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.

Betty Davis’ Thighs

Nothing like some great obscure soul to get your body moving.

Betty Davis – Betty Davis
Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different
Light In the Attic

Stand up and shout hallelujah! Two of the greatest lost soul albums of the ’70’s have finally been reissued after way too many years out of print. Kudos to Light In The Attic for digging up these great albums and allowing the world to once again enjoy the unfettered funk of the sultry, sexy, flamboyant and raw Betty Davis! Of course, with all of the great soul and funk sides being re-released these days (as well as the classics we all know about) one would be forgiven for thinking I might be heaping undue hyperbole on these albums. Suffice it to say, one listen to these albums by the great Davis would erase all doubt. Don’t know who Betty Davis is? It’s no wonder, as these albums were put out on a tiny label and hardly promoted at all due to the semi-raunchy material contained within. But, let’s not confuse matters by blaming circumstances beyond anyone’s control. These two albums are some of the rawest, greasiest, greatest funk ever released and stand toe-to-toe with anything James Brown, Sly Stone or the P-Funk army released at the time.

Davis (nee Betty Mabry) was born in a small town in North Carolina but her family eventuallly moved up north to Pittsburgh, though she later moved to New York City by the early ’60’s. It was there that she began exposing herself to all the cutting edge music the ’60’s had to offer, from jazz to avant-garde to rock. Working for a time as a model, Davis slowly became part of the music scene, first by working at the hippest clubs, then by cutting a few singles, and finally by becoming a songwriter, scoring a hit song (“Uptown”) for the Chambers Brothers. Her talent and beauty placed her in the midst of the hipster circles where she eventually met and married Miles Davis and began influencing his career and persona in surprising ways right down to the clothes he wore. Introducing him to the music of Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and other artists on the cutting edge of funk and rock (in some cases arranging meetings between the artists themselves) she began working with and inspiring her husband to craft albums melding funk, rock and jazz. These albums eventually became In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew (which Miles named in honor of his wife) and became milestone works in the world of jazz, influencing and inspiring much of the jazz fusion which followed. A long union was not to be, however, as Miles soon divorced his wife because he found her too intense and suspected her of carrying on an affair with Jimi Hendrix. She soon drifted to England where she began to get caught up in the heavy rock scene, briefly dating Eric Clapton (who wanted to work with her on an album but was rebuffed by Davis as being too blues-oriented – the relationship imploded soon thereafter) and a member of Santana’s band. Upon returning to the US, she decided to take the ideas she had been formulating and presenting to labels for bands like The Commodores (yep, she worked with Lionel Ritchie before he became famous – Miss Davis seemed to be everywhere during this time period) and turn them into vehicles for herself. Signing a contract with a little upstart label, she began recording her first album.

The self titled album Betty Davis (1973) was and is a milestone release. While countless female soul artists had released albums, no other female artist had such frank and overt sexual material on an album before Davis and had so obviously controlled the proceedings as she had. It was as if Davis was trying to position herself as a female version of George Clinton. For a comparison, think Millie Jackson (or, better yet, Tina Turner) dressed in a spacesuit and then add some searing P-Funk guitars and some thunderously booty-shaking beats to go with the very sexually risque lyrics. Featuring musical talent from Sly Stone’s band (including bassist Larry Graham), Michael Carabello and an incredibly young Neal Schon from Santana, background vocals from the Pointer Sisters, and members of the Tower of Power horn section, the album was stacked to the hilt with the best musicians of the era. Featuring songs such as “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up” and “Game Is My Middle Name”, Davis left no doubt she was freaky-deaky and ready for anything. Sadly, Davis wasn’t quite ready for one thing: her album to bomb. While containing no cusswords, Davis’ lyrics left little to the imagination. Consequently, her album got little airplay and her concerts were often picketed.

Disappointed but not deterred by the poor sales of her debut, Davis released her next album, They Say I’m Different, a year later with a different cast of musicians than her first groundbreaking release. Gone were the big names and studio ringers of her debut, replaced with younger, newer players who had been raised on the funk sounds of the artists she was trying to emulate and, more likely, dethrone so she could take her rightful place on top of the funk heap. Not surprisingly, these young turks were more than up to the challange and manage to at least equal (if not better) the deep, deep funk displayed on her debut. Featuring the songs “Shoo-Be-Doop and Cop Him” and “He Was A Big Freak” Davis once again challenged listners and censors with her raw sexual appetites and her willingness to sing about them. The cover features her in an outfit straight from the P-Funk Mothership and seems to be a distant cousin of the outfit Cher wore on her Take Me Home album of the late ’70’s. Once again, radio stations refused to play her music and angry protestors made their presence felt at her now-infrequent live appearances. It seems the world was not ready for a sexually charged, talented young black female to tear the roof off the sucka. Davis released one more album (entitled Nasty Gal) to the same public apathy as her discs before abandoning the music scene forever and moving back to Pittsburgh. Tired of her music being ignored, Davis never recorded again. An album consisting of outtakes from her third album was issued after Davis “retirement” but, like her other albums, it made pretty much no impact save for a small but devout coterie of followers, DJ’s and beatheads who know great music when they hear it. A greatst hits compilation was also released, but quickly deleted.

