Collins, William “Bootsy” 1951
William “Bootsy” Collins 1951–
Funk vocalist, bassist, songwriter
When the history of modern African-American popular music is written, Bootsy Collins will be remembered as an influential figure, as one of the architects of the funk style. As a member of James Brown’s band in the late 1960s, as a collaborator in the explosion of creativity that resulted in the bands Funkadelic and Parliament in the early 1970s, and as an immensely successful solo artist, Bootsy (as he was known) opened new creative frontiers with his bass playing, his songwriting, his vocals, and his stage performances. Yet a focus on Bootsy’s influence and historical importance should not be allowed to obscure the sheer sense of fun that has infused much of his music.
Bootsy was born William Boyd Collins in Cincinnati, Ohio on October 26, 1951; he was introduced to music by his older brother, Phelps “Catfish” Collins, who played the guitar. Both brothers gravitated toward the studios of King Records, the legendary Cincinnati independent label whose rhythm-and-blues roots stretched back to the 1940s and which had given birth to the career of the inexhaustibly explosive soul-music original, James Brown, in the mid-1950s. By 1968, Bootsy had formed a group of his own, the Pacesetters.
The following year, Bootsy met Brown himself as Brown was walking from his car to the entrance of the King studios. Brown at the time was in the process of assembling a band to replace his decade-old backing group, the Famous Flames; in the sound of the ambitious teenage bassist he recognized a player who could help him take his music in a revolutionary new direction. Bootsy joined the JBs, as Brown’s new band was called, just as the term “funk” was coming into general use. His bass playing is heard on such major Brown hits of the 1969-71 period as “Sex Machine” and “Super Bad,” compositions whose heavy, rhythmically sharp bass lines would influence the basic sound of black music for decades to come.
In 1971, Bootsy found that the experience he had gained working with Brown opened up various new career possibilities. He was offered a slot with the hugely successful mainstream R&B group, the Spinners, but instead threw in his lot with a group of other Brown alumni who had begun to work with the wildly creative Detroit-based
At a Glance…
Born William Boyd Collins October 26, 1951, in Cincinnati, OH.
Career: Funk singer, composer, bassist Session player, King Records, Cincinnati, late 1960s; met James Brown and became member of band the JBs, 1969; joined musician George Clinton’s bands Parliament and Funkadelic, 1971; co-wrote many Parliament and Funkadelic songs, mid-1970s; formed the Rubber Band and released solo debut, Stretchin’ Out with Bootsy’s Rubber Band, 1976; released six solo LPs on Warner Bros, label, 1976-82; arranger, songwriter, and producer for musicians including Malcolm McLaren, Deee-Lite, and Simply Red, late 1980s and early 1990s; released Straight Outta “P” University, 1997.
Awards: Two gold records, for LPs Ahh…. The Name Is Bootsy, Baby!, 1977, and Bootsy? Player of the Year, 1978.
Address: Agent —Richard Walters Entertainment, Inc., 6464 W. Sunset Blvd., Suite 1110, Los Angeles, CA 90028-8013.
funk musician, George Clinton. Clinton’s interrelated bands, Parliament and Funkadelic, seemed to offer to Bootsy a chance to develop his own artistic personality, but he likewise brought out new facets of Clinton’s musical thinking.
Before he emerged as a solo act, Bootsy was also partially responsible for the adventurous music and stage shows of Clinton’s “P-Funk” bands—involving a science-fiction “mothership”; innovative musical electronics; a big, spacy funk beat; and experimental word play that had deep African-American roots. He co-wrote most of the songs on the definitive Parliament album Mothership Connection and developed his own stage persona, “Bootzilla,” for Funkadelic’s live appearances. By the time Clinton moved from Detroit’s Westbound Records to the major Warner Brothers label in the mid-1970s, he believed his protégé was ready for prime time.
