Interview by Barbara Wiesenberg
Who is one of the busiest working bassists you’ll meet? That would be the versatile, dynamic, industrious and accomplished Ivan “Funkboy” Bodley. To wit, the bulk of this interview was conducted virtually; during “down time” at hotels and on buses between Japanese towns and during sound checks while Ivan was out touring. Subsequently, this interview journeyed along with Ivan back to New York City, where Funkboy lives.
Having worked and performed with thirty-five Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Ivan’s directed such legends as Sam Moore, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Tokens, and has played with (to name a few) greats such as Sting, Elvis Costello, The Temptations, Paul Rodgers, Wynonna Judd and David Foster. To be sure, Ivan’s career is remarkable in its scope. But in addition to living a bassist’s dream of steady and regular work, Ivan is the “go to” person whenever and wherever a bassist is needed who can get the job done, and done well at that; a distinction many bassists aim for and aspire to.
Ivan’s appearances credits are equally as impressive as the people he’s worked with, having appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Today Show, Emeril Live, Imus in the Morning, Charlie Rose Show, Live with Regis & Kelly, Creative Coalition Obama Inaugural Ball, Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra, and with the Israel Symphony Orchestra.
Currently, Funkboy’s playing up to two shows a day on The Great White Way in Rock of Ages, more often than not pulling a “triple,” energetically gigging after the last Broadway curtain of the evening falls.
Ivan’s latest recording projects are as the bassist on the CD portion of Bootsy Collins: Legendary Licks, Collins’ new instructional book / CD project, and in addition to that, his new release, “Look at That Cookie,” drops in September, 2011.
First off, thanks for agreeing to this interview! So tell me, how did it come about that you became a bass player? Story please.
I have a theory that your instrument chooses you. You don’t choose your instrument. I dabbled with things when I was quite young: viola, guitar, and piano. But nothing stuck or lasted more than 6 months. I didn’t play anything all through junior high and high school. Then when I was 17 the bass chose me. It made sense to me. It fit my personality, fit my hands. I haven’t looked back since.
How has social media changed the way you network business-wise? Has the speed of the rate information now travels made coordinating a busy career easier or more complicated?
Hugely! That’s how it’s affected my business. I can feel it palpably. Any time I go to a jam session or other gathering of musicians, people with whom I haven’t spoken in years are all up to date on what I’m doing because they read it on Facebook. It’s amazing. So I’m careful about the content I post, knowing full well that it’s getting read instantaneously by all of my contacts. It’s a powerful medium. I also try to post active content designed to inform and entertain.
You’re a busy, working musician. Do you ever take time off? What do you do in your down time?
Time off from what? Take a vacation from what? Down time? What’s that? I’m writing this to you from my hotel room in Tokyo, Japan. And even though travel is exhausting, and we work really hard while on the road, I don’t know too many people who would think that what I do isn’t fascinating work. We’ll go sightseeing on a morning off one day in Tokyo, for instance. But this is no 9 – 5 occupation by any stretch of the imagination. There are no paid vacation days, no sick days, no weekends, no holidays. I played half time at the Jets game last Thanksgiving. I played Christmas night on Broadway, in “Rock of Ages.” If I do have a day off, the last thing I want to do is get on another airplane and go anywhere. I just draw the blinds on the windows of my apartment and quiver in the dark..
I’ll have to go through my calendar to give you an accurate list. But I can give you a few off the top of my head: Tokyo, Japan; Sapporo, Japan; Miami, FL; Marksville, Louisiana (google that one!); Windsor, Ontario; NYC (Broadway, Carnegie Hall, etc); Virginia Beach, VA; Lima, Peru; Orlando, FL; Westbury, NY; Medford Lakes, NJ; Oh, I could go on. Upcoming gigs in Tulsa, OK; Chicago, IL; Phoenix, AZ; maybe Vegas, NV: and beyond.
How did the moniker “Funkboy” emerge?
Some friends at Tulane started calling me that because of the music I used to play on my radio shows, not because of my being a musician, oddly enough. The name just sort of stuck. And I liked it! It seemed to fit. Like all proper nicknames, they’re assigned by others rather than self-imposed.
You graduated Magna Cum Laude from Berklee College of Music. Do you teach music or mentor budding bassists? Have you written any instructional material?
