(This interview was originally published December 8, 2010 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)
When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I want to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Gary “Mudbone” Cooper. Funk fans should recognize him as a part of George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic, P-Funk All-Stars and Bootsy’s Rubber Band. '80s fans might recognize him as one half of the duo known as Sly Fox who had a huge hit with the 1986 single “Let’s Go All The Way” (which is one of my very favorites from that year). In addition, the Baltimore native has collaborated with artists such as Prince, Herbie Hancock, Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, The Ramones, Jimmy Cliff and Dave Stewart among others. That being said, let’s get on to some selections from my interview with Gary “Mudbone” Cooper…
Q: When looking up the meaning of “Mudbone,” I see that it is the name of an African tribe as well as a character in Richard Pryor’s stand-up comedy. How did you get the nickname “Mudbone”?
Gary: By the way, I never knew it’s the name of an African tribe. It was dropped on me jokingly by Bootsy Collins when he and I got together to start what became known as “Bootsy’s Rubber Band” and it stuck. Every time he’d introduce me to someone he’d say, “This is Mudbone.” They all went for it, and so did I (LOL). [If I ever get to interview Bootsy, I guess I will have to ask him why.]
Q: How did you first hook up with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic? What was the experience of being surrounded by all of those incredible musicians? What was your role in the group and did you actually perform on “Atomic Dog”?
Gary: When I moved to Ohio to connect with Bootsy, he had already been with Funkadelic so, I started recording simultaneously with Parliament/Funkadelic, starting with the Chocolate City album  and all the hits until “Atomic Dog.” Great feeling being amongst them and being one of them! I had influence doing many of their vocal harmonies and arrangements. I also played drums on quite a few recordings. I had left P-Funk briefly and returned by demand to play drums and sing backing vocals on “Atomic Dog,” the biggest hit in the P’s repertoire!
“Atomic Dog” is now regarded as one of the most iconic funk songs of our time. It was released in 1982 from George Clinton’s Computer Games album. It reached #1 on the Billboard R&B chart in April of 1983 knocking Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” out of the top spot. It would end up being the last #1 on that chart for the P-Funk collective. The song, often best remembered for the “bow wow” refrain, has been sampled dozens and dozens of times by other artists. Here is the video for George Clinton’s "Atomic Dog"…
Q: How have George Clinton and Bootsy Collins impacted your musical style and your life?
Gary: I’ll humbly say, we’ve impacted each other, but that really deserves a loooooooong answer, and more than likely will be answered in more detail in my autobiography that I’m writing.
Q: After nearly four decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time?
Gary: In my opinion, good content and melodies have weakened and are less apparent. Many songs today are just riffs. The only one that really mastered a riff/groove in song form was James Brown, King of the grooves. Today’s music is like a fast food chain instead of a good home cooked meal. With all the sampling and devices, real musicians are becoming a dying breed so to speak, but that’s my opinion.
Q: How did you begin working with Ted Currier and how was Sly Fox originally formed? Did you know Michael Camacho previous to forming Sly Fox? Did you consider yourself to be the driving force behind the group?
Gary: Ted Currier had a production deal with Capitol Records and signed George Clinton to do the project that birthed “Atomic Dog.” I wasn’t with the Funk at that time and was contacted by Clinton to come to Detroit to record but wasn’t interested. After speaking for some time, he convinced me to come to Detroit. There I met Currier who was handling the production and his counterpart the budget for Clinton’s project and Currier welcomed me. He then asked me what would I like to do and I replied to him I had interest in creating a duo. Currier and his partner introduced me to Michael Camacho after a few other attempts had been made to make the duo thang happen. We met at an ice cream parlor in Manhattan, which had a piano in it. Mike sat down started playing and singing. I joined in and immediately we both knew we had a unique quality and blend. I didn’t know Michael prior, but found out that day he previously sang on a Levi’s 501 Blues ad. Yes, I was a driving force [behind Sly Fox] because the deal and song was my idea.
Q: In 1986, “Let’s Go All the Way” became a huge hit and received heavy rotation on pop radio stations. You are credited with writing the song. Many interpreted the song to refer to having sex because of the title or nuclear war because of the video. Others have construed it to imply a disillusionment with various aspects of modern life. Can you, once and for all, confirm your intended meaning behind this song?
Gary: For me, the song simply meant that whatever your goal, dream or vision, you should go all the way to get it. In other words, don’t let anything stop you from achieving, especially yourself. Those that saw the video saw it had kids destroying weapons etc. I guess some wanted to relate it to sex, and it could be whatever you want it to be, kind of like funk in general….ha ha ha!
Sly Fox released the album Let’s Go All the Way in 1985 and the title track would end up being a top 10 hit the following year. The single would reach #3 on the UK chart and peak at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. I have always considered it a catchy song that you can’t help but bounce a little to. Now, after hearing Gary’s explanation of the meaning, I don’t even have to feel dirty about liking it so much anymore. Here’s the video for “Let’s Go All the Way” by Sly Fox…
Q: Did you ever expect that song to have that kind of success? How did that success change things for you personally and for Sly Fox going forward?
