09/ 2006 Bass Guitar

Many thanks to Stephen for very kindly donating this magazine 🙂


No short list of ultimate funk-bass icons would be complete without Bootsy and Flea. Old-school funk fans who experienced the stank Seventies firsthand know that Bootsy Collins is a living legend, not only for his outrageous stage character but for his ferocious funk chops and revolutionary use of effects like distortion, delay, and envelope filters. A generation later, Flea would inspire millions of bassists with his furious right thumb, and even his more recent Motown- and jazz-influenced melodicism hasn’t put a dent in his trademark high-energy performance style.

Funk existed long before Bootsy Collins came along—it may have existed before the beginning of time, for all we know—but when Bootsy, then 18, laid down the immortal basslinc of James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” in 1970, he unleashed an irresistible groove unlike any that had shook the world—and its ass—before.

This feat alone would be enough to earn Bootsy an entire chapter in the history of funk, but that was just the man’s opening act. In 1972, Bootsy hitched a ride on George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic mothership, where he developed his cosmic star-child persona, complete with stack-heel shoes, star-shaped sunglasses, and matching star.-shaped bass. In P-Funk. Bootsy further refined the art of playing on the One (a.k.a. the downbeat), tearing the roof off funk-stompers—”Up for the Down Stroke,” “Give Up the Funk,” “Dr. Funkenstein”—like Godzilla crushing Tokyo.

Simultaneously launching a solo career while still a key member of the P-Funk consortium, in 1976 Bootsy delivered Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band (Warner Bros.), his first in a string of highly successful efforts that kept the funk alive in disco’s heyday. Running his bass through juicy envelope followers and beefy distortion, Bootsy brought his unique style of slap, cackle, and pop front and center, and  his star shone brightly between 1976 and 1982 as he released , seven funk-drenched solo albums.

Bootsy’s raw, organic bounce started to take a backseat to slick R&B and the computerized lockstep rhythms of hip-hop electro-boogie in the mid-Eighties, around the time four young Hollywood punks who called themselves the Red Hot Chili Peppers began to develop their own strange brand of white suburban funk. Like Parliament-Funkadelic, who combined psychedelic rock, soul, and funk into an infectious new style of music, the Chili Peppers blended punk, funk, and pop to concoct a whole new thang.

The heartbeat of the Chili Peppers’ groove is the manic slap-bass style of Michael Balzary, better known as Flea. Like Bootsy, Larry Graham, Louis Johnson, and the other forefathers of funk bass, Flea treats his ax as a percussion instrument as much as a melodic one, and he attacks the strings with an aggressive energy that inspires both body slamming and butt shaking. Breaking down punk’s “disco sucks” prejudices, Flea’s extreme funk inspired a new generation of bassists to dig through the bargain bins for forgotten P-Funk gems.

One might say that Bootsy passed the funk baton to Flea, but neither ever stopped running in the race. Bootsy’s career expanded into collaborations with an eclectic mix of artists, including Herbie Hancock, Keith Richards, Cyndi Lauper, Bill Laswell, Deee-Lite, Gov’t Mule, and Fatboy Slim. When hundreds of rock bassists turned Flea’s sophisticated slap style into a macho display of speed. Flea went in the other direction, transforming himself into a smooth melodic stylist influenced by jazz and Motown’s James Jamerson. In addition to expanding pop’s horizons with the Chili Peppers, Flea has worked with a diverse group of creative partners, making guest appearances on records by Young MC, Tracy Chapman, the Mars Volta, and Alanis Morissette.

Considering the vast acreage of common ground shared by Bootsy and Flea, it makes perfect sense for Bass Guitar to bring together these two icons, who brilliantly represent two generations of funky bass. This monumental meeting of the minds came about after years of trying to synchronize the action-packed schedules of Bootsy and Flea, but the bass gods bestowed us our wish when Bootsy emceed last year’s Amsterjam concert, head-lined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Catching up with the duo the night before the show, we found Bootsy and Flea’s discussion about the funk—and what it means to them—as lively, spirited, and free as their performance together the next day, when the Peppers closed a great set by bringing up Bootsy and Snoop Dogg for “Give It Away” and Dr. Dre’s “Ain’t Nothin’ but a G Thang,” as well as classics from Curtis Mayfield and James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine.” Thirty-five years after Bootsy planted a seed that would sprout Flea, the funk has come full circle.

BASS GUITAR What turned you on to bass?

