As saxophone player for funk legend Bootsy Collins, Randy Villars has toured the world. In this Player Profile, Randy shares his experiences touring, plus shares some advice on how to learn saxophone that has made him so successful.
What I’ve been up to lately:
Last 4 ½ years touring with legendary funk master Bootsy Collins.
Although I started touring with Bootsy in 2011, we actually first met when I did a bunch of sessions with him back in the early 2000s. Bootsy has a studio in his basement here in Cincinnati – it’s like walking into a 70’s funk museum with shag pile carpets and all his George Clinton memorabilia. It was at Bootsy’s sessions that I met and worked a lot with Fred Wesley too. Fred has an amazing knowledge of horn section writing and playing, that he developed through his years working with James Brown.
Although I had spent years running my own production company writing music for jingles and doing some film scoring, I quickly realised just how much I had to learn about horn section playing when working with Fred and Bootsy.
Fred was really specific. He would say “that note needs to be short!” And he meant “really” short! With Fred, dynamics in the section are really important too – it’s part of the Bootsy sound. There were other things I found really interesting too, like the use of swung rhythms in the horn parts over a straight groove in the rhythm section. That was really interesting to me as a jazz player.
Another thing that was a big part of playing in Bootsy’s band was the concept of “the one”. Whereas before funk it was about the backbeat – on 2 and 4, in Bootsy’s music, the first beat is the most important. Everything comes back to that first beat. That came from Bootsy being schooled by James Brown and his way of feeling the time. When the groove is right and you feel that “one”, there is a whole different feel to the music.
In 1970, Bootsy and his brother were hired as the “Original JB’s” – James Brown’s backing band. They played on some of his biggest recordings including “Get Up” (Sex Machine), and “Soul Power”. Bootsy went on to play with George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic and then run his own group “Bootsy’s Rubber Band”. Bootsy was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
Fred Wesley’s arrangements were just perfect. I have so much respect for him as a musician. We spent a lot of time together in the studio working on Bootsy’s albums in the years before I started touring with the band. Many times Bootsy would suggest changes to Fred’s arrangements in the session, and Fred would just sing us new parts complete with harmonies on the fly. Seeing him in action like that makes you realise how deep he is as a musician.
Taking Bootsy’s music on tour was just as much fun. And an amazing workout. In fact, my friends would say “you’re touring with Bootsy Collins? That must be really fun and easy – there’s only one chord in that music right?” I would tell them Bootsy’s music is like classical music – tempo changes, time changes, key changes, different articulations and rhythmic feels, ritards and accelerandos. The music could really use a conductor because there are so many intricacies in the show. As far as the harmony goes, it’s anything but one chord – it’s quite complicated. You have to be an informed musician to be able to play that music.
We did two weeks of full rehearsal days before the first tour and the band was amazing. Bernie Worrell (keyboards) and DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight (guitar)from the original Parliament-Funkadelic were in the band, plus T.M. Stevens who had played bass with Miles Davis back in the 70’s. It was one of the most fun musical experiences of my life.
Check out Randy in action with Bootsy Collins
Bootsy on youtube: https://youtu.be/dHACfW68HZI