My husband has played bass with a number of local bands ranging from rock n’ roll to eclectic world music. We know a lot of musicians, and therefore, I know how talented and interesting these musical humans are. Interviewing the musicians has been an incredibly interesting project.
Richmond has been the launching point for a huge number of musicians and bands that have been really successful: GWAR, NO BS Brass Band, Always August, Avail, Plunky and Oneness, Mad Skillz, Bio Ritmo, Susan Greenbaum, The Good Guys, Rebby Sharp, Pippin Barnett, Reggie Pace and so many others. Richmond is a creative hotbed of artists. Virginia Commonwealth University is certainly a big player in the artistic scene. They have a world-class music and fine arts program. But, I think Richmond is authentically creative in a grassroots way. RVA is a great music town! Up there with Austin!
My first interview is Jeff Bunn, bass player for The Brides of Funkenstein, Parliament Funkadelic and Parlet
“P-Funk is an old and fluid organization. It’s almost like a revolving door, you know?”
“I came out with the Bride of Funkenstein. Bootsy (Collins) did the record and I replaced him on the tour. That was a dream come true.”
I ask Jeff if he ever hung out with Bootsy.
“Not so much. The last time I was out with George Clinton, we were at the Apollo. We got together. It’s funny. When you’re in the family it’s like you don’t really need to be talking to each other a lot. Whenever we’re together we’re great because each of us is like okay, it’s great to see you. See you later.”
“Yeah, but it’s interesting. With the guys I get to be to be the kid. You know, it’s like I’m still young.”
I say, “You were young when you played with P-Funk, right?”
“Yeah, I was seventeen.”
I ask him when he moved to Richmond.
“Nineties. My wife’s mother was ill. We were commuting back and forth. We decided to move here to be closer to my mother in-law.”
Jeff currently lives in Richmond. He was born and raised in Baltimore.
“I tend to be an open book about everything. And not have any particular agenda. And what I’ve learned is – I learned it from George (Clinton) – he’s going to always call it back to himself, and the music and the project, right?”
“It’s interesting being at this age, and learning so many different things about the business, which is a pain in the butt. But I’ve rediscovered my love of music, which is just so joyous. But the music business. Should I use the word weaponized? You know, I was listening to some NPR this morning. They were doing mostly Latino Mexican music. They were talking to this one band, and the first thing that jumped out at me was longevity. They got together as a band twenty-four years ago out of Mexico. And you just don’t hear of that anymore in the music industry.”
“My first question comes across Facebook. What was the first concert you ever saw? That made me think about it. I was on my dad’s shoulders, it was late at night. He took me to this club. We’re in this club and it’s nothing but joy. In the back of the room is a band. The club says to my father, “you can’t bring that baby in here. I remember the vibe, the spirit of the moment. It was just love. It was pure, pure joy.”
“Later, I asked my father who the band was. He said it was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.”
“My parents were really powerful, powerful people. My father had issues. He was an alcoholic. Let me tell you about this guy. He ran away from home when he was fifteen to go into the Korean War. So that tells you what was going on at home. As a consequence, he was an alcoholic. Alcoholics are abusive. But he was a hell of a guy. I mean, he was self-employed as an electrician, and had his own TV repair shop and took care of two families. He never missed a birthday. Never missed a holiday. I give him his props.”
“I think back to the seventies and eighties. We used to make copies of cassettes. And each time you make a copy, it became worse. I think that’s how we are as a species. I think we become weaker, and just more corrupt through each generation. The things my dad withstood, I was like dude…”
“The guy that hired me to play for my church. Craig Matthew, this guy’s out of Detroit and the absolute cream of the crop minister of music. He and I were talking one day, and he said, ‘JB I tried to cut my grass the other day and I couldn’t finish it.’ He was saying he started to think about the generation that came up before him and what they were able to endure.”
“Like James Brown. You know, these guys, George Clinton. You know, those guys are on a different level. I mean, robust is not even a word to describe it. The last time I was out with George in 2010 with Funkadelic I had two goals. It was so physically taxing. It was hard in the no rules. George called up, hey, you’re going to be going out this weekend, right? Well, you may not know when, how or where you’re going. No idea when you’re going to return. So you’re sitting at home waiting for travel information. And then next thing you know, somebody’s at the front door to pick you up – c‘mon we’re going to Australia.”
“We went to Australia. We leave out of Newark, New Jersey. There’s a problem with the plane. It won’t start. So now we’re all scared, do we get off the plane? No. They’re going to fix the plane and we going to take it to Australia. We go to LA and we’ve missed the connection. The next day we’re playing on the west coast of Australia. Now we’re playing catch up. By the time we get to Australia, which is a seventeen hour flight, we’ve got to fly another three, four more hours to the west coast, and play that night. So that’s how that tour started. When we get back to the states and get back to Newark I’m thinking great, we’re done. I’m going home to see my kid. Oh no I’m not. I’m going to San Antonio, Texas to play South by Southwest. Get in the back of van. Not a tour bus. That’s what we got in from Newark to Texas after twenty-four hours of flying. That’s just one example. And it’s nothing for these guys. They’ve been doing this for thirty years.”
“They call me and ask me to do a gig in Tennessee. They fly me to Knoxville and I’m thinking this is pretty sexy – fly me out and fly me home. So they pick me up at the airport, go straight to the venue, do a quick sound check. Do the show. I’m going back to the room to go back home. Nooooo. Get on the bus. You’re going to Denver.”
I say, “How did you feel about that?”
“It doesn’t matter how I felt about it. This is the job. It’s a mafia thing. This is the business we’re in.”
I ask Jeff what it’s like hanging out with George Clinton.