I do teach privately. But only for folks who seek me out. I don’t advertise or seek students. If people want to know stuff, I have plenty to tell. But they’ve got to want it. I’m not out to sell anyone anything. I have taught in the past as part of rhythm section classes at the Drummer’s Collective and also out of Lennox Studios up in Stamford. There’s a new book of transcriptions of Bootsy Collins, part of the Legendary Licks series from Cherry Lane Music. I didn’t transcribe the music or write the excellent book, but they did hire me to be Bootsy’s stunt double and record all of the bass parts for the accompanying play-along CD. It was an epic endeavor! I’m also writing a book about deepening one’s pocket and groove. But I’m a little stalled on that project at present as summer is my busiest season.
What’s your vision for facilitating young bassists’ instruction and education? How would you like to see schools implement music programs, at a time where music programs are being cut from schools? How would you creatively use technology to enhance music instruction?
These are all fine questions. However, I have a very different approach to how I had to go about it as I was learning, because I went to a prep school in Chattanooga that had NO music program at the time! Forget public funding! So I had to seek out occasional private instruction and do most all of it on my own. I believe strongly in arts education. It’s crucial to cognitive development. But it’s hard for me to know what works since I saw none of it growing up! Now, that being said, once I decided that being a professional musician was what I really wanted to do, i.e., the thought of doing anything else at all just made me queasy, then I went back to school and got my Berklee degree. I already had a degree in Psychology from Tulane. So my later training was very regimented and taught by some of the baddest cats on the planet. Berklee was so important in my development. It’s allowed me to be a working musician for all of these years. I understand all the Berklee kids now have laptops with Pro Tools. But back in my day, Sonny, we had a pencil! You kids get off my lawn!
What’s it like to perform in Rock of Ages on Broadway? How would you compare the schedule of playing on Broadway to being out on tour? Was the audience and the “vibe” of being on Broadway different than that of other venues as diverse as large arenas, clubs or private events?
I sub in Rock of Ages about 2-3 times a month these days and have done for the past two years, subbing for the great Winston Roye. I’ve played 75 performances in the past two years. It’s changed my life. There’s no comparison to being on tour. I take the subway to work. And all I need to bring to the theatre is my eyeliner pencil, my in-ear monitors, and my brain. They have there my costume and the basses I’m to play. Rock of Ages is more than a little unique as far as the typical Broadway show goes. The band is on stage in costume for the whole show. We’re playing a rock concert every night! There just happens to be some dialog between songs.
What’s the largest venue you’ve played?
Meadowlands Stadium, Jets game, Thanksgiving Day, 2010, Half-Time show with the cast of Rock of Ages. 82,255 fans: Sold out!
A little bird told me you have an upcoming CD being released. Do tell! Details, please.
It’s called, Look at That Cookie. It’s my 4th release as a bandleader, and it’s my 2nd disc of music recorded with my dear pals, James Dower, on keyboards, and Joe Goretti, on drums. About 2-1/2 years ago, the three of us started recording each other’s material and eating sandwiches together on weekday afternoons. Having the sessions booked has forced me to write for them. I have 75 original tracks in the can now. I’ve never been this prolific or this happy with my writing, playing, or recordings. The new cd is going to be 11 songs of unadulterated fun! Image: The Meters and Lou Donaldson having a jam session. Echoes of Mardi Gras, Memphis & Motown, my main areas of expertise and experience. James is here in Tokyo with me right now as we’re on tour with the great Sam Moore. Joey is on the other side of our planet at this very moment on tour with Moby. Our sandwich dates will have to wait until the fall until we’re all back home in New York for more recordings. Look at That Cookie should be out this fall and available through CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, and all the usual retailers.
Pigs Feet & Potted Meat. How did you arrive at the title? What inspired that groove?
The CD cover photo was taken on my camera/phone at my local supermarket. It just looked like a CD cover. So I had to write a tune to go with it. The groove is reminiscent of a Meters kind of vibe from New Orleans, my 2nd home.
Who are your favorite modern bassists and influences? Name names! Name songs.
The only newer guy I’ve seen semi-recently whom I really like is Doug Johns. Most cats are either about groove or chops, but not both. He’s one of those rare cats who has both. He grooves really hard. That being said, there are dozens of classic players who never cease to amaze.
Favorite Classical composer(s)? How has classical music influenced your style?