FLEA For me it was simple. I wanted to be a trumpet player when I was a kid, and that was all I wanted to do. But my friends had a band and they didn’t like the bass player, so they asked me if I wanted to play bass. I said, “OK!” I was on stage two weeks later playing a gig.
BG What music did you grow up listening to?

FLEA The first music that I ever saw being played was this incredibly sophisticated jazz. My real father worked for the Australian customs department, and we had a pretty square household, but after my father and my mother split up, my mom married this jazz musician maniac guy, a great jazz upright bass player, and all of a sudden it was a whole other scene. I was eight years old, and there were saxophone players, trumpet players, and drummers jamming and playing jazz all day, and I was like [rolls up eyes, leans back. and shakes arms like he having a seizure)… Whoa! I would just roll around on the floor laughing. I was in bliss. I couldn’t believe it. When I get that feeling now, when I’m playing, that’s when I know that it’s on.

BOOTSY I started doing the same thing when I was about eight with my brother Catfish, who is eight years older than I am and was playing guitar. He always had a band over at the house—chicks hanging out, wine bottles… I thought that was the coolest. I wanted to be like that. Every time he would go on his paper route. I would take his guitar out of the closet and mess around with it, then put it back just like he had it. But one day he came home and I was sitting there whackin’ away at that mutha. Next thing I know I was sprawled out on the floor—my brother had wore me out. Mama came home—“What you doin’, boy?!”She pulled my brother up off me. I never touched his guitar anymore. But I had to get me a guitar.

I always wanted to play with my brother, so I got the guitar, but it wasn’t working because he was also playing guitar. So I figured maybe I need to change to bass. I got some old bass strings from a bass player who played with my brother, put them on this $29 guitar, and it was the best-sounding bass in the world. You know that old, low bass sound? Man. it was the best-sounding mud. My brother’s bass player had another gig one night and couldn’t make it, so I begged my brother to take me down to the gig, and that was it. That’s when I started playing bass. (continued on page 54)

(cont. from page 36)

FLEA How old were you?

BOOTSY I was 12 when I got the gig with my brother, but I had been messing around a lot before then.

BG Flea, how did you first become aware of Bootsy?

FLEA I lived in a poor neighborhood, but I had this one friend from school whose parents had money and they had a swimming pool at their house. That was a big deal when I was a kid. We were in the pool and we thought we heard someone sketching out or something; this was before I even started playing bass. Someone was like, ‘This is Bootsy’s Rubber Band.” I was like, “What the hell is this?” It was like a cartoon come to life. I had never seen anything like it. It gave me that same great feeling that I got from the jazz—it was just this free, happy feeling.

BOOTSY That’s wild!

FLEA It blew my mind. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. There was this music, and the pool-forget it!

I should let it be known that when I first heard Bootsy as a bass player, he completely changed my idea of what a bass was and what it was there for. There were two bass players who affected me that way; the other was Jaco Pastorius, who was like, Wow! No one ever did that on a bass before. That was the same thing I felt when I heard you, Bootsy. There was no other sound like that–the envelope filter and the rhythms, like “If You Got Funk, You Got Style” [from Funkadelic’s 1976 classic Hard-core Jollies (Priority)). That was probably the biggest influence on me. It changed my idea of what bass was and what its function was.

BOOTSY That’s incredible.

FLEA I didn’t start listening to rock music until the end of high school. The first popular music that I liked was funk and Hendrix. I liked the funk because it has that rhythm that you can hear in jazz, and I liked Hendrix because he was a virtuoso; I could relate him to the great jazz soloists. Bootsy, when did you find out about Hendrix?

BOOTSY  Right before I started playing with James Brown. When I heard Jimi, it was like, “OK, son. What you’re thinking is cool to do.” And when I got together with George [Clinton) and them, his thing was, Whatever you’re hearing, just go out in the studio and do it. I wasn’t ready for that because I had just came from playing with James, and he was so stiff and wanted things played a certain way. It was great—I needed that discipline—but with George there were no walls behind the sky, so I was able to discipline myself. Getting to work with George was probably the greatest thing that happened to me.

BG Bootsy, you were one of the first bass players to string effect pedals together and use lots of distortion. Is that something you picked up from Hendrix?

BOOTSY It was like there was this noise in my head and I was trying to get it out. I started messing with different things. I didn’t want to sound like just a bass player. There were some great ones coming out at that time, like Larry Graham. I wondered where I could do something that was different. I was different anyway, but I was hearing these sounds and I wanted to duplicate them. I searched out things that would let me do that, and I still do that. Using all those different effects was my way of speaking.

