It's not news that Collins is an inspiration. Starting out as one of James Brown’s original J.B.’s, he went on to play with Parliament-Funkadelic, Bootsy’s Rubber Band and lent his talents to groups like Axiom Funk, Praxis, and Fatboy Slim. He's not only influenced those who grew up listening to his unique brand of funk and soul, but he's turned on a whole generation of younger people just discovering his music. After over forty years in the business, Collins is still going strong and, as he says, "keeping the funk alive."
He recently contributed to the Sly Stone tribute CD, I’m Back! Sly Stone and Friends, rapping on the classic “Hot Fun In the Summertime.” His own new album, Funk Capitol of the World, was released in April of this year. I talked with Collins by phone about these projects and the sense of pride he feels for both of them.
How did you get involved with the Sly Stone album?
A producer called from the record company and asked if I would be interested in being involved [in] recording for Sly Stone’s record and I was like “Would I be interested? I’d be honored, man!” So we played together.
Had you worked with Sly before?
Oh, yeah. We’ve been on tour together. We actually played in Detroit in 1981 for about six to eight months, in and out of the studio. Yeah, we’ve definitely done some things together in the past.
Did you choose “Hot Fun In the Summertime” or was that Sly’s choice?
The record company gave me a few songs to pick from and I always loved that song. It’s one of those kind of songs where, you know, you’re in your convertible and you’ve got the top down. It’s one of those fun kind of songs. It’s perfect for me to be on. It’s one of my all-time favorites.
Your album Funk Capitol of the World celebrates positivity, but never loses its musical edge. Was this your plan for the record before you even wrote the songs?
Yeah, I wanted to keep the party air about it but at the same time I wanted to spread hope. That’s my whole mission now to spread the positive side of it. Not just talking about it and singing about it but being that example. I feel like in my life now, I made it through all the hoops, the sideshows, I made it through all that. I had a chance to turn myself around from bad habits and things like that. I wanted to share that with people.
How did you get Samuel L. Jackson to tell his story on the song “After These Messages”?
That’s a funny story. We were actually working together on a Tiger Woods commercial. This was about two years ago and I was actually just starting on my record, trying to come up with exactly how I wanted to approach it, who I wanted to use on it. It was just funny because the people I was working with were there and said, “Why don’t you just ask him and see what he says?"
We had done the ESPYs, where they honor certain sports figures. I had gotten together with Samuel and done the entertainment thing that one night and he was the emcee. He always told me he wanted to sing something with me on a track.
So from there we did the commercial and the next day I asked him, “Hey, why don’t we go into the studio and do this track that I got. I want you to rap on it.” He asked what I wanted him to say. I said just talk about how music affected you and your life and how it got you to the silver screen. And that’s what he came up with, right off the top of his head. It was so good, in fact, he asked me did I have another track. I did, by the way, but we’re gonna save that for the next record.
Reverend Al Sharpton preaches a sermon about James Brown on Funk Capitol. Was he eager to be part of your project?
That was all a part of the whole concept that I was looking at [for] this record. I just had to get the right people. And it wasn’t hard to get the right people, cause they all just kind of showed up. In some way or another. It was just about asking him to do it, with me explaining to him what I was doing.
It was pretty cut and dried if they wanted to be involved because it was something very positive. They just felt like 'okay'. Ain’t no way I could have paid all these people. So they really wanted to be involved. That really helped a lot. The way things are now, it’s kind of tight. So to get that kind of support from these guys it was just incredible.
It seems you’re using your songs to educate as well as entertain. What do you hope people, especially your younger listeners, will take away from this music?
Not to think that they did it all themselves. I didn’t do it all myself. Where did I get my funk from? James Brown, for starters, Jimi Hendrix. And I just named a [couple of] people who inspired me, that encouraged me. So I wanted to make sure I did a tribute to them, so young people would know that I didn’t just appear.
When all is said and done. I see all these people discovering my songs on YouTube and all of this, that, and the other thing and they say, “Wow! I didn’t know you did that.” It’s about exposure, letting the young people see that there was things going on. I think it’s exciting for them and it’s exciting for us as well.