kinda loaded, with people that just fell out the sky. Ice Cube, Snoop, Chuck D. He's a heavyweight, man. He's got that voice that demands respect. People hang on his voice.
How did you develop your voice? It's so unique, so much fun.
I was joking in the studio, trying to do an impression of Hendrix, jokingly, as a matter of fact, on the [Funkadelic] song 'Be My Beach.' And George said, "That's it! That should be your whole character." That jive-talking thing, I always had that anyway. To be able to do it and get recognized for it -- oh, man. I just thought it was funny. That's what George was good at. No matter how high he was -- and believe me, nobody in the world has been as high as this mother -- at all times he was coherent, always present. And when he heard something, he was able to call it out. That's a unique quality, a great thing to have.