It was the right time for me to do that. Before then, bass was always in the back-ground. When I was playing, it was cool for the bassist to start coming out front. At that time we didn’t actually know where we were going but we were going. You just have to stick what you’re doing and see where it leads P

FLEA That’s when you start doing something new. When you get to the other side what you’ve done is really successful, people always want to hear it. That can stop you going through that experience again. That opportunity to do something completely is always available, but you have to be willing to take a risk. The more successful you become, the trickier it is to do that.

BG Both of you have incorporated slapping into your styles, but it’s not the only thing you do

BOOTSY When I was starting out, Larry Graham was doing that too, but he was already doing that when he was with Sly Stone.

FLEA Didn’t Sly play bass on “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”?

BOOTSY, That’s right, and a lot of people don’t know that.

FLEA Obviously, all the great slap bass

(continued on page 90)

(cont from page 56) players were playing before I even knew what a bass was, and it was something that I loved right away. But when I started doing It, I had my own way. Once again, it was that more angry, aggressive thing. I was whacking the shit out of it until my fingers were literally bleeding and cut open. I played that way for a long time, but once it became a popular thing I didn’t wear to do it anymore.

BOOTSY Everybody was doing it.

FLEA  All these rock bands had guys who played slap bass and were beating the hell out of it. It became this macho thing and the art wasn’t really in it. I didn’t do it for a long time and instead I got into James Jamerson, playing these flowing lines.

BOOTSY That’s who really influenced me.

FLEA Everybody has to bow down to him. The first time someone turned me on to him—it was Jeffrey Connor, who is a great bass player—I was told to listen to the bassline on Marlin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”  All of a sudden I realized Mat James was soloing the entire time. I never noticed that before, I was so absorbed in the words, because Marvin is so heavy.  James is playing all over the place, but the bass never steals center stage. It sounds beautiful, and he’s playing counterpoints to the vocal melody. He’s giving you changes and roots at the same time. It’s unbelievable.

BOOTSY Even before I knew that I wanted to play bass, lames blew me away.

FLEA James didn’t just play a riff, like so many bass players did before. He was always flowing through the song.

BOOTSY. Everything he did had class.

BG When did y’all first meet?

BOOTSY I remember seeing Flea way back in the early days and his eyes would just light up. And it would make me light up! I didn’t know what he was lit up about. Maybe he was high—I was high, too!

FLEA It would be like, “Bootsy Collins just walked in the room! Oh fuck! It’s Bootsy!” I couldn’t even talk.

BOOTSY You were so wired up that I was going, ‘Wow, What is he on? Maybe I need some of that!? It was so cool.

FLEA I was excited to meet you. I remember the first time—we were at the weirdest concert: Sigue Sigue Sputnik at the Palace in Hollywood. You were there with George Clinton, and we were just about to work with George [Clinton produced the Peppers’ second album, 1985’s Freaky Style, (EMI)] BOOTSY EMI called me to work on your first album.

FLEA That’s right. I remember we told them that we wanted to work with either Bootsy or George. But we hadn’t met either of you.

BOOTSY George had me working on some other project, like Parliament or the Horny Horns, so I couldn’t do it, but he was available.

BG Bootsy, what’s been the difference between being a member of P-Funk and being on your own?

BOOTSY Being a solo artist is a whole different thing. Instead of me being camouflaged, I’m now up front and everybody is looking at me. It’s hard to carry that for years. All I ever wanted to do was to be in the greatest band in the world. All of that came true, but the other part of it was stepping out and doing my thing. It was good, I learned a lot, but that’s one thing that I don’t want to do anymore. I’d rather be with a group.

BG Will you ever do a solo project, Flea?

FLEA That’s a good question. I have a studio now and I’m recording stuff at home. I want to make jazz records. I have recorded some music that I’d love to put out, but I just need the right context to do it. But the thing that stops me from doing a solo record is the fact that I’m really not a good singer. I can sing notes, but I don’t have the instrument to be a really good singer. I’ve tried to write songs and sing them—I’ve done a few good ones that I’ve thought about putting out—but I’m just really not a great singer. I’ve realized that’s just not my destiny. Although my “get-on-ups!” were pretty good today. [Laughs.)

