Music: Boot-a Claus

Local legend Bootsy Collins delivers some Jingle Funk for the holiday season

Woodrow J. Hinton

Bootsy Collins' holiday album, Christmas is 4 Ever, fulfills one of the Funk legend's longstanding dreams

A quick scan of Bootsy Collins' accomplishments over the course of his nearly 40-year career shows more than just a résumé filled with amazing benchmarks — it's the impressive history and evolution of Funk since the '70s. Collins burst on the scene as a Cincinnati teenager, sessioning for King Records and playing bass with James Brown, then becoming an integral part of George Clinton's seminal Funk family Parliament/Funkadelic. He then established his solo identity as an outrageous showman and a revolutionary player of infinite scope and invention, lending his considerable skills to projects by everyone from Deee-Lite and Bill Laswell to Buckethead and Keith Richards.

But for all of Collins' incredible feats and for all the joy that he's brought to the world, the one thing the reigning king of Funk and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee has always wanted to do is ... actually sing "Joy to the World"?

"As a kid, I always had that Christmas fantasy, and used to hear all those different old Christmas songs, and I said to myself, 'One day, I'd really like to do a Christmas record,' " says Collins from his local office. "I never really got the opportunity to do one, and nobody was really interested in me doing it. At the time, when we really started happening with the Funk thing, that's all anybody ever wanted."

Two years ago, Los Angeles label Shout Factory came to Collins with the idea of doing a Christmas album and the old fantasy was rekindled.

"I said, 'Heeeck, yeah!' " recalls Collins with a laugh.

"I figured if I could take those old songs and really put my twist on it and do some things with it, I thought it would turn out really good. And I think it did."

The result of Collins' longstanding Christmas wish, Christmas is 4 Ever, was released on Halloween. If you're looking for traditional holiday fare wrapped up in Andy Williams' red sweater, keep walking. Collins started with classics like "The Christmas Song," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Winter Wonderland," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Jingle Bells," beamed them up to the Mothership, ran them through the Rubber Band filter, subjected them to the critical mass of the Pinocchio Theory and translated them into "Chestnutz," "Boot-Off," "Winter FunkyLand," "Santa's Coming" and "Jingle Belz." In addition to renderings of "Merry Christmas Baby," "Silent Night" and "Sleigh Ride," and a thumping version of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," Collins and his Christmas crew have added their own originals to the holiday canon, including "N-Yo-City," the Snoop Dogg co-written "Happy Holidaze," a holiday reworking of "Rather Be with You" as "Be-With-You" (featuring keyboardist Zapp Troutman on a song dedicated to his brother, the late Roger Troutman) and the title track. It's a rollicking ride that is as much a legitimate Bootsy Collins album as it is a holiday album.

"I wanted to take people to Christmas the way I felt about Christmas, and the good spirit of Christmas," says Collins. "I wanted to not only take myself there but to take people there. Whether they're having a good Christmas or not, by hearing this music it will bring