William “Bootsy” Collins (born October 26, 1951 in Cincinnati, Ohio) is a funk bassist, singer, and songwriter.
Rising to prominence with James Brown in the late 1960s, and with Parliament-Funkadelic in the ’70s, Collins’s driving bass guitar and humorous vocals established him as one of the leading names in funk. Collins is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inducted in 1997 with fifteen other members of Parliament-Funkadelic.
Early career and James Brown
With his older brother Catfish Collins, and Kash Waddy and Philippé Wynne, Collins formed a group called The Pacesetters in 1968.
In March 1970, after most of the members of James Brown’s band quit over a pay dispute, The Pacesetters were hired as Brown’s backing band and they became known as The J.B.’s. (They are often referred to as the “original” J.B.’s to distinguish them from later line-ups that went by the same name.) Although they worked for Brown for only 11 months, the original J.B.’s played on some of Brown’s most intense funk recordings, including “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine”, “Super Bad”, “Soul Power”, and “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing”.
It is known that the young Bootsy clashed several times with the rigid system Brown used to discipline the young band whenever he felt they stepped out of line. After leaving the band Collins then moved to Detroit, following the advice of singer and future Parliament member Mallia Franklin.
House Guests, P-Funk, Rubber Band and Sweat Band
After parting ways with James Brown, Bootsy returned to Cincinnati and formed House Guests with his brother Phelps Collins, Clayton Grunnels, Frank Waddy, and Robert McCullough and released two singles on their own House Guests label.
Franklin introduced both Collins brothers to George Clinton, and 1972 saw both of the Collins brothers, along with Waddy, join Funkadelic. Bootsy played bass on most of Funkadelic and Parliament’s early albums, garnering several songwriting credits as well.
In 1976 Bootsy, Catfish, Waddy, Joel Johnson, Gary “Mudbone” Cooper, Robert Johnson and The Horny Horns formed Bootsy’s Rubber Band, a separate touring unit of Clinton’s P-Funk collective. The group recorded four albums together, the first three of which are often considered to be among the quintessential P-Funk recordings. The group’s 1978 album “Bootsy? Player of the Year” reached the top of the R&B album chart and spawned the #1 R&B single “Bootzilla”.
Like Clinton, Bootsy took on several alter egos, from “Casper the Funky Ghost” to Bootzilla, “the world’s only rhinestone rockstar monster of a doll”, as part of an evolving character, an alien rock star who grew gradually more bizarre as time went on (see P-Funk mythology). He also adopted his trademark space bass around this time.
Bootsy also released a 1980 album, Sweat Band, on George Clinton’s Uncle Jam label with a group billed as Bootsy’s Sweat Band.
1980s and later
In 1984, Bootsy collaborated with Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads to produce “Five Minutes”, a dance record sampled and edited from Ronald Reagan’s infamous “Five Minutes” speech. The record was credited to “Bonzo goes to Washington” (also referenced in the 1985 Ramones song “Bonzo goes to Bitburg”, derived from Reagan’s starring role as Professor Peter Boyd in the 1951 comedy film Bedtime for Bonzo).
In 1990 Bootsy collaborated with Deee-Lite on their massive hit “Groove Is In The Heart” where he contributed additional vocals. Although he also appeared in the music video playing the bass, the bassline in the song is actually a sample of a Herbie Hancock song called “Bring Down the Birds”. Bootsy’s Rubber Band became the defacto backing musicians for Deee-Lite during a world tour.
Bootsy collaborated with bluegrass legends Del McCoury, Doc Watson and Mac Wiseman to form the GrooveGrass Boyz. They produced a fusion of bluegrass and funk that listeners either loved as a fresh take on tradition or hated as defiling that same tradition.
Bootsy has collaborated extensively with Bill Laswell and made appearances on two Fatboy Slim records, as well as reading a poem at the end of FatBoy Slims’s release in the LateNightTales dj mix series. Bootsy provided “vocal spice” on the TobyMac album Welcome to Diverse City. He also appears on Nicole C. Mullens’ latest album, “Everyday People”. He has also worked with the Lo-Fidelity Allstars on the album ‘Don’t be Afraid of Love’, with Praxis, and with Buckethead on several occasions, for example on Buckethead’s first album, “Bucketheadland”. Bootsy was featured in the 2002 film Standing in the Shadows of Motown. In 2004 he appeared on Snoop Dogg’s Rhythm & Gangsta album and on the cover of “The Joker” on the Fatboy Slim album Palookaville.