“George and I go back to when I was a kid. Seventeen. I knew George in the heyday. I’ve known George in the hard days. The nineties. He’s been over to my house. Our relationship has grown and changed. My thing has always been relationships, regardless of what the business is doing and we may fight, we may not like whatever. But, I’m still going to maintain a healthy loving relationship with you. Right now, there’s a lot of angst within the situation. People feel like they got slighted.”
“It’s the problem with George Clinton and the music business at large. This is where I get into conversations with my Funkadelic family. They say George ripped me off for this and that. And they say they hate George. I say I can hate him too but if it wasn’t for George I wouldn’t have you.”
“There are quite a few tunes that I have contributed musically to that I haven’t received the credit rights. He doesn’t legally have to give me writer’s credit. This is a work for hire. It’s a legal clause in the copyright law. I don’t think it’s fair. My personal perception is because I grew up in a time when people wrote lyrics and music and both of you got credit. My perception is I should get credit for writing the music even though it’s not pen and paper. Hopefully, some things will get fixed before I die.”
I ask what songs.
“Freak of the Week. Mother May I. I’m Holding You Responsible. Michelle.”
I mention how much I love Freak of the Week. I ask Jeff how he got hooked up with Funkadelic.
He tells me a fellow musician in Baltimore hooked him up with the band in nineteen seventy-eight. “Two years with Funkadelic. Things are crazy. I join the air force. I was going to do thirty years. God had other plans. I came out of the air force after four years. Came to Richmond in ninety-four. Went back out with George for two years. It was crazy and I said that’s enough of that.”
I say, “Can you elaborate about crazy? Heavy drugs?”
“For George In the seventies it was a lot of cocaine. It was sex, drugs and rock and roll. In the nineties it was coke and free-basing crack. I remember when I quit in the seventies. Sheila, one of the brides (Brides of Funkenstein) called me and said Cherokee, you can’t quit now, we just got Sly. I say I’m not fooling with y’all. Come to find out Sly was smoking crack too. It was crazy.”
“Fortunately for me, I think God has given me an immune system to where I see that stuff, and it’s like, you know, you can’t do that stuff.”
I ask him about Parlet.
“We had two girl bands. Parlet is the female version of Parliament. The Brides of Funkenstein is the female version of Funkadelic. I was the bass player for the Brides of Dr. Funkenstein. We released two albums. The live album from the Howard Theatre is slamming. You should hear that.”
“My dream was to play for Bootsy since I was a kid. I took Bootsy’s place with the Horny Horns. I played with the Rubber Band. Maceo. All the Bootsy folks. So my dream had come true.
I mention how much I love Maceo.
“We have Prince to thank for Maceo still being with us. Maceo had gotten very ill and Prince paid all of his medical expenses and got him healthy again.”
“I’ve got a great Prince story. We were out in nineties. We just got back from Europe. Looking back on it now I wonder why didn’t connect the dots. I get a Fed-Ex from Paisley Park. I wonder what is this? I don’t know what’s going on. We fly to Minneapolis. On the tour, we have a gig to do in Minneapolis. I’m thinking we’re going to go to Minneapolis to do a gig. When we get to the airport, uncharacteristic of Funkadelic, we have someone there to meet us. They say okay, all of y’all go this way. We get in a van and they start driving and we think, okay, we’re going to the hotel, right? No, they took us to Paisley Park. Oh, wow. Whoa, wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait, wait, what are we doing?”
“We don’t know what’s going on. I’m sitting there putting all this makeup on. So what are we doing? What song are we doing? Okay, let’s go. Let’s go to the stage. Anyway, what happened was, we were there to soundstage and we’re doing this cut that I’ve never heard of. Next thing you know some really hot chick comes up to me and sticks a mic in my face and says who are you? I’m kind of shy. I say leave me alone, I’m working. And you know, she came to me. She says, have you seen Prince? I say, leave me alone. You’re scaring me. I look over to George like you wanna fix this?”
“We get to the hotel. Lo and behold Prince is having a fall special called the Rise Divine. And we were part of that. So, someone says, ‘Hey I saw you on TV with Prince.’”
“Yeah, I love that guy. He was scary great. And I think he was taken from us much too soon. The first time I saw Prince was 1979. We were playing the LA Coliseum. It was us, Rick James. I don’t know who else. Keep in mind I’m nineteen so I’m kind of overwhelmed. We’re headed down to the stage and I see this cat who looks like a Funkadelic and he’s being escorted off the stage. It’s him and this big, big white guy. After years past, I realized that was Prince being escorted off the stage. They didn’t want anybody on the stage when we went on. He had cut-offs on. He was looking really funky.”
“I’m backstage and I’m really awestruck. Then I see Larry Graham. Turns out all the Graham Central Station guys are back stage. Our guitar player, Michael Hampton is talking to Hershall Kennedy. On the floor are all of our gold records for Uncle Jam wants you. I say, wow, there’s my gold record. I should take my gold records. Then I think to myself, no, don’t take the records. Let them present it to you. I never got it. I saw it but I didn’t get it. Things went south with the record company so we didn’t get the record.”
“When I left Georgia in two-thousand fourteen a guy comes to the house and asks me if I want the gold record. I say, ‘what are you talking about?’ I had the blues. I was depressed. Then I got the record.”
“When you think something is done, and you’re going to move on to the next phase in your life, but you’re not done. I thought I was going to be in the Air Force for thirty years but here I am still playing for Funkadelic. But, I’m thankful. Very, very, thankful.”
“I have an eight year old son. His birthday is Tuesday. I love him more than chocolate cake. Life is good.