“Bootsy and his group came in and that was a whole different concept within itself,” Clinton was quoted as saying in the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul. “So what I did was record Bootsy by himself with another group, recorded Parliament…. which sounded like that but was a little more grown up. Bootsy was aimed more at kids—we called it silly serious—Parliament was a little older and Funkadelic was for a little older than that.” Backed by his so-called Rubber Band, which also included JBs saxophonist Maceo Parker, Bootsy released his first album, Stretchin’ Out with Bootsy’s Rubber Band, in 1976.
The title track of that album, “Stretchin’ Out,” broke into the R&B top 20, and Bootsy’s band, with its strong appeal to young listeners, grew into a bigger commercial success than either of the other Clinton projects. Bootsy’s second and third solo LP releases, Ahh …. The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! (1977) and Bootsy? Player of the Year (1978), each were certified gold for sales of 500,000 copies; the latter album topped R&B album charts. Altogether Bootsy placed ten singles in the R&B top 30 over a five-year period. Such hits as “The Pinocchio Theory” (”If you fake the funk, your nose will grow”) and “Bootzilla” became major dance-club hits that expanded Bootsy’s popularity beyond a base of R&B and funk enthusiasts.
Part of the reason for Bootsy’s success lay in his irrepressible stage presentations. Drawing on the Bootzilla image he had created as part of Clinton’s band, Bootsy developed a full-fledged stage character with giant sunglasses studded with rhinestones in star shapes. “It’s not just about doing records,” Bootsy explained in a Vogue interview quoted in Contemporary Musicians. “It’s got to be a circus, with a three-headed man and everything.” He also adopted other stage personalities aimed at younger listeners, including one drawn on the television cartoon character, Casper the Friendly Ghost. In contrast to the often drug-inspired messages of Funkadelic, Bootsy exhorted young audiences to avoid drugs and alcohol.
Bootsy released six albums on the Warner Brothers label between 1976 and 1982, but in the early 1980s, burned out by a decade of role playing and on his own after the Parliament-Funkadelic organization fragmented, he temporarily called it quits as a solo performer. Moving to an estate where he lived with his mother and a group of hunting dogs, he kept a hand in music by performing, writing, and doing production work for a variety of innovative acts that included Johnnie Taylor, Bill Laswell, Malcolm McLaren, and Zapp. He emerged from semi-retirement with the 1988 album What’s Bootsy Doin’?
In the 1990s Bootsy continued to find himself in demand, working with the groups Deee-Lite and Simply Red, among others. The year 1994 saw the release of a successful greatest-hits compilation and two more experimental Bootsy outings, but he seemed reluctant to return to the stage. “I’d become a so-called star, and I just didn’t know how to handle it,” he was quoted as saying in the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. Another new album, Fresh Outta “P” University, was initially released in Europe and Japan in 1997.
Bootsy had always enjoyed considerable international popularity, and the album did well in several countries. It was released in the U.S. on the Private I label. Much of his older music was reissued as a general interest in the influence of funk on the following generation stimulated listeners to explore the work of all the artists in Clinton’s stable. Of Bootsy specifically, Entertainment Weekly’s Josef Woodard noted that “[h]is loose-limbed soul sounds even better these days, an escapist’s treat that paved the way for hip-hop.” The year 2001 brought a new Bootsy compilation, Glory B da’ Funk’s On Me!
Stretchin Out, 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’?, Columbia, 1988. Jungle Bass, 4th and Broadway, 1990.
Back in the Day: The Best of Bootsy, Warner Bros., 1994.
Fresh Outta “P” University, Warner Bros., 1997.
Glory B da’ Funk’s on Me!, Rhino, 2001.
Contemporary Musicians, volume 8, Gale, 1992.
Larkin, Colin, ed., The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, 1998.
Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside, 1995.
Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martin’s, 1989.
Billboard, December 6, 1997, p. 23.
Entertainment Weekly, June 28, 1996, p. 107.
—James M. Manheim
"Collins, William “Bootsy” 1951." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/collins-william-bootsy-1951
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