Gary: I felt if the song had a fair chance to be played and be heard and it would be a major success. I wrote it (or it wrote me) in 5 minutes, but I knew something unique was there. I sung the riff to Currier over the phone and he immediately knew there was something, too. We never demoed it, just preproduction to make the record. I could hear all the parts, beats, sounds in my head. It proved that I didn’t use George, Bootsy or P-Funk to get a hit recording and that I could stand on my own. It also confirmed that the duo concept was strong because Michael and I were actually the first [racially] integrated duo to make it on the major pop charts (then came the System, etc.). We did some great gigs, had a top 5 video on MTV for 6 months straight, but it was unfortunately short lived due to incompetent management and greed.
Q: Michael Camacho is often credited with vocals on this song. In the music video, it shows you both singing in harmony together. Are you actually singing harmony with Camacho or is it just his main vocals?
Gary: I wrote, arranged and came up with the melody for the song. Michael did an excellent job harmonizing with me. His visual and stage presence was very cool. We looked and sounded fantastic together.
Q: Who came up with the addictive drum beat that anchors the song? Do you actually play drums on this song?
Gary: I played drums on it along with a reverse kick. I was inspired by the Beatles “I Am The Walrus.” [That a Beatles song helped inspire part of this song is one of the coolest things I learned!]
Q: There is one repetitive part of the song which I love personally and is especially memorable to many who have heard the song. Whose voice is actually singing the “zhum zhum zingininny” line and how did you create that unique sound?
Gary: It’s my voice sampled many, many times doing the “zhum zhum zingininny, zhum zhum zingininny.” I used to make drum sounds, guitars, horns with my voice like beat boxers but even before, back in the day. It was a reaction, a good reaction!
Q: I like to ask this of everybody. When you have a mega hit song like that, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing it?
Gary: No, it’s a blessing to have such hits.
Q: I don’t consider the term “one-hit-wonder” to be a negative because it is one more hit than most musicians ever get. Are you proud of your one '80s pop hit? Are you surprised that Sly Fox was not able to have prolonged success after the sensation of “Let’s Go All The Way”?
Gary: I’m very proud of “Let’s Go All The Way.” Also note it gave me an R&B hit by the same production company with a rap act called The Boogie Boys using the same groove in the song titled “A Fly Girl” which reached #6 on the R&B charts in 1985. “Let’s Go All The Way” originally came out in 1985 and was re-released in 1986, so I had two hits with the same groove, kind of like a few of James Brown’s songs! Sly Fox could have continued to be a major group but the act wasn’t handled properly and unfortunately dissipated.
The follow-up single to “Let’s Go All the Way” was “Stay True” which barely cracked the Billboard Hot 100 later in 1986. Unfortunately, with that and (according to Cooper) management issues, Sly Fox would come to a premature end. Both Camacho and Cooper would go on to remain in the industry working on other projects. Michael Camacho has concentrated on jazz and has released a solo album.
Q: Do you keep in touch with Michael Camacho? Do you two ever still perform together as Sly Fox? Could you ever imagine reuniting to create new music as Sly Fox?
Gary: Michael and I have spoken recently and would love to get together and do new music. We still have some great ideas, but the industry has changed so much. Unless an interested investor, producer or label gets involved, it’s difficult but not impossible. I’m sure we’d be able to mash some serious tracks now.
Q: Some '80s pop superstars “run away” from the '80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. Another question I always ask, how do you personally keep the '80s alive and in perspective?
Gary: I’m open to it now and like to relive some of the energy and people from that era. Good music’s good music, good people are good people. If it’s the right situation, let the good times begin.
Q: I have to ask about working with Prince. What exactly have you collaborated with Prince on? Please tell me about that experience. I assume you are a fan of his as well?
Gary: I was requested by his manager at the time to play drums on a track for Graffiti Bridge. I also did an appearance at Paisley Park with George Clinton for a TV special called “The Ride Divine.” I was told he liked “Let’s Go All The Way” and invited me to play at his club, First Avenue, with Sly Fox. All I can tell you is, I LOVE PRINCE!
Q: Your released a solo album, Fresh Mud, in 2006. That had to be satisfying? You worked with the amazing Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics fame). How was the experience of working with Dave Stewart? Were you a fan of the Eurythmics back in the '80s?
Gary: Unfortunately, the album didn’t get out properly and may be reissued with changes at some point. I love working with Dave, he’s pure and uniquely interesting. Didn’t know much of their music then, but loved what I heard. He and Annie [Lennox] are great artists and most of all… real deal people!
Gary has also said that Stewart turned him on to the blues. He said “Dave loves the blues and he turned my head! I’d never allowed myself to think about it before because I always associated it with older people, but here was this hip guy of my generation dropping the blues on me. It came out so natural and I got swept away with it. I could see how it could become part of today’s music like soul and funk, rock and hip hop, and be brought up to date.”
Q: What else is Gary “Mudbone” Cooper up to now? Musically and otherwise?
Gary: I’m still writing some good music and looking forward to getting together with my band top of the year. I’m writing to finish my book [autobiography] now so it can have its chance to go out and bother someone else (LOL). It’s about my life from beginning to the Funk to now!
I am absolutely thrilled that Gary took the time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. I want to take this opportunity to thank Gary “Mudbone” Cooper for his outstanding contributions to '80s pop music and for reminiscing about the '80s for a little while with us. Zhum zhum zingininny.