Give ’em the Bootsy, Baby!

Here’s some more deep funk! Get to dancin’!

Bootsy Collins – Stretchin’ Out In Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Bootsy Collins – This Boot Is Made For Fonkin’
Bootsy Collins – Ultra Wave
Bootsy Collins – The One Giveth, The Count Taketh Away
Collector’s Choice Music

It’s Bootsy baby! The Master of the Space Bass is once again in the forefront of everybody’s fonkin’ mind thanks to a passel of reissues from the funkateers at Collector’s Choice and thank god! Whenever and wherever a party is reaching it’s apex of fun, you can bet Bootsy’s music is on the CD player or turntable, or at least, it should be. You can’t really have a party without some of Bootsy’s butt-swinging funk, and that’s the stone cold truth.

William “Bootsy” Collins first made a name for himself as part of the Godfather of Soul James Brown’s band back in the late ’60’s/early ’70’s. Brown had just made a huge changeup in his career by switching labels from his longtime home at King Records to an upstart label wanting to make a name for itself called Polydor. At the time, Polydor was a major player in other countries but wanted to start becoming a force as a label in the US. Who better to sign than the king of funk himself James Brown? So when they did, Brown took the label change as a sign of maybe switching up his style. He fired his old backing band The Famous Flames (keeping longstanding friend and running buddy Bobby Byrd and a couple of others) and decided to move away from proper songs and investigate the power of the one-chord-vamp repeated over and over, trancelike, until a person’s body just couldn’t resist the power of the groove. In doing that, Brown knew he needed to grab a bunch of young turks to create the energy necessary to sustain and work the deep grooves he was looking for.

Enter Bootsy and his brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins, who were leaders of a band named The Pacesetters. “Catfish” was an excellent funk guitar player and between his inspired guitar licks and Bootsy’s beyond funky bass-playing, Brown started finding the groove he was looking for and started cutting some incendiary, funky sides unlike anything created before. Though Bootsy and his brother were only in Brown’s band for roughly two years from 1969-1971, many ground breaking strides were made in Brown’s music during this time and the invention of funk itself (which most musicologists concede Brown invented with help from his new band) can be traced directly to this time period and Brown’s stellar band of young funk turks’ playing on such songs as “Sex Machine” and “Superbad”. After Bootsy left Brown’s band due to Brown’s dictator-like leadership (always old-school, Brown employed a much-maligned system of fining band members for issues such as lateness, cleanliness of wardrobe, missed cues onstage and drug use – something particularly ironic considering Brown’s later problems with drugs) the man later known as Casper, Bootzilla and a host of other noms de fonk depending on the album hooked up with another funk kingpin by the name of George Clinton. Founder of the Parliaments who had a hit in the late ’60’s with “(I Just Wanna) Testify”, Clinton had studied Brown’s example and began to take Brown’s ideas and advance them into a whole new realm. An extremely smart and savvy businessman, he knew Bootsy would be a great addition to his band. Soon, hit songs for Clinton’s many aggregations would have the name W. Collins on the writer’s credits and Bootsy was gaining some influence as being one of the gems in Clinton’s funk crown.

Collector’s Choice, as part of their ongoing mission to reissue the best overlooked music ever created, has cherry-picked the best of Bootsy’s solo albums to reissue. Originally just one of many side projects for Clinton and the members of the Parliafunkadelicment Thang, Bootsy’s fun-filled funky grooves proved irresistable and soon became the most popular offshoot of the band and rivalled Clinton himself in popularity.

First in this set of four CD reissues is Bootsy’s first solo album, Stretchin’ Out, and it is a doozy. Introducing Bootsy as a solo performer to a Bootzilla-hungry funk world, the album shows the self-proclaimed Thumpasaurus Rex for what he is: a good-humored joker who wasn’t afraid to bring a sense of light-heartedness to some of the most bootylicious funk ever imagined. His distinctive vocals and wobbly space-bass sound (not to mention his considerable stage presence – with his spandex, sky-higth boots and other-worldly basses he cut quite a figure onstage) gave Bootsy a persona you couldn’t create in a marketing meeting, and he was doing it naturally with the flair of a rockstar even before Kiss had started donning their wild costumes. Combine that with the tightness of the P-Funk band with even more JB refugees on board like Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker (Clinton would dub them the Horny Horns) and the plan for funky world domination was fool proof. As expected, this album is fantastic, and equal in every way to any P-Funk album put out during this same time period. These songs kick ass and it is simply impossible not to get into the good time groove on this album. It sounds like the players are having a blast which accounts for the sheer joy present in this album’s grooves.

The next album chronologically in Collector’s Choice’ reissues of Bootsy’s work is This Boot is Made For Fonk’n and it came after Bootsy had several hits on the charts from albums not included in this set of reissues. Though any project Clinton touched during this time period (And there were plenty of them: albums from Parliament, Funkadelic, Parlet, Brides of Funkenstein, The Horny Horns and several other off-shoots were released during this time and all were given tons of publicity by the press and most did decently on the charts.) did well, few expected Bootsy to become the best-selling act of all of the side-projects Clinton was involved in, not that it mattered too much. To be in P-Funk meant being included in every project you could get your musical ass in on. In the liner notes to this album Bootsy remembers recording several projects at the same time, a typical day maybe first doing a song for his own album, then maybe a Parlet song, then a Brides of Funkenstein jam, etc. At times he wasn’t sure which album a song would wind up on, not that you would notice any disjointedness on a Bootsy album, as they’re too much fun to worry about little things like that. Despite there being no steady theme to any of his discs, as long as his distinctive vocals and bass playing were at the forefront, the music worked and this album, like most of Bootsy’s work, sounds like a good time was had by all in the studio, a characteristic palpable in the music, which almost commands you to dance and have a good time. Once again, you cannot listen to this album and not have a good time. This is a killer funk album.

