Bootsy Collins: “James Brown said, “Son, just slow down and give me The One”

American soul singer and songwriter James Brown (1933-2006) performs live on stage with the J.B.'s, including bass guitarist Bootsy Collins and guitarist Catfish Collins, in East Ham, London in March 1971
(Image credit: Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)

Bootsy Collins’ other-worldly bass work with James Brown and Parliament/Funkadelic has guaranteed him a place among the world’s funk royalty. Having hit the ground running with Brown’s backing band in the early '70s, the JBs, Bootsy developed an intuitive understanding of how to groove, and in turn established the bass guitar as an instrument that was capable of driving the band and commanding the song, rather than merely supporting it. 

“The most important lesson I ever learnt was how to play ‘the one’, and I learnt that from James Brown," said Bootsy when I interviewed him for Bass Guitar magazine in 2010. 

If you give me that One, you can do anything – and everything – you want to do.

James Brown

"When I came in to play with James I was still playing a lot of guitar, so I was playing a lot of guitar stuff on the bass. Then James Brown called me one night and he said, ‘Son, just slow down and give me the one. I love all these things you’re doing, you’re a great bass player, but if you give me that one you can do anything, and everything you want to do.’ And that’s where it all started for me.”

James Brown 1971

(Image credit: Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage)

Suddenly, Bootsy found himself with a little homework to do. “First of all I had to find out what 'The One' was! In that day we had no idea. Everyone is getting educated on it now, but we didn’t have a clue, so we had to go and figure it out, work with it and experiment with it, and by the time I got with Parliament Funkadelic I knew what The One was and I took it with me.”

In this video Bootsy unpacks the rudiments of his funk formula. 

“It’s essential to any groove that you learn to play in the pocket," he says. "The pocket holds everything together, and once you’ve set up that groove you can do everything that you want to do; that’s what the funk is all about! 

"You go in that zone and it’s almost like a meditative state of mind, where there’s nothing there but groove and you’re caught up in it. The One is the foundation, and on top of this foundation you can go anywhere.” 

Bootsy’s album, The Power Of The One (opens in new tab), is out now.

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Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.