45 Years Ago: ‘Aah…The Name Is Bootsy, Baby!’ Cranks the Funk
William "Bootsy" Collins' name was already well-known by the time he "introduced" himself with Aah...The Name is Bootsy, Baby!, the second album by his Bootsy's Rubber Band, on Jan. 15, 1977.
But that was certainly when Bootsy became a genuine star.
The Cincinnati-born Collins had earned his funk props when the Pacemakers -- a band that also included his older brother Phelps "Catfish" Hodge and future Spinners frontman Phillipe Wynne -- served as James Brown's backing band, later known as the first J.B.'s, for 11 months during the early '70s. That's Collins' bass you hear on hits such as "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," "Super Bad," "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothin'" and more. Their subsequent group, House Guests, enjoyed the post-Brown notoriety, but a 1972 move to Detroit to become part of George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic empire proved... well, fortuitous would be an understatement.
"We would complement each other," Collins remembered for 2001's Glory B Da Funk's On Me Anthology. "If I came up with something he would have a meaning behind it, which made it kind of make sense and at the same time not make sense. It was a good relationship and we did the same thing in the music. I just knew it would be a perfect blend when I met him."
Part of Clinton's lure for Collins was the promise of letting the bassist have his own act, which led to the birth of Bootsy's Rubber Band in 1976. The who's-who collective featured Collins' recruits and was also augmented by other P-Funk stalwarts. It wasn't quite together for 1976's Stretchin' Out in Bootsy's Rubber Band, but for Ahh...The Name is Bootsy, Baby! it had been honed and tightened as part of the massive P-Funk Earth Tour, recording the second album in Detroit and Hollywood when the tour schedule allowed.
"On the second record, the Bootsy character snapped into focus," Clinton, who co-produced with Collins and co-wrote all eight tracks, wrote in his 2014 memoir Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard On You? "The Bootsy program was simple at that point. It was clear that we had to extend him further into cartoon land, while keeping him legitimate as a romantic figure... building the larger P-Funk myth, brick by brick, though we didn't always know it at the time."
Aah...'s title track actually started the album on stage, using crowd noise, saxophonist Maceo Parker's introduction, ("a group of young men from Cincinnati O-HI-O!") and Bootsy's snippet of "Auld Lang Syne" to launch the eight-track party. It was a taste of the outsized, larger-than-life comic figure that had been built around Bootsy, with his mirrored, star-shaped sunglasses and a custom-made, star-shaped bass – and an indication of the abundant chops contained in the album's 40 minutes.
Listen to Bootsy Collins' 'Ah...The Name is Bootsy, Baby'
The romance, meanwhile, was inspired by a trip Clinton took to Hawaii with a new girlfriend and came up with a batch of "love ballads," "but with a surreal and futuristic twist" that would instill them in Rubber Band land. "When there were straightforward love ballads, we made sure to give them outrageous titles, like 'Rubber Duckie,' so that someone scanning the track list wouldn't think they had accidentally stumbled on a Teddy Pendergrass album," Clinton wrote.
And the mythology was forwarded in the single "The Pinocchio Theory," a track that gave birth to Sir Nose D'voidoffunk, a P-Funk favorite whose proboscis grew, much like the Disney character's, when he committed an improper use of "the funk." ("If you fake the funk, your nose will grow.") Clinton noted that "At the time we recorded it, Bootsy didn't even know who Pinocchio was. When he saw the movie a few months later, he thought Walt Disney was copying us."
The track was also notable for a glaring mistake that was kept in the mix, when Bootsy shouted "Sang!" in the wrong spot followed by a quite audible "Oh!" as he realized his error. "Everybody fell out laughin', and we was practical jokers anyway," he remembered. "We would vibe off either what was funny to somebody or was groovin' to somebody... If you produce the cause, then you get [an] effect. We were kind of livers and believers of that."
Listen to Bootsy Collins' 'The Pinocchio Theory'
Aah... certainly made believers out of the rest of the world. The album was the first from the P-Funk axis to hit No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts (No. 16 on the Top 200), while "The Pinocchio Theory" hit No. 6 on the Hot R&B Songs survey and the follow-up, "Can’t Stay Away" reached No. 19. It was certified gold and paved the way for two more Rubber Band albums before Collins went solo with 1980's Ultra Wave – though he would return to the Rubber Band for Jungle Bass in 1990 and then launch a New Rubber Band in 1994.
As far as Clinton was concerned, "Of all the albums I worked on during that time, Ahh...The Name is Bootsy, Baby! is one of the highlights... The record was far ahead of its time, and it's an almost perfect example of how to combine commercial music and artistic music... Self-expression was the only real point."