BG it’s interesting that you both started out in bands that were revolutionary, blending many different elements and making them your own. The Red Hot Chili Peppers emerged from LA.’s punk-rock scene, but you guys weren’t the typical punk-rock band.

FLEA That was how we felt. We came up in this punk-rock community where everything was really frantic and angry. We wanted to play funk, and that was just the way it naturally came out, a little faster and harder.

BOOTSY That’s what made you different.

FLEA Yeah. We were coming from a different place. We were really into New York punk- funk, like James Chance and Defunkt—Joseph Bowie and his brother Lester, who was with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. I liked that stuff a lot. But I’ve never been big on categorizing music. For me, if something is beautiful, it’s beautiful. There’s country music that I like. I just like music.

BOOTSY I’m the same way. If it makes you feel good, it’s good.

BG flow do you define funk?

BOOTSY Just doing what you feel. That’s funky. As long as you don’t let nothing get in the way of that, it will be funky. It’s the attitude that you bring to what you’re doing. It ain’t necessarily music. It’s a whole approach to life.

FLEA I feel the same. It’s a feeling of life, and funk is a microcosm of life. I was just thinking about that because we were playing “Sex Machine.” I learned that song when I was a kid, but I haven’t played it in a long time. I put it on and was remembering the riffs. I was thinking that the difference between being funky and not being funky is like knowing all the parts and the chords and being able to play it “right”—but it’s not about playing it “right.” It’s about how that groove resonates in your heart, for real, until the point where it can make you weep.

BG Both of you have managed to remain hip and relevant for several decades. What’s the secret?

FLEA You’ve just got to be yourself. If you love music with your heart and that’s who you are, it’s always going to be a beautiful thing. You’re not going to be concerned with whether it’s cool or not. You just want to embrace what you love because it means the world to you. You have to be willing to die for music.

BOOTSY Kids relate to that. They know when you’re faking it. You can tell them what you want to tell them, but if it ain’t coming from your heart, they already know it.

FLEA You have to play what you love. It’s great to keep growing, looking, and searching, listening to what’s going on, being aware and in touch with the world—but that doesn’t mean that you always have to change. You need to believe in yourself and keep reaching where your own heart goes. That’s the key to having a happy life.

BG Any recommendations for bass players?

FLEA Check out Squarepusher!

BOOTSY Don’t fake the funk or your nose is gonna grow! ?





[Please note: The font size was incredibly small in this part of the article and therefore hard to read. I’ve tried to make it as accurate as I can but there might be mistakes in it!]

AS WE WERE GOING TO PRESS, we heard a rumor that Flea was going back to his signature Modulus basses after a six-year love affair with his shell-pink ’61 Fender Jazz. Tracy Robar, Flea’s tech, confirmed It: “Yes, the rumors are true Flea is back to using Modulus basses, the reason being the need for a more cutting and defined tone out In the house. The Fender basses sounded killer in the rig and in-ear monitors, but weren’t cutting [in the house] for his out-front style of bass playing. The Modulus basses, with their fast necks, really seem to complement his Playing very well with the Chili Peppers’ live show.” Flea used Old GHS flatwounds on the Fenders, but the Modulus basses will be strung with Flea’s signature standard-gauge GHS Boomers.

Robar, says they’re now taking four Flea signature basses on tour; the well-known 4-string with the Circle Jerks and Joy Division stickers is a backdrop to Flea’s primary bass. Flea tunes down a whole-step for “If You Have to Ask,“ and he also tunes down a half-step for “Breaking The Girl,” two songs making a return to the set list after a long absence.

Flea’s only effects are an Electro-Harminix Q-Tron envelope filter, a Boss ODB-3 Overdrive and an MXR Micro Amp boost. His Shure ULX Pro wireless  unit lets him roam the stage, and he rocks future sonics in-ear  monitors, too. His amps are, of course, Gallien-Krueger: 2001RB heads, plus three 410RBH 4×10 and three 115RBH cabs.




By Bill Lanphier

THIS AIN’T YOUR grandfathers funk, no siree. Flea blasts out in-your-face, super-aggressive bass riffs that makes one’s head spin. And without detracting from the overall direction or groove of the song, the tattooed bassist invariably creates interesting, well-thought out lines.