Ultra Wave comes next, and is credited solely to Bootsy as he had lost the rights to the name “The Rubber Band” and was beginning to have troubles with Warner Brothers regarding promotion of his albums. Inside jokes regarding money and expectations of the business are found everywhere from the lyrics to cryptic statements in the liner notes. Though it is actually a fine album, it’s lack of chart success and the fact so few have heard it have left the impression the quality is lacking. While it cannot be called Bootsy’s best, there are several fine funk numbers here and is well worth the money spent. The opening song “Mug Push” is pure Bootzilla and is a highlight, but there are other great songs as well. This album is an overlooked gem and funk fans need to explore this fully as there are plenty of deep, deep grooves worthy of attention on this disc.

The last reissue of this four album set is also the last album Bootsy made for Warner Brothers, The One Giveth, The Count Taketh Away. The title is a subtle play on words for James Brown’s (and to a lesser extent Clinton’s) innovations in funk – in other words, to start playing on the “one”. That particular musical device had netted Brown, Clinton, Bootsy and a host of other lesser funkmeisters plenty of money during the ’70’s for sure, and it undoubtedly seemed fair to Bootsy to work it into the title. “The Count” is no doubt a Bootsy-style sly reference to his label and the amount of money he was receiving, or the lack thereof, “the count” being off in Bootsy’s opinion no doubt. While the bloom was off Bootsy’s rose by this point and he seemed to be relying too much on older formulas that seemed a little tired, there is plenty of Bootsy’s fun funk on this album and, like Ultra Wave, is worthy of both re-examination and the cost of admission.

Anyone interested in funk and soul music needs to have these albums as part of their collection if they don’t already. Sure, these albums are little more than mindless booty-shaking funk. But let me ask you, is there anything wrong with that? Music was created as much to dance to as to convey a serious message and anything that helps a person forget his troubles and dance is worthwhile. For those who would consider the work of Bootsy and others of the time as simply unimportant jams is missing out on some of the most energetic, inspired dance music ever. Still steadily working on album projects and soundtracks, it is no insult that Bootsy is now more known as an icon of 70’s funk than a viable chart-topping artist. The rarified air of the icon is something to admire and Bootsy no doubt relishes his experience of being one of the most remembered funk stars ever, rivalling former bosses Brown and Clinton themselves in popularity and influence. The thing is, Bootsy’s music stands the test of time like his bosses. Few artists can say that. Whenever there’s a party, there is or should be Bootsy. It’s as simple as that. Try to listen to this stuff and not dance. I fucking dare you.

A Little Street Team Work

As I sit here ready to start a day full of article deadlines and some magazine consulting work, I have decided to ruminate on the next few blogs and who I will write about. A little pre-publication “street team” work if you will – you know, do some advance work and get you, the audience, ready for some prime obscure musician/recording writing.

In the next week or so I will be writing about several of my all time soul and jazz faves including soul great Don Covay (any of his albums are good, but there is one obscure blues-based CD he recorded under a group name alias I will be specifically talking about), Memphis soul titan Eddie Hinton (this guy was a genius who could do it all – write songs, play blistering guitar, sing like Otis Redding, and, sadly, have a mental breakdown so severe it cost him his career), organist and hero of mine Jimmy Smith, James Brown’s right hand man and funk-king in his own right Bobby Byrd, the original Do Right Man and brilliant songwriter Dan Penn, and maybe Polk Salad Annie’s best friend Tony Joe White as well.

As you can see, I am on a major soul and jazz kick lately. Over the past year or so I have really become quite bored with rock music. While I am an intense power pop and psyche-rock fan and may decide to do some writing about The Spongetones, Dungen, Willie Wisely, Jellyfish and others of that ilk, by and large most rock is leaving me cold. I am sure it’s just a phase. For a long while, and even continuing to this day, I was up to my earholes in great music as I embraced my inner banjo-loving redneck. While the feeling isn’t as strong, I still get exciting when bands like the Bottlerockets release new albums (which they just did, the album Zoysia on Bloodshot Records) and make tour stops around the Southeast.

There is so much great obscure music
out there, some of it released by major bands and just forgotten about. For example, did you know both The Tokens and The Four Seasons each released great, obscure, forgotten psyche-rock albums that rank right up there with Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds? Bet you didn’t. Very little recent music makes me smile – but the underground stuff, whether it be vintage or new, is simply great to discover and I am hoping I can bring you to some new stuff that makes you travel down a whole different musical avenue.

Well, that’s it for today. Hopefully you know at least a few of these names, or maybe it’s even better if you don’t. Do a little homework this weekend and check some of them out. Their all great – I wouldn’t tell you about them if they weren’t!

The Music Nerd knows…….