Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bootsy Collins - Christmas Is 4 Ever

Yo yo yo... ho ho ho!

This album came to me from my good friend Jeff over at Jeffco Productions. Every year we manage to surprise each other with Christmas music and this was just the first of many this year!

(BTW, Jeff tells me that most of the traffic to his site came from this little yuleblog here so click on the link above and keep that going, k?)

Looking over my master list, my supply of Christmas funk is dangerously low. Other funk Christmas albums I own are James Brown's "Funky Christmas", the various artists album "Funky Christmas", and the New Kids On The Block CD "Merry Merry Christmas".

Just seeing if you were paying attention... and don't remind me about that horrific "Funky Funky Christmas" track from NKOTB!

How to remedy the funk shortage? Paging Mr. Collins, Mr. Bootsy Collins...

Cincinnati - home to King Records (the legendary R&B record label). It was here that Collins was born and was influenced by all the R&B stars on King, especially Soul Brother #1 - James Brown. This influence led 17-yr. old Bootsy to form his own band with his brother Phelps (nicknamed Catfish) called the Pacesetters in 1968.

After playing for two years, they got the break of a lifetime. In 1970, James Brown's original lineup of the JB's was going through some changes and Brown heard the Pacesetters play. Papa Brown got a brand new band as he invited the group to become the new JBs. They immediately began working with the Hardest Working Man In Show Business but Bootsy would soon find out why the original lineup left.

Bootsy was barely 20 years old, experiencing big time success on Brown's coattails, and he naturally rebelled against the Godfather of Soul. Brown was a relentless task master, disciplining the band for even the slightest step out of line, and it all came to a head at one concert in 1971.

As the show progressed, Brown noticed something odd about Bootsy. This is because Collins was going through several LSD flashbacks on stage, upstaging everyone and everything. James told Bootsy and Catfish to "get up, get on up" out of here.

Looking for work, the brothers Collins headed to Detroit where they were introduced to the soon to be King of Interplanetary Funk - George Clinton. They joined Funkadelic in 1972 and Bootsy & Catfish became the driving forces behind the band with their songwriting skills, hard rhythms they played, and a stable of alter egos (Casper The Funky Ghost, Bootzilla) that took on lives of their own.

After four years under Clinton, Bootsy decided it was time to go out on his own. He formed the Bootsy Rubber Band, reemerged into yet another alter ego, and adopted his signature bass guitar:

A funk star was born. His first three albums ("Stretching Out In Bootsy's Rubber Band", "Ahh... The Name Is Bootsy Baby", and "Bootsy? Player Of The Year") are considered by some as essential funk recordings - a perfect antidote to the disco era of the late 1970s.

The beginning of the 1980s saw more albums by Bootsy (some with the Rubber Band, some solo, and even one entitled "Sweat Band") but funk was a product of the 1970s and along with disco was slowly dying out in popularity. By 1982, the handwriting was on the wall and Bootsy released his final album for Warner Brothers. It seemed like the end of an era.

Two years later, Bootsy was one of the main forces behind an extremely popular dance single that had sampled President Ronald Reagan's mike gaffe ("We begin bombing in five minutes..."). Several years after that, he signed with CBS Records, released three albums between 1988-1991, and even joined forces with Deee-Lite on their one-hit wonder "Groove Is In The Heart" - that's him playing his space bass in the video!

The Bootsy renaissance continued as he joined up with Rykodisc in the mid-90s and released three more albums. He then joined forces with Del McCoury, Doc Watson, and Mac Wiseman (all established bluegrass artists) to fuse together funk and bluegrass. The GrooveGrass Boyz released two albums between 1996 and 1998 and their music was either loved or hated, depending on who you talked to.

Around this time, Bootsy began to help other artists in the ever widening field of rap and hip-hop, working with artists like Fatboy Slim and TobyMac. However, Bootsy recorded no albums of his own until a 2002 album entitled "Play With Bootsy". He continued to contribute to other artists' works - Nicole C. Mullens, Buckethead, Praxis, and Victor Wooten during this time.

Then late last year, Bootsy released this album. But how would Christmas and funk play together? The first thing you hear on this album is a sample from the song "N-Yo-City": "I'm sure there is going to be more than one unpleasant surprise before we're done." Bootsy talks about Christmas and gives you a small funk preview of what you're about to hear on the rest of the album.

After that, anything is fair game. Bootsy shakes up the whole landscape like an Etch-A-Sketch to create his own funktastic versions of your favorite Christmas songs: "Jingle Belz", "Chestnutz (AKA The Christmas Song)", "WinterFunkyLand (AKA Winter Wonderland)", "Silent Night", "Sleigh Ride", "Boot-Off (AKA Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer)", and "Santa's Coming (AKA Santa Claus Is Coming To Town)".

The four original songs are so good they could stand alone. "N-Yo-City", "Be-With You", the title track "Christmas Is 4 Ever", and "Happy Holidaze" featuring an appearance by Snoop Dog take the best elements of funk, mixes it up with rap and hip-hop, and sprinkles just the right amount of Christmas on them.

This album easily gets my vote for the best new Christmas release of 2006. Surprises at every turn, great new twists on Christmas songs, and with Bootsy as your tour guide, this was a incredible ride that I want to get in line for again and again.

UP NEXT: What famous Hawaiian finally recorded "Mele Kalikimaka"?


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