William Earl “Bootsy” Collins is an American musician and singer-songwriter.
Rising to prominence with James Brown in the early 1970s, and later with Parliament-Funkadelic, Collins’s driving bass guitar and humorous vocals established him as one of the leading names in funk. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inducted in 1997 with 15 other members of Parliament-Funkadelic.
With his elder brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins, Frankie “Kash” Waddy, and Philippé Wynne, Collins formed a funk band called The Pacemakers in 1968.
In March 1970, after most of the members of James Brown’s band quit over a pay dispute, The Pacemakers 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”, “Bewildered (1970)”, “Super Bad”, “Soul Power”, “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing”, and two instrumental singles, the much-sampled “The Grunt” and “These Are the J.B.’s”.
After parting ways with James Brown, Collins returned to Cincinnati and formed House Guests with his brother Phelps Collins, Rufus Allen, Clayton “Chicken” Gunnels, Frankie Waddy, Ronnie Greenaway and Robert McCullough. The House Guests released “What So Never the Dance” and another single on the House Guests label, as well as a third as The Sound of Vision on the House Guests label.
Next Collins moved to Detroit, after Philippé Wynne suggested joining The Spinners, for whom Wynne had been singing. However, following the advice of singer and future Parliament member Mallia Franklin, Collins had another choice. Franklin there introduced both Collins brothers to George Clinton, and 1972 saw both of the Collins brothers, along with Waddy, join Funkadelic. Collins played bass on most of Funkadelic and all of Parliament’s albums (with the exception of Osmium) through the early 1980s, garnering several songwriting credits as well.
In 1976 Collins, 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 five 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, Collins took on several alter egos, from Casper the Funky Ghost to Bootzilla, “the world’s only rhinestone rockstar monster of a doll”, all as parts of the evolving character of 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.
Collins released two 1980 albums, his first “solo” album “Ultra-Wave”, and Sweat Band, on George Clinton’s Uncle Jam label with a group billed as Bootsy’s Sweat Band. He also was credited for producing the debut of P-Funk spinoffs Zapp and Roger.
In 1984, he collaborated with Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads to produce “Five Minutes”, a dance record sampled and edited from Ronald Reagan’s infamous “We begin bombing in 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).
After a nearly five-year hiatus, he had a comeback in 1988 (with some help from producer Bill Laswell). What’s Bootsy Doin’? flaunted a new sound that foreshadowed the 1990s, such as the dance floor smash “Party on Plastic”. Laswell introduced Collins to Herbie Hancock, resulting in Perfect Machine. The techno-funk they recorded featured turnables for scratch appeal, and the smoothly-stylized vocals of Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner of chart-topping Ohio Players.
In 1990, Collins 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 de facto backing musicians for Deee-Lite during a world tour. The Rubber Band also recorded the EP “Jungle Bass”, their first recording in 11 years.
In 1992, he joined with guitarist Stevie Salas and drummer Buddy Miles to form the funk-metal fusion group Hardware. The trio released one album, Third Eye Open, before disbanding. In the same year, Collins played bass guitar on the first Praxis album: Transmutation, alongside fellow Parliament-Funkadelic member Bernie Worrell, Bryan Mantia and Buckethead.
Bootsy’s New Rubber Band formed in 1994, releasing Blasters of the Universe and also put forth the following live release “Keepin’ dah Funk Alive 4-1995”, recorded over two nights in Tokyo.
In 1995, Collins played in the remake of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9,” for Axiom Funk, a Funkadelic-like one-off supergroup produced by Bill Laswell and featuring (Funkadelic members) George Clinton, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, (the guitar of the late) Eddie Hazel, Gary Shider and Bill Laswell. The group released only one album (Funkcronomicon), and the song also appeared in the soundtrack of the movie Stealing Beauty.
Collins collaborated with Del McCoury, Doc Watson and Mac Wiseman to form the GrooveGrass Boyz. They produced a fusion of bluegrass and funk.