Collins, Bootsy (Contemporary Musicians)
Singer, bass guitarist, producer
"My whole thing is like a fantasy cartoon," funk rocker extraordinaire Bootsy Collins told Mikal Gilmore in Rolling Stone. "It's like Caspar the Friendly Ghost. The kids loved the cat. He didn't want to scare nobody. All he wanted to do was help out." Having played bass guitar with the "Godfather of Soul" James Brown while still in his teens, Collins found his audience in the "geepies"is term for his six- to twelve-year-old fanshen he joined George Clinton's rising groups Parliament and Funkadelic (collectively known as P-Funk). In 1976 the singer went solo with his own group, the Rubber Band, an extension of P-Funk. Collins is renowned for the appealing whimsy of his live performances and his trademarktar-shaped, rhinestonestudded mirror glasses. As he explained to John Leland in Vogue, "It's not just about doing records. It's got to be a circus, with a three-headed man and everything."
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 26, 1951, William "Bootsy" Collins followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Phelps "Catfish" Collins, who played guitar. Phelps introduced Bootsy to rock and roll when he brought home a recording of Lonnie Mack. During adolescence, both brothers played sessions at Cincinnati's King Records studio. In 1969 James Brown entered King Records in search of a bass player. After he heard the teenaged Bootsy, Brown used him on the cut "Lickin' Stick." In Interview magazine, Greg Goldin recounted Collins's "laying down a legendary groove" on the song. Brown hired Bootsy to fill the bass guitarist spot in his back-up band, the JBs, along with Bootsy's brother Phelps. "It had something to do with being in the right place at the right time," Collins told Goldin.
From the late 1960s to early 1970s, Brown pioneered the shift from "negro" to "black" music, reflecting the change in racial perceptions in the United States and the growing diversity of black artists' audiences. "He was in control of everything that was going down with him, and I dug him for that," Collins explained to Gilmore. Brown and the JBs were the masters of the new electric music known as "funk." Membership in the JBs fostered long-term relationships between Bootsy and fellow musicians, including trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Maceo Parker.
Instigated P-Funk Whimsy
Bootsy left the Brown organization in 1971. Rather than back the Spinners, he decided instead to join bandleader Clinton's funk groups Parliament and Funkadelic. "I thought, 'Wow .. . Funkadelic .. . acid trip...!' That's where we was at," Collins related to Gilmore. Promoting his musical growth, Clinton let Bootsy write songs and arrangements. "When we were doing funk .. . it was a nasty word," Collins explained to Goldin. "It wasn't legal then. It wasn't the thing to play on the radio." Collins was the coauthor of most of Parliament's material when the pivotal album Mothership Connection was recorded.
Post-Jimi Hendrix but influenced by acid rock replete with sexual imagery, Clinton's group played party music with more message than the tracks of the disco scene. The pounding funk beat and dazzling electronic effects enhanced the musical scenarios the band created with their bizarre stage personalities. "In the prevideo epoch," summarized Goldin, "the band was outrageous on stageometimes garbed in diapers, their mothership flying saucer descendinglaying funk, funk, funk. It was danceable psychedelics long before Prince, Oingo Boingo, or the Sex Pistols broke through the conformity, and the uniform-ity, of the disco 1970s."
Collins commanded the crowds during Funkadelic concerts as his stage persona "Bootzilla," a sci-fi cartoon character with an outrageous wardrobe. He sported his trademark "Bootzilla" sunglasseshe frames were cut-outs of stars decorated with rhinestones. An additional rhinestone star adorned the center of his forehead. Collins's finery was influential enough to reach the Orient in the mid-seventies, where Japan boasted a Bootsy nightclub frequented by dreadlocked Japanese males clothed in Bootsy regalia.
When Clinton signed a recording contract with Warner Brothers for Parliament/Funkadelic in 1976, he negotiated an independent, solo contract for Collins. Collins continued working with Funkadelic, and Funkadelic band members Wesley and Parker, among others, recorded with him as his back-up group, the Rubber Band. That same year, Bootsy released his first album, Stretchin' Out in Bootsy's Rubber Band. Gilmore assessed the two albums that followed, Ahh... the Name Is Bootsy, Baby! and Bootsy? Player of the Year, in Rolling Stone as honing "Bootsy's sense of the absurd into a more sensually playful and childlike jargon.
Disillusioned Midway Through Career
Though Collins netted several hit singles and gold albums with the Rubber Bandhich eclipsed Funkadelic in popularitye quit performing in the early 1980s. "I got stuck in a role and I couldn't get out," he divulged to Leland. Bootsy lived with his mother and relaxed with his hunting dogs for eight years. When he released the album What's Bootsy Doin'? in 1988, Collins told Leland, "Now, I think I know how to hang Bootsy up when I get off the stage." Goldin noted, however, that Collins had not given up his "quirky, humorous approach" since his return to recording. "I look at it like this," Collins disclosed to Goldin: "They say it couldn't be done. I say if we ain't at the party, there is none. It's putting the fun back into what is supposed to be gone, what is not supposed to be around here now."
Throughout his musical career, he has continued to find opportunities to serve as sideman and producer for an impressive list of diverse musicians, including Sly Stewart, Johnnie Taylor, the Sweat Band, Zapp, Iggy Pop, Malcolm McLaren, Herbie Hancock, and Keith Richards. In the early nineties, he joined JB cohort Fred Wesley and other musicians to back up their fellow JB alumnus Maceo Parker on his highly touted album Roots Revisited. "Everybody's got [some] kid in them, and that's where I've placed my head," Collins disclosed to Gilmore. "When it's time to be a man, I'll be a man. But other than that, I'm a geepie at heart." Mindful of his image, Collins shuns booze and drugs, but his style remains the substance of fun.
(With Parliament) Mothership Connection, Casablanca, 1975.
Stretchin' Out in Bootsy's Rubber Band, Warner Bros., 1976.
Ahh.. .the Name Is Bootsy, Baby!, Warner Bros., 1977.
Bootsy? Player of the Year, Warner Bros., 1978.
Ultra Wave, Warner Bros., 1980.
The One Giveth and the Count Taketh Away, Warner Bros., 1982.
What's Bootsy Doin'? (includes "Party On Plastic"), Columbia, 1988.
Talk Is Cheap.
Contributed bass and guitar tracks to Deee-lite's World Clique, Elektra, 1990, and appeared in the Deee-lite's video "Groove Is in the Heart." Also contributed to Material release The Third Power, Axiom/Island, 1991, and to Maceo Parker's Roots Revisited.
Rose, Cynthia, Living in America, Serpent's Tail, 1990.
Down Beat, October 1990.
Interview, November 1988.
Rolling Stone, April 6, 1978; November 3, 1988.
Stereo Review, March 1991.
Vogue, December 1988.