Bootsy: Ohio is a funky place to beWritten by Toledo Free Press Staff Writers | | firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’ve ever thought there must be something in Ohio’s water, William “Bootsy” Collins says you’re right.
The legendary bass player, a 1997 Rock and Roll Hall of Famer inducted for his work with Parliament and Funkadelic, has most famously traveled the world with James Brown and George Clinton. He’s also funked it up with the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fatboy Slim, Del McCoury, Deee-Lite and Hank Williams Jr., all while providing bass lines and fashion styles that are without peer and without boundaries.
One look at Collins and you’d assume he came from Mars, if not another, more distant planet. However, the man known as “Bootzilla,” “Casper the Funky Ghost” and “the world’s only rhinestone rock star monster of a doll” lives in his hometown of Cincinnati.
“It’s home,” the 57-year-old told Toledo Free Press March 27 at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “I’m most comfortable here. I just feel freer here. I’ve lived in L.A., lived in Miami, Detroit, but Cincinnati is just home. There’s something about this Midwestern thing.”
Equally outrageous and humble, Collins continues to support his hometown, cultivating upcoming artists in the local music scene, writing tracks for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals and former National Indoor Football League Cincinnati Marshals, and opening a restaurant called “Bootsy’s.” He has also organized and performed at area charity events, including Bootsy Collins’ Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, which provides guitars for needy kids, and most recently, a fallen-hero museum envisioned for the Queen City. He’s also generous with his time, coming to Cleveland in support of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Week activities.
“Part of my mission is to give something back,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that you should try and say as much as you can say without saying a word. To me, your whole life speaks, whether you speak or not.”
Terry Stewart, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said Collins has always answered the call.
“Anytime we’ve needed his help, Bootsy has made himself available,” Stewart said.
Still, with fellow funkmaster Gorge Clinton maintaining a home in Southeast Michigan, what is it that makes the Midwest so funky?
“You ready for the secret, man?” Collins asked, peering over his trademark star-shaped sunglasses. “You ready? You know the water in the Ohio River? It’s got pee in it, you see?” he said with a giant laugh. “And we drink it!”
Thus giving a new meaning to the phrase, “Let the funk flow.”
— Chris Kozak
O’Jays founder marks 50 years in music
In his all-black suit and hat, Walter Williams exudes the calm, poised demeanor of a corporate CEO. But the face partially hidden behind black shades became famous as a passionate, electrifying stage performer. Williams is a founding member and one of the lead singers of the O’Jays, the Cleveland-based group that struck gold with such “Sound of Philadelphia” hits as “Love Train,” “Back Stabbers,” “Use Ta Be My Girl” and “I Love Music.” The O’Jays, celebrating 50 years in music this year, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, a moment Williams described as “special beyond words.”
Williams appeared at the hall March 27 to help kick off a week of activities leading to the April 4 inductions. Williams, 67, still lives in the Cleveland area.
“Since we had the Rock Hall here, Cleveland is on the map,” he said. “They know about Ohio all over the world.”
Williams said after a late-1950s Canton concert by Little Anthony and the Imperials, he wanted to start a group, for a reason that continues to inspire budding rock stars today.
“We saw how those girls reacted to the singers, and all of sudden, groups sprung up all over Canton,” Williams said.
Williams and Eddie Levert formed the Triumphs; they later became the O’Jays, taking their name from local disc jockey/benefactor Eddie O’Jay. The group’s rise to fame came through its collaboration with producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who wrote many of the group’s classic songs. Williams said in addition to its studio craft, the group worked hard on its stage show and choreography.
“We learned it was great to have a hit record, but you could build a career by having a hit act,” Williams said.
The industry has changed dramatically, Williams said.
“It used to be that local disc jockeys would support local groups and play their records on the radio; they were invested in the local scene,” he said. “Now, some radio programmer a thousand miles away makes the decisions.”
Williams is working on a new CD, his first solo effort.
“I’m looking to change the game,” he said. “I’m singing ‘My Way,’ ‘The Way You Look Tonight,’ but also R&B. I take a big shot at ‘I Will Always Love You.’”
Williams said although he loves the Cleveland area, he will soon relocate to Las Vegas, where his family and Levert live.
“I’ll always come back; this is home,” he said.
— Michael S. Miller