Bootsy Collins | the Pacesetters

Born in Cincinnati in 1951, Bootsy Collins is a bass player who is all about funk. His extraordinary talents have seen him inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he is instantly recognisable with his star-shaped instruments and an out-of-this-world kind of style.

Bootsy formed his first band, the Pacesetters, with his brother ‘Catfish’ Collins. Making their debut in 1968, the Pacesetters were soon to become the backing band of a certain James Brown. This is a role that they maintained for a year and it provided a fantastic grounding for what would come in the future when Bootsy worked alongside George Clinton in Funkadelic and Parliament.

Proving just how talented Bootsy is, when it comes to bass, he is constantly in demand both as a performer and a session player. He has provided bass and vocals to tracks with the likes of Fatboy Slim, Deee-Lite and Buckethead. In 2010 he even launched his own online university where he would provide bass lessons.

We want to take a look at some of the best projects that Bootsy has worked on as well as look at his instrument of choice.

Parliament – Mothership Connection (1975)

There is only one way to describe this album and that is as a masterpiece. The band is performing at its best, the songs are all awesome and the bass provided by Bootsy is like you’ve never heard before. The verses of P. Funk (Wants to get funked up) allow Bootsy to show his restraint before breaking into high neck energy for the choruses. This single song is one that’s responsible for the launch of hip hop as a genre.

Other great examples of Bootsy’s work can be found on the tracks ‘Unfunky UFO’ and Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication. Both show the ranges that Bootsy can tap into and these songs alone can justify his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If you want the best introduction to the bass palsying of Bootsy then this album is a must.

Bootsy’s Rubber Band – Ahh…. The Name is Bootsy Baby! (1977)

This is an album that gives us an insight into what makes Bootsy tick. He has a vision where life is lived as fully as possible and where there is plenty of laughter and sex. If you want a track to get started with then it’s worth jumping straight to ‘What’s a Telephone Bill?’. Synths had made their appearance and Collins was keen to take control of his sound. This led to him having his iconic star-shaped bass created.

To create the sounds that made the bass on this album so great, Bootsy made use of an array of effect pedals. Some of these included the likes of the Mu-Tron III, Key-9 and the Big Muff. Bootsy can be seen as almost experimental when it comes to pedals and bass. The sounds that he created were unique and paved the way for future musicians.

Science Faxtion – Living on Another Frequency (2008)

This is an album that brings together rock, metal, funk, and electro. The title track is nothing short of amazing and provides a glimpse of what is to come. There is a great riff from Buckethead, stunning layered vocals and bass interjections that are second to none.

When this album is looked at again, it appears that Bootsy had very nearly entered the glam rock scene. It appears that this was averted with, instead, a funk-metal sound being created that can really be appreciated by listening to Chaos in Motion. The album as a whole avoids bass that’s over the top and is a form of showing off. It’s all subtle and every note struck is done so with purpose and for a reason.

One to avoid – Bootsy Collins – Christmas is 4 Ever (2006)

It seems that all artists feel the need to dip their toes in the water and enter the world of Christmas music. Collins, just like so many others, should have known better. That being said, there was a sense of this being tongue in cheek given the fact that it was released on Halloween!

There are some bizarre arrangements of Christmas classics sixth as Silent Night and Jingle Bells. Perhaps the worst song to make it onto the album is Sleigh Ride. This is a song that is so downright awful that even the sound of Bootsy’s bass can’t rescue it. The redeeming feature here has to be the track FunkyLand. This is a song that is pure cheese but it shows that such a talented performer can bring cheesiness and make it cool.

Bootsy’s basses

Throughout his career, Collins has used a variety of bases. There are a fair few of these that have been custom-made. That first Space Bass was made in Michigan by Larry Pless. It came with a maple neck and mahogany body, featuring a striking mirror pickguard. Then there was the second Space Base that was in the shape of a star. This too was, unsurprisingly, custom made by Manuel Salvador.

There were a string of other custom-made bass guitars over the years. It was during the 2010 NAMM show that his new signature bass was revealed. With the catchy name ‘Bootsy Collins Black Star Signature Bass’ this was to become his instrument of choice for years to come.

The end of live performances

Anyone who caught a live show featuring Collins can feel blessed that they got there while there was still a chance. In 2019, he announced that he’d no longer be taking to the stage as he was following doctors’ orders. Instead, he was to dedicate himself to coaching new musicians as well as continuing with studio work.

We hope that Bootsy will continue for many years to come with his music in the studio. Whether this be solo projects or collaborations with other artists. The unique bass playing of Bootsy saw him becoming a pioneer in the genre of funk and he has continued to evolve his playing style and take it to new levels.