In 2005, Bootsy Collins added vocals to fellow bassist Victor Wooten’s album Soul Circus. He also served as “Heineken’s Amsterjam 2005” curator and master of ceremonies on Randall’s Island, New York and appeared with Madonna, Iggy Pop, Little Richard, and The Roots’ Questlove, in an American TV commercial for the Motorola ROKR phone.
Collins’ signature instrument is a custom-built star-shaped bass guitar he calls the “Space Bass”. Currently built for him by Manny Salvador of GuitarCraft in 1998. More recently, Collins has made an agreement with Traben to make a signature Bootsy Collins model bass called the “Bootzilla”.
In October, 2005, Collins co-wrote a song celebrating the resurgence of his hometown team, the Cincinnati Bengals of the National Football League called “Fear Da Tiger” which features “raps” written and performed by several Bengals players, including defensive end Duane Clemons, offensive tackle Stacy Andrews, and center Ben Wilkerson. An edited version of the song was made into a music video which features cameos by many other Bengals players. It has garnered tremendous local airplay and is viewable on Bengals.com Additionally, Cincinnati Bell is offering “Fear Da Tiger” as a free ringtone for its wireless customers in both polyphonic and MP3 formats. Collins appeared with Little Richard, Bernie Worrell, and other notable musicians as the band playing with Hank Williams, Jr. for the Monday Night Football opening during for the 2006 season. Collins was the only all star to return with Williams for the 2007 season.
He also sings “Marshal Law”, The theme song of the Cincinnati Marshals indoor football team. He debuted the song on April 29, at halftime of a Marshals home game against the West Palm Beach Phantoms.
In 2006, ABC Entertainment / A Charly Films Release released a DVD/CD from Bootsy Collins and the New Rubber Band’s concert at the 1998 North Sea Jazz Festival. In the same year, Collins split from long-time friend and guitarist Odhran “The Bodhran” Rameriz, citing creative differences as the reason.
Also in 2006, Collins recorded music for the animated television series Loonatics Unleashed. Collins also voiced the character Bootes Belinda in the episode The Music Villain.
In April, 2007, Bootsy announced plans to begin a restaurant/club with Cincinnati area restaurateur Jeff Ruby. The restaurant is to be called “Bootsy’s.” It will feature live musical acts, a museum dedicated to Bootsy’s musical career and Spanish, Central and South American cuisine. It is to open in December 2008.
In June 2007, Bootsy Collins, along with Phelps Collins, Clyde Stubblefield, John “Jabo” Starks, and Bernie Worrell, participated in the recording of the soundtrack for the movie Superbad.
In July 2007, Bootsy also told Billboard magazine that he’s working on a project by the name of Science Faxtion and an album called Living On Another Frequency in which he serves as bassist and co-producer along with his lead vocalist Greg Hampton. The band also features guitarist Buckethead and drummer Brain.The album was released in November 2008.
Collins promoted Rock the Vote for its 2008 compaign together with Buckethead.
Bootsy produced Junkyard Waltz by funk band Freekbass from Ohio came out October 27.
Bootsy has been mentioned in the song “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club in the line “Clinton’s musicians such as Bootsy Collins raise expectation to a new intention”, while “Got more bass than Bootsy Collins” is a line in the song “Rumble in the Jungle” by the Fugees. His influence in popular culture is seen in that he has been referenced by a number of television series. In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode “Sooooooul Train”, Geoffrey sneaks into the Soul Train tapings posing as Bootsy Collins, while in the The Mighty Boosh episode “The Legend of Old Gregg” an alien creature named ‘The Funk’ lands on Bootsy’s house, giving him his ability to play the bass guitar “like some kinda delirious funky priest”, as well as the ability to see around corners. His song I’d Rather Be With You was featured in the movie Baby Boy and on January 26, 2007, Bootsy, a native of Cincinnati, gave the commencement address at the graduation ceremony at The Art Institute of Ohio – Cincinnati.. Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, who has cited Collins as one of his primary influences, appeared in unmistakably Bootsy-esque clothing in the video for RHCP’s “Dani California”, and Bootsy’s “What’s a Telephone Bill?” was sampled for 2Pac’s “Str8 Ballin'” track off the THUG LIFE album..
In 2009 Collins collaborated with Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek on the track “Internet Connection”.
Collins’ bass playing is driving, rhythmic and groovy, and has been very influential in the development of funk. His characteristic juicy sound, produced by envelope filters (for example the Mutron), is one of his distinguishing traits as a bass player. He also uses highly syncopated 16th note patterns combined with a very strong slap technique, highly influenced by Larry Graham.
Bootsy’s bass patterns are often up-front in the mix and more often than not, drive the song (rather than the guitars or horns). Bootsy is widely considered a pioneer in many aspects of not only funk, but also in the progression and evolution of bass playing techniques.