Sunday, February 11, 2007

Bootsy Collins: Stretches Out in Music History

The Black History Month posts continue today and picks up with William “Bootsy” Collins who was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and began performing with his guitar-playing brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins. The two eventually formed the Pacemakers, and the outfit got gigs playing in local bars (though Bootsy was underage) as early as 1967...Discovered by King Records’ Bud Hobgood, who was James Brown’s production manager at the time, the young group was offered session work at the label backing bigger recording artists like Arthur Prysock, which led to touring gigs for label acts as well. The young Collins brothers outfit was called to the front lines of the performance scene when the Godfather of Soul’s own band became unhappy during a tour. Brown remembered the Pacemakers from the studio, had sidekick Bobby Byrd find them, and sent his private plane (to Ohio from Georgia) so the fledgling act could back him in that evening’s scheduled performance. The extemporaneous lineup change effectively infused the “new JB’s” into Brown's recording/performing band as Brown instantly began to record with the “new blood.” In a little less than a year, Collins was featured on recordings of such James Brown staples as “Sex Machine,” “Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothin’,” “Soul Power,” “Get Up, Get Into It And Get Involved,” and “Superbad”— at the ripe age of 16.

...Collins adopted his “wild style” dress code while touring with the JB’s in Europe and witnessing the duds that the crowds were sporting at discos, years before the styles would become mainstream fare in the States...In spite of the opportunities that touring worldwide with the Godfather offered, Collins began to experience firsthand exactly why the band they replaced stopped working with James Brown in the first place: constant touring, strict regiment, and overall draconian policies. Collins decided to go back to Ohio to do his own thing with the House Guests. When Bootsy and Catfish left the JB’s in ’71, they were joined by other J.B.’s luminaries Maceo Parker, Frank “Kash” Waddy, and Fred Wesley. This would forge the practice of a core group of musicians performing and recording under various names (much like jazz musicians in the decades before) and affiliations, a habit that bled over into the Parliament dynasty to follow...

Constant comparison with the only other local funk contention, Funkadelic, led to a self-imposed rivalry between Collins’ group and George Clintons’ lineup. The two were fatefully introduced but instead of the implied competition, Collins’ House Guests joined Funkadelic, filling spots vacated in the aftermath of chronic drug abuse, etc....The 1978 Parliament crossover “One Nation Under A Groove” was the group’s only single that cracked the Top 40 on the Pop charts...Parliament’s live shows have been loosely compared to the Grateful Dead’s. Uncut marathon live jams and countercultural concepts only added to two group’s similarities. At the height of the group’s popularity, they took their acts to arena presentations, selling out New York’s Madison Square Garden two days in a row...The many-headed hydra known as P-Funk has been through many permutations over the course of the years with Collins often making inroads to outside acts in America and abroad such as Praxus, the Sweat Band, and, most significantly, his Rubber Band. In addition to these, Bootsy backed other artists in their varied endeavors as well as produced for some of them...

...The contributions that Collins and crew have made on the American soundscape cannot be denied. Their sound has been sampled by rap musicians since the birth of hip hop (Parliament ranks #2 as “the most sampled group in music” only outshadowed by James Brown, with whom Collins played) and continued to take root in the alternative-funk-rock sound of groups such as Fishbone, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Primus. Collins and Clinton’s foundation of funk has stood the test of time from the days of ’70s disco to the present day gangsta-rap rock subgenres and all syncopated idioms that lie therein...Bootsy's solo debut holds two of the bassist's signature cuts which are "I'd Rather Be with You" and the title track...Check this footage of Collins laying it down on stage back in '76 with this live footage of "Stretchin' Out (In a Rubber Band)"...

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