Fans of funk need these albums in their collections. It isn’t an issue of “wanting” these reissues – if you are a fan of funk and soul music these are albums you simply have to acquire or settle for having a mediocre collection. You wouldn’t want that, would you? Then rush to your local store and order this right away. You will not be sorry – this is some of the most blazing funk of all time!

Thanks, Watson!

I saw the recent blog about Johnny Guitar Watson and wanted to add my two cents about this brilliant guitarist by reviewing a different compilation from a year ago. Regardless of when you discover “Guitar” – it will always be a scintillating funktastic experience.

Johnny Guitar Watson – The Funk Anthology
Shout Factory
Right off the bat I have to say these are the funkiest two CDs I have heard in a long time. CDs so funky I will put up a dare to you: I will wager my unassailable credentials as a hipper-than-hip music journalist, my various lifetime achievement awards for snarky critique-writing, my curmudgeon’s license, and my title as Funk Overlord (yes, Funk Overlord – I won it fair and square from the guys in Black Merda in a card game!) if you can find two CDs funkier then this. Now, James Brown doesn’t count, but anyone else is fair game.

Though Watson originally started his career and gained his first fame as a bluesman, Watson was a master at continually re-inventing himself throughout his career and by the end of his life was known more for being a George Clinton-esque funkmeister than for his blues. He first started in the ’50’s as a piano player and then switched to guitar, which is where he first began getting noticed. In this way he was a lot like Ike Turner, who also first strarted working as a piano player before picking up the guitar. Like Turner, Watson was an inventive bandleader who came up with many innovative arrangements and skillful gimmicks to set himself apart from the pack. While not pursuing the business angles Turner did to get noticed, Watson was able to market himself as a viable solo artist due to his excellent singing voice, which led to many opportunities never open to Turner. Where Turner had to either find his Tina or record instrumentals, Watson was able to take advantage of many styles, though paradoxically, it took Watson many more years to become a household name than it did Turner.

He eventually did get his due, though. Starting with his signing to the Dick James Music Group in the early ’70’s, Watson was set to take his road-tested funk persona to a new level. He had long since went through his early blues phase, a soul phase in the ’60’s, and several other R&B-based experiments which kept him on the verge of breaking through in a big way but had not quite clicked with the public. Luckily for Watson, he was always ahead of the curve in terms of his ability to judge what would be popular next, what the public was looking for. His problem was he had just not been in the right place or situation to capitalize on it. His extraordinary musicianship kept him in the game as well. Capable of playing many instruments, Watson was always an innovator with sound just as much as with vision. One of the first to experiment with synthesizers, Watson was dreaming up funky applications for them years before most of the artists people readily assume as being the leaders of the new technology. For example, Watson was using the talkbox years before Peter Frampton and funkateer Roger made their names with the device.

This 2 CD set covers the best of Watson’s time with the Dick James Music Group and also includes cuts from his last recording, Bow Wow, which was released in 1994. Of course, most of the set leans towards Watson’s work from the mid-70’s to about 1982 – which was the last time he recorded before his comeback Bow Wow so the set pretty much covers his latter and most fertile period right up until his death. There are a healthy four cuts each from the six albums he released – and one can definitely hear the progression as Watson’s funk style became more and more assured and confident with each subsequent release. While Bow Wow is nothing more than a desperate, lackluster attept by Watson to show he could still funk with the best of them, the album does have a few moments on it that a Watson fan (or any stone funk fan for that matter) would like and most of those are included on this CD set.

For those of you who think Sly Stone and George Clinton’s various projects were the only funky things going on in the ’70’s, this set is going to shock the hell out of you. Music just can’t get any funkier than this. Pick this up now!

So that’s it. Get you some Johnny Guitar Watson as soon as you can ’cause you don’t want to live without the funk for very long!

The Music Nerd knows…..about Da Fonk!