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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
One of the ten most important people in the history of funk, William "Bootsy" Collins has exerted immense influence on the genre in multiple ways. As a teenager, he grounded James Brown's original JBs and played on some of the Godfather's most crucial jams: "Sex Machine," "Talking Loud and Saying Nothing," "The Grunt." With George Clinton, he propelled Parliament-Funkadelic into the stratosphere of funk nirvana, co-writing and performing on "One Nation Under A Groove," "Flashlight" and "Mothership Connection," among others while leading his own band. All the while, his trademark space bass, outlandish fashion sense and multiple musical personalities have helped define the funk aesthetic.
Bootsy Collins and born and raised in Cincinnati, home to the King label where James Brown spent the most influential years of his career. Bootsy and his brother Phelps (also known as Catfish) hung around the King studio backing various singers in the late '60s, developing a reputation as an intense and intriguing rhythm section. Word of their prowess eventually reached Brown, who sent for the Collins brothers after firing his band during a financial dispute.
Going straight from Brown's jet to a concert, they were immediately thrust into the spotlight without having even met JB. Regardless, they took advantage of the situation by infusing his music with a raw, young spirit that rejuvenated Brown's sagging fortunes. Brown acknowledged their impact by highlighting them in concert and eventually recording them as the first artist on his People label.
Despite the concessions Brown made to the original JBs (no fines for bad notes, refraining from excess criticism in the studio) their boundless creativity clashed with the James Brown Formula and after finishing a European tour, they split to set up their own thang. Stints as the House Guests and Complete Strangers followed, while billing themselves as "James Brown's Band" in order to get concert bookings.
In 1972, George Clinton, riding the wave of Funkadelic's cult audience, heard about Bootsy's band and tracked them down at one of their shows. Bootsy's gang was such a mirror image of Funkadelic that by the end of the night, they were members of the Funk Mob, at one point replacing the original Funkadelic in its entirety.
Bootsy and Phelps played on the "America Eats Its Young" album, but they hadn't left James Brown to simply follow another leader, so they left. After a few more years on the local circuit, mutual friend Mallia Franklin arranged a meeting and Bootsy again joined forces with Clinton, writing "Up for the Down Stroke," Parliament's breakthrough single.
Clinton and Collins became funk's Lennon-McCartney, able to complete each other's thoughts and churning out material at a very prolific rate. Bootsy was an instrumental force on the P-Funk recordings of 1974-76 ("Let's Take It To the Stage," "Mothership Connection," "Chocolate City," "Clones of Dr. Funkenstein"), but was still eager to express his own vision. When Clinton signed with Warner Brothers, he secured a separate deal for Bootsy Collins. There was one problem though: there was no band.
Quickly assembling old mates Catfish (guitar), Frank Waddy (drums), horn players Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Kush Griffith and Rick Gardner and adding Joel "Razor Sharp" Johnson (keys), Robert "P-Nut" Johnson (vocals) and Gary "Mudbone" Cooper (vocals and percussion), Bootsy cut his debut with members of Funkadelic, but they still didn't have a name after the album was finished. A brainstorming session yielded the Rubber Band name and "Stretching Out" hit the streets in mid-1976, the title song leading the way up the charts.
In contrast to the deep conceptual work of Parliament-Funkadelic that required a certain level of maturity to fully comprehend, Bootsy Collins aimed his music at "geepies," the younger group of P-Funk's fans. To establish his identity, he chose an outrageous look built on his star-shaped glasses and recorded as the fictional characters Casper, the Sugar Crook, and Chocolate Star.
As the opening act on P-Funk's Mothership Connection tour, they whipped people into a frenzy during their brief set, leaving many astonished at the power of this "new" act. But many people just didn't know that the core members of the Rubber Band had decades of collective experience, most of them with one of the most demanding men in music.
The more developed "Ahhh...the Name is Bootsy, Baby" benefited from the additional seasoning of the Band. Funk throbs "The Pinocchio Theory" and "The Name Is Bootsy Baby" dominated side one before mellowing out on the flipside.
Bootsy Collins always had a unique take on what constituted a ballad, and that was nowhere more evident than on the awesome "Munchies For Your Love," nine minutes of lurve talk that culminated in an orgasmic bass solo. "Munchies" became one of his signature songs despite not being issued as a single. The more accessible "Can't Stay Away" featured P-Nut and Mudbone trading vocals with Bootsy and hit the top 20. Like its predecessor, "Ahhh..." went gold.
By now, Bootsy Collins was a headliner in his own right, rotating with P-Funk on twin bills and doing his own stadium dates. "Player of the Year" took the Rubber Band over the top. Collins memorialized himself as a doll on "Bootzilla," his first number one single. Aided by Bernie Worrell's classical arrangements, "Very Yes" and "Hollywood Squares" were perhaps the Rubber Band's most fully realized ballads. Bootsy appeared to be on top of the world, a position he'd longed for since the JB days. Yet all was not well in paradise.
The huge success of the group, plus the pressure that came along with it, eventually grated on Bootsy. He became withdrawn, tired of playing his alter egos all the time with no time for William Collins. Drug use came into play as a release from the stress. Demands from Warner Brothers meant a new album would be forthcoming, but 1979's "This Boot Was Made For Funkin" suffered from Bootsy's lack of interest and worsening relationship with the band, with only "Jam Fan" making any noise on the charts.
His downward slide continued when Bootsy absurdly lost the rights to the Rubber Band name to a country band out of Texas. Rather than come up with a new name, the Rubber Band broke up and Collins issued "Ultra Wave" under his own name. For the new decade he came up with a new look of braids and sunglasses instead of his customized gear, but the album didn't sell. An offshoot act, the Sweat Band, was another commercial failure. His label was holding all of Bootsy's profits in order to pay off the legal costs from the Texas lawsuit, and with P-Funk being on the verge of collapse and Catfish back in his Ohio fishing hole, this was probably the lowest point of his career.
"The One Giveth, The Count Taketh Away" brought an unsatisfying end to his Warner Brothers tenure. The album had nearly completed its chart run when David Todd and Nick Martinelli remixed one of its songs and renamed it "Body Slam." The song was Bootsy's biggest hit in years, but because it was only available as a 12-inch single, "One Giveth.." didn't reap the benefits of a top 10 record.
Bootsy Collins retired from the industry for much of the next six years. He made his comeback on Columbia with the appropriately named "What's Bootsy Doin'?" To answer his own question, he took to guesting on records by Deee-Lite, Sly & Robbie and Bill Laswell, who gave Bootsy multiple opportunities to record. He has since formed a new Rubber Band with some of the original members, releasing albums that retain that imitable Bootsy flavor while working in a contemporary setting.
Hit songs include --
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