Bootsy Collins‘ 1976 album Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band has long been considered a funk masterpiece. But what becomes clear all these years later is the way in which the album transcends the genre, weaving together almost innumerable strains of music into a glorious psychedelic tapestry that stretches from the ’50s all the way through to today.
Released on Aug. 6, 1976, the record was the P-Funk bassist’s first time out as a band leader. As such, it represented the culmination of almost a decade of hard work and intense music apprenticeship, not to mention free-form drug-fueled cosmic exploration.
William “Bootsy” Collins began his long strange trip in Cincinnati, where he grew up with a picture of Jimi Hendrix on his bedroom wall, feeling as though “as a young black man, Jimi Hendrix was like God.” With his older brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins and several other local musicians, Bootsy formed a funk band in 1968 when he was 16. The Pacemakers built enough of a reputation that when James Brown‘s group abruptly quit in 1970 over a monetary dispute, they were brought in to back the legendary singer, changing their name to the J.B.’s.
The tutorial began immediately. The young Collins was into LSD and peace and love; Brown demanded absolute musical professionalism. “I got lectured every night,” the bassist remembered in 2012. “Which at that time was great. Because I needed it.” It was from Brown that Collins learned maybe the most important lesson of his musical career: the idea of “The One.” This was Brown’s injunction to “always hit The One, the downbeat. In between that you can play whatever you wanna play.” It’s an idea that lies at the very heart of Collins’ playing and has made him one of the most influential funk bass players ever.
Although they were with Brown for less than a year, the original J.B.’s played on a number of his most famous records, including “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” and “Super Bad.” By 1972, Collins and his compatriots had fallen in with another musical genius in George Clinton, the leader of the Parliament-Funkadelic music collective, a group of musicians devoted to exploring new sonic frontiers, adopting alter egos and generally having a good time. It was during this period that Collins “took LSD every day for at least two years, right up until the point I began feeling like I was living in another world.”
Listen to Bootsy’s Rubber Band’s ‘I’d Rather Be With You’
The madness paid off, and the band of merry pranksters produced album after album that would go down as masterpieces. After playing bass on most of them, Collins finally put out his own in 1976.
Stretchin’ Out is a tight, 40-minute, seven-song splendor. It stretches from the classic bounce of the title track and the relatively sparse, horn-driven “Another Point of View” to the slow jam (and frequently sampled) “I’d Rather Be With You” and the deep bedroom vibes of “Vanish in our Sleep.”
Collins’ playing is heavily present when it needs to be but just as often lays low, holding down things beneath the fireworks. The production – by Collins and Clinton, with Fred Wesley contributing horn arrangements – layers multiple instruments and background vocals to give a feeling of cosmic size that never gets muddy or overly complicated.
Beyond this, though, the album pulls together a vast range of artists and influences. Many of Collins’ predecessors are present in spirit and in person. Hendrix’s influence can be heard throughout (courtesy of brother Catfish and P-Funk alum Garry Shider and Michael Hampton), but on “Physical Love,” echoes of fusion great John McLaughlin are present. Stevie Wonder‘s spiritual presence is also here – check out “Love Vibes” and other tracks that recall Motown’s ’60s peak.
Even while pulling in these disparate influences from Collins’ past, the album looks forward as well. Stretchin’ Out often sounds like the music Prince would make in a couple years, and the trading guitar and bass lines in the title track point to early ’90s Red Hot Chili Peppers.
But there are some less obvious connections, too. It’s no accident Childish Gambino, Beyonce and 2Pac have sampled “I’d Rather Be With You,” and the more you soak in “Vanish in Our Sleep,” with its lilting melodic lines and tasteful organ work, the more you begin to hear it as a yacht-rock classic, played at two-thirds speed.
In fact, the longer one listens to the album as a whole, the more you start to realize just how deeply Collins and band put their funky imprint on so much music since then. “Funk is the raw ingredient of the essence of all that there is,” Collins once said. One listen to Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and you’ll probably agree with him.
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