In FIGURE 1, an excerpt from “Subway to Venus” (Mother’s Milk. EMI, 1989). Flea makes effective use of rhythmic contrast and stars out with a fairly straightforward line (doubled one octave higher on guitar by John Frusciante). The emphasis in bar I is on beats one and three; in bar 2 the bassist plays a similar rhythm but is conspicuously silent on the downbeat (beat one). Bar 3 is a very cool embellishment of the fun bar and in dudes a quick up-and-down finger slide (performed with either the ring finger or the pinkie supported by the ring finger), plus a punctuated accent on the second 16th note of beat three that creates a hard-hitting syncopation. The bassist lays back somewhat in bar 4 with a relatively simple eighth-note rhythm, and in the final bar, the first two beats morph into slapped octaves. Be sure to practice this figure, and all the remaining examples in this lesson, slowly at first while tapping your foot on each beat.

Flea’s super-catchy slap bassline during the verses of “Give It Away” (Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Warner Bros., 1991) (FIGURE 2) is proof that a memorable part can be simple and sparse. Although the fret-hand-muted “dead” notes in the line (indicated by X’s) fall on 16th, note upbeats, most of the main notes fall on the downbeats or eighth-note upbeats (there aren’t that many of them). Also noteworthy is Flea’s use of soaring forger slides high up the neck.

One would be hard-pressed to make an electric bass sound deadlier than Flea does on the intro to “Suck My Kiss” (Blood Sugar Sex Magik). FIGURE 3 shows a similar type of line. The damage results from aggressively picking notes down at the bottom end of a great-sounding instrument. And the two dead notes at the end of the fast repeated bar pull back the trigger for the next three bars (bar I repeated), all equally lethal. The final bar is a great example of a line that sounds better in practice than in theory; hammering out an otherwise sleepy Dm9 arpeggio- D,F,A and E- gives it some serious teeth.

The percolating fingerstyle line in FIGURE 4, reminiscent of Flea’s line on “Magic Johnson” (Mother’s Milk), breaks all of the old-school rules. Of the five notes used in the first bar, not one of them is the root note of the guitar chord, E5. The next bar begins not with an articulated note but a hammer-on from the previous note. And it’s still not an E.

Midway through the second bar, Flea actually hits a low E, but it’s on the second 16th note of beat three, followed by three more 16th-note upbeats. For contrast and variation, the E note is played an octave higher (in bar 4). This bassline looks pretty nuts, but played against the more straight-ahead drum and guitar parts, it grooves like a mo-fo. Make sure you accurately silence the strings during the rests (and after each staccato eighth note) by muting the string you just picked with either or both hands.

FIGURE 5 is a bass tiff along the lines of what Flea plays in “Good Time Boys” (Mother’s Milk). This example demonstrates how three consecutive, rhythmically identical bars may be followed by a bar that’s completely different to form a satisfying four-bar phrase. Notice that bars 1-3 are funky and sparse, with aggressive slapping and big holes of silence, while bar 4 abruptly shifts gears to “pumping” rock eighth notes, and is down a major third (from B to G).

Flea’s eight-bar solo in “Stone Cold Bush” (Mother’s Milk) (FIGURE 6) is a slapping tour de force. Flea manages, via the use of dead notes and legato finger slides, to maintain a relentless barrage of 16th notes. The slides connecting every other note on the first two beats of bar 4 afford the right hand a brief rest. Notice that, at the end of bar 4, Flea has planned ahead and sets up a repeating one-bar phrase that follows with a figure he’ll repeat at the end of bars 6 and 8. Even though the groove commencing in bar 5 begins with the emphasis mainly on beats one and three, the bassist’s use of dead notes gives it more rhythmic interest. As he repeats the one-bar phrase, Flea fills in some of the dead notes with discernable pitches, thereby revealing the ghost notes that were there all the time.

A great example of Flea’s fingerstyle funk playing is the sere section to *Around the World” (Californication, WEA, 1999). FIGURE 7 shows a similar type of line. Notice the two-wave range between the lowest and highest notes and the way they alternate, creating a feeling of “call and response.” To achieve the desired staccato effect (indicated by the dots above the tab numbers), quickly loosen your fret-hand’s grip on each note after picking it. And pick the strings near the bridge for a twangy, midrange-y tone.

Although he often plays with reckless abandon, Flea can play clean, supertight 16th-note lines when the song calls for it. A fine example is “C’mon Girl” from Stadium Arcadium (Warner Bros.), where he maintains a steady stream of nimble, “double-picked” 16th notes (each note is played either two of four times in a row). FIGURE 8 depicts a similar kind of line. As with the previous example, pick the strings near the bridge to get a nasally, midrange-y tone.

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