Ivan “Funkboy” Bodley humbly enjoys the rewards of his years of success playing bass and music directing for 48 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, and countless other iconic musicians, with no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. Ivan has played with Sam Moore from Sam and Dave, Sting, Elvis Costello, Temptations, Rufus & Carla Thomas, Bo Diddley, and Wynonna Judd. I caught up with the New York Blues Hall of Fame inductee for a quick interview.
When did you start playing bass?
I started playing when I was a senior in high school back in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is where I grew up. I dabbled in other instruments, but bass stuck with me. I don’t know why. Something just clicked, and I decided it was something I wanted to do. I took some lessons from someone at my school.
Do you remember what your first bass was?
Yeah. It was a used fender bass.
What made you decide you wanted to actually go to school to study music?
I majored in Psychology at Tulane. I realized the music business had nothing to do with music and it was all about marketing. I ran out of stuff I wanted to do. I decided that if I wanna give music a real shot, I needed to go to school. And I haven’t had a day job in 25 years. Music has paid the bills. I didn’t want to do anything else.
Do you remember your first big break?
You know, I’m still not sure if it happened. After each gig, I’m like, “oh well, now I’m back to being unemployed…” I remember big things happening early on and thinking, “this is cool,” but really it leads to nothing… If I had to say, my first big break was when I was playing in a local pickup band in New Orleans backing up Bo Diddley. That was a pretty big deal for me.
In all of your years in the music industry, you have played some pretty big shows and with really talented musicians. What do you think the highlight has been so far?
I spent 13 years on the road music directing and playing for Sam Moore from Sam and Dave. It was fun being able to play that kind of original stuff. There were a lot of special guests as well. I got to perform with Sting, Wynona Judd, and Paul Rogers… The Vandellas… Sam Moore is an astounding singer; we were doing songs in keys that I hadn’t even seen before. Whatever you heard about rock star mentality, it would completely go away when he was around. I would be standing next to him when he got to meet these famous rock stars, and they would just gush over him. It really showed how talented he was.
Can you tell me a little bit about playing at the Obama Inaugural Ball?
It was another Sam Moore gig with a group called The Creative Coalition. It was all very politically active. The whole thing was filmed by Barry Levinson, and he made the Documentary “Poliwood” about it. It was about Hollywood blending with politics… We took the train to D.C. the day of the event. We got all the information really late, so I remember I was sitting on the train writing charts for the show on the tray table. When we got there, we only had few minutes to rehearse with Sting. After all this, Obama didn’t even come to ours. There are dozens of Inaugural Balls in Washington. There were no hotels available, so we had to take the train home that same night. It was a whirlwind night.
You’ve been a music director for so many of the bands you have played with over the years. How do you balance that with being the bass player simultaneously?
It’s a different set of challenges to be a music director. You kind of have to have your own instrument on auto pilot. You have to be able to read the singer from back of their head. That’s one of the main reasons I like wireless, because when I’m conducting, I’m having to move around the stage. By the end, I’ll have created sort of like a bowl of spaghetti with the cable. Being wireless helps me keep from getting wrapped up like a telephone cord.
In all of your travels, where is your favorite place to visit?
I’ve been to Italy about a dozen times, and I never get tired of it. I’ve been to Japan with Sam nine or ten times. Never get tired of it. I’ve been to so many beautiful parts of world. I loved Turkey.
What are you working on now?
I do a whole bunch of stuff all the time. There’s always constant projects. Right now, I’m in the middle of an off-Broadway show. Opening night is actually this Tuesday. It’s called, This Ain’t No Disco, and it’s written by Jack Irons, the drummer from The Wallflowers. It’s set at Studio 54 in 1979, and it’s an all original, completely functional rock opera.
How is it different to play on Broadway versus in a gig or a studio?
Well to me they’re all related skills, but there are different aspects to each. Broadway is set up differently. I’ve subbed in on a bunch of shows. Currently, I am working on The SpongeBob Musical as a sub. This is the first show [This Ain’t No Disco] that I actually have a seat. Broadway’s different because there are possibly costumes and lines, and it might even have choreography that you have to do in between playing… Most of the time, you’re in a pit with headphones looking at a music stand and a little screen with a conductor on it. It feels more like a recording session than a Broadway show.
Do you think you’ll ever stop playing music?
I’ll probably slow down playing eventually. This whole time I’ve been saving money, so if it turns out I feel like I need to slow down, I would be able to. But I mean, Sam is 83, and he still plays shows. I don’t see any need to retire. I always ask, “retire from what?” I love what I do, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop unless I have to.