I’m into Bach, Vivaldi and the Baroque dudes for the real classics. But I’m also wildly into Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley for the modern minimalist stuff. That stuff really lights me up. I took a Bach and Beethoven class at Tulane. The midterm exam was all listening, just identifying which movement of which Beethoven symphony. That’s the only test in my entire educational career that I ever got 100% on. My dad is a classical music buff. So I was exposed to it growing up. That has all served me very well in playing with violinist Alexander Markov and his Rock Concerto. Alex sold out Carnegie Hall last fall. We had 150 musicians and choral singers on stage. I play electric bass on that because I’m the “rock” guy in the concerto. There isn’t a feeling in the world like seeing your name over the door at Carnegie and then taking a bass solo on that stage. Heavy!
You are pretty diverse in your experience within the music business. Safe to say you’re a bass player, first? How does being a musician aid you in seeing various aspects of the business itself through that lens?
I do other things to facilitate being a player that are all business related. I don’t have an agent or a manager or a tech or an engineer. It’s just little old me out here trying to do it all! Having business experience facilitates the playing and vice versa. Everything contributes to everyone else. The same can be said about performing in so many diverse genres and formats. Everything bolsters everything else.
How do you balance it all? Obviously, you do it very well. I’m being cheeky here: Does your psych degree from Tulane assist you as a professional musician and music business person?
See above, about everything contributing to everything else. I’m not a psychotherapist. But I’ve met a few people who I think would benefit from a couple of visits to one! There is no such thing as balance! That’s an illusion! My pal, Killer Joe, and I say this all the time. It’s either feast or famine. I’m either going 900 miles an hour or sitting home for the winter waiting for the phone to ring. Actually, I don’t often sit home. But last winter had the tail end of the recession slowing the music biz down for a bit.
You bring up a good point. What do you do when the music business is “slow?” How have you been creative in networking out there, when the business doesn’t necessarily flow and come to you?
It’s really never slow for me. Last winter was an anomaly. I typically do 250 dates a year.
How valuable is a sense of humor in what you do? Care to share a funny story as an example?
You have to laugh to keep from crying. I forget who said that. But I think about it all the time. I constantly say to my bandmates: “What, and quit show business!?” I just have to quote the punchline about the dude who cleans up after the elephants at the circus, when asked why he doesn’t find another job. We just dragged our carcasses off a Trans-Pacific 13-1/2 hour flight, barely alive, literally dragging our behinds to the domestic transfer area for our 5-hour layover and 2nd flight of the day up to Sapporo. I’m pretty sure I said that at baggage claim: “What, and quit show business!?”
Which professional organizations and groups are you a card-carrying member of?
Local 802 AFM, ASCAP, AAA…
Which online groups for bassists would you recommend as sources of information and support?
There is so much great information out there just one search engine away. Back in my day, Sonny, there weren’t no YouTube. I couldn’t see John Entwistle’s hands play that lick on Sister Disco until I went to The Who concert in Biloxi. Once I saw him do it, the veil was lifted! Nowadays you can just Google that stuff and learn volumes in a fraction of the time.
What brands do you endorse? What’s the process for achieving endorsements?
Warrior basses, DR strings, Hartke and Markbass amps, Digitech and Line 6 signal processors. And I eat only Little Debbie snack cakes. I choose only gear that I use. Endorsements are symbiotic relationships between artist and manufacturers. We give them exposure, they give us gear at wholesale. Everybody wins!
What haven’t you done that you want to do? What’s your dream?
There’s still a big stadium tour on a bus with a currently charting artist who plays all of the major late night talk shows that I haven’t yet done. I don’t have anyone specific in mind. But that seems like something that’s within my reach. Everything else I dreamed about growing up I’m living every day.
Keep up with Ivan at: http://www.funkboy.net
Barbara Wiesenberg is a bassist, pianist, organist, educator, librarian and writer. She holds a Masters Degree in Library and Information Studies from Queens College, City University of New York. Her background includes being an academic music librarian, researcher, an English teacher, a curriculum writer, a church organist, a professional development coordinator for librarians and teachers, a volunteer theaterologist, and she is a self-confessed computer geek. Barbara very much enjoyed writing this interview and learned much about Pigs’ Feet and Potted Meat in addition to the intrinsic value of Little Debbie Snack Cakes.