|Bootsy Collins in his James Brown days|
If it’s true that James Brown really was The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business—and there’s ample evidence in RJ Smith’s The One: The Life and Music of James Brownthat he just might have been—then the members of his bands, all the various members from all the various bands, would have to be tied for a close second. The martial discipline he enforced—fines levied, curfews imposed, days-off denied, even ideas poached—made for a frequent turnover in musical personnel, often en masse. When band-members left, it often broke him, but then the fresh blood came right in and brought new life all over again. It makes you wonder if Brown’s special kind of crazy really knew what it was doing all along.
Take the matter of Bootsy Collins. We might as well; it’s one of the odder stories Smith has to tell, and one of the best-sourced. That’s really saying something, right there, but it’s also one of the most consequential, at least for those of us who grew up on (first in the form of sampled rap breaks, and then, retroactively, the original songs themselves) the sound Bootsy and Brown made together. Bootsy soon took the sound with him to George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, where it got refined and amplified, and that’s a part of the story too, of course, a big part. But I don’t know if anyone’s told the first part of the story more subtly or substantially than Smith does here.