Bootsy Collins is spearheading a star-studded tour dubbed “A Tribute to James Brown” featuring alumni from Brown’s own legendary J.B.’s that is slated for the fall.
Collins, who was part of Brown’s J.B.’s in 1970-71 before leaving for subsequent sojourns in the House Band, Parliament-Funkadelic, Bootsy’s Rubber Band and the Sweat Band, says one of his life’s missions these days is to “pay back the man that started my whole career” — James Brown.
The band Collins is putting together for the tribute tour includes J.B.’s alumni Phelps “Catfish” Collins (who is also Bootsy’s brother) on guitar and drummers John “Jabo” Starks and Clyde Stubblefield, aka the Funky Drummer. Bart Byrd, the son of late J.B.’s keyboardist Bobby Byrd, is also on board, with Tony Wilson and Brown’s daughter Venisha — who Collins says “not only looks exactly like him but dances the way he does” — providing vocals.
“It’s Bootsy Collins’ tribute to James Brown,” Collins tells Billboard.com. “It’s about James Brown’s music, his legacy, what his music meant to me — not only me but a lot of people, a lot of musicians and fans. So it’s pretty much me paying [my] respect.”
The tour was slated to run May 1 to June 4 but is now being rescheduled to start Sept. 25, most likely in California, and last into the fall. Ron Bembry, Collins’ tour manager, tells Billboard.com the delay is designed to clear up confusion that was in part causing lower than expected ticket sales.
“For a major artist on this level to go out and do a tribute tour where they’re not going to hear any of the songs he’s famous for, that’s kind of a challenge,” Bembry explains. “As soon as people hear Bootsy, the first thing that comes to mind is ‘I wanna see him do Bootsy,’ which means Parliament-Funkadelic, the Rubber Band, all that stuff.
“They don’t know him from James Brown, but that was his foundation. So hopefully we’ll come up with a proper marketing and promoting strategy to make it work.”
Collins says the tribute tour was inspired by a Dec. 22 one-off in Convington, Ky., that also included guitarist Buckethead and rappers Chuck D and Afrika Bambaataa.
“It was awesome,” Collins recalls. “People had so much fun, and it was the kind of fun we used to have back in the day, so it was like, ‘Dang, this can still happen!’ It kind of sparked the vibe of, ‘Wow, we need to take this on the road!'”
While he’s paying tribute to Brown, Collins is also trying to pay homage to King Records, the defunct Cincinnati label where he got his start and which was also home to Brown, Hank Ballard, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Roy Brown and others. Collins has launched an initiative to refurbish the old King building, not just as a museum but also as an active music-making facility.
“We want to keep the history alive, of course,” he explains, “but at the same time I want to take young people in there and get them involved in being creative in their own way. It’s all coming along; we finally have the city on our side about how important it is and what we want to do with it. I can’t wait for it to be a reality.”