Cincinnati-born Chris Sherman was once dubbed ‘The New Spiritual Warrior For The Funk’ by none other than the legendary Bootsy Collins, who was instrumental in Sherman finding his own bass guitar sound and path, now under the name Freekbass.
His first musical endeavors were based in his home town’s School for Creative and Performing Arts, where he caught the eye of Gary ‘Mudbone’ Cooper, who engaged the upcoming bass player to record a track for a tribute to Jimi Hendrix.
So impressed was the erstwhile Rubber Band singer Mudbone that he introduced the youngster to his former employer. However, Freek is no Collins clone – he is considered a towering figure in the intersection between classic funk, futuristic explorations and hip-hop, as well as being renowned for his technique, squelchy sound and ultra-funky soul.
A series of increasingly well-received albums has emerged over his two-decade career to date, working with both P-Funk alumni as well as taking the idea of funk into weird, wonderful, and very danceable new universes of sound. During lockdown he’s been releasing videos and songs online, and among other things has a new Twitch tutorial channel.
Here, Freekbass talks us through some of the pivotal records in his adventures. Let’s get Freeky!
All The Way This. All The Way That (2019)
“This is a great portfolio of where I’m at as an artist, bass player, and songwriter. One side of the album was recorded at Color Red Studios in Denver, Colorado, and it has a retro sound, with the production qualities of the funk of the '60s and '70s – the sounds of Motown, Westbound Records, Funkadelic – which have been a huge influence on me.
“We recorded it totally live in the studio, overdubbing some vocals, onto a real tape machine so we could oversaturate the drums. I got some great bass tones on that. If someone made a mistake we’d just start over. It really has a different kind of energy to it.
“The other side of the album is more futuristic-sounding, produced by me and Itaal Shur, who co-wrote Smooth with Santana and won all kinds of Grammys. We grew up playing together in Cincinnati, and we’re moving the funk forward into the future. Almost all my bass tracks, even if I have an initial bed or loop, I go back and re-track in one long take because the energy is different.
“Even if it’s a repetitive bassline, it has a human feel. We traded files back and forth between Cincinnati and New York City, some people here in the studio with me, recording and mixing in both spots.”
Everybody’s Feelin’ Real (2015)
“The keyboard player on this is the late, great ‘Razor Sharp’ Johnson, who was one of the original keyboard players in Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and toured with George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic for many years. On the drums were Chip Wilson and Ken ‘Bamn’ Smith, both of who’d toured with Bootsy, so we had a real tight core.
“We experimented with lots of bass tones; on this album, the bass has become very central. Some songs are just bass and drums, with Razor maybe doubling the bassline on keyboards.
“Duane Lundy has produced a couple of my albums, and on this one he ran my bass through weird speaker configurations, as well as running the drums through all kinds of stuff. We really spent time on production.
“Writing songs is like playing an instrument – hopefully you get better at it as you go along. On this album I really felt I was starting to come into my own in terms of knowing what I was doing. The sax player Skerik came in to play on Mama’s Like A Cowboy, on top of just bass and drums, and it sounded so full that it dictated the mood of the song.
“That also means lyrically – the way I approached the performance of the rhythm and cadence of my vocal part.”
Get Down (2021)
“If I had to choose one song that says ‘Freekbass’, this is it. Groove-wise, tone-wise, songwriting-wise, it’s all here.
“I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, which has a very strong funk history and Dayton is right up the road from us – bands like Ohio Players and Zapp were there.
“That Zapp song, More Bounce To The Ounce changed my life when I was a little kid. I realized that these were the kinds of lines I wanted to play, and the way I wanted my bass to sound.
“One of my main influences was Cameo, so when I was getting thumping and plucking down, it was partially their technique and tone, but also the way they were really repetitive, and almost robotic, but also very melodic.
“I’d been releasing a single and video a month since the start of the pandemic, because we weren’t going to be on the road for a while and I needed to keep creating, and keep things going. I almost didn’t release this, because it came so quickly.
“I just sparkled it up a little bit production-wise, and thought it was just a cool little thing, but it’s been one of our most-streamed songs of all time.”
Body Over Mind (2001)
“This is my debut album, so I was just learning, learning, learning. This is when I developed a pretty close relationship with Bootsy, who produced it. I would go over to his studio and we’d be there maybe eight hours a day for three or four weeks, and for the first three or four hours we would just talk.
“He’d talk about the music business and how to survive it – you know, don’t get too high in the highs or too low in the low moments, and how to build a career.
“I learned so much about recording, EQ, panning, and sampling, all the stuff that makes you not just a bassist but also enables you to be a producer
“He would give me templates of things to think about, then I would go back to my studio, write like crazy, and bring different people in. I was just starting my career at the time, so I was barely touring. I had a little four-track tape machine and
I was learning a bit about computer recording.
“At the time, I didn’t know how to navigate the music business at all, but Bootsy was never trying to make me Bootsy Collins II. He was setting me up so I could have a career as Freekbass.”