At the age of 17, William “Bootsy” Collins packed up his homemade bass guitar and left home to tour the world with James Brown. He was heading off in pursuit of the funk. Or, as he calls it now – aged 68, in his high-pitched rasp down the phone from Cincinnati, Ohio – “the fonk”.
In the five decades since, Collins’s bass has changed the shape of music. Not only did he play on some of Brown’s best-known and most political records – Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine, Superbad and Soul Power – but he has also had a hand in pop hits from Deee-Lite’s Groove Is in the Heart to Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice and Snoop Dogg’s What’s My Name (Snoop Dogg). After working with Brown, he would discover LSD, join George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic and help carry the torch for unapologetic bohemian black music after Jimi Hendrix’s death. He found his signature style – star-shaped sunglasses, skin-tight leathers and top hats – and became an icon of afrofuturism.
Born in 1951 in Cincinnati, Collins spent his childhood with his guitarist brother, Phelps, AKA “Catfish”, and his mother – who worked several jobs to make ends meet. “Growing up, we were tough,” Collins says. “We came up during the civil rights riots. We were street kids.”
Read the feature in the Guardian.
[This piece was published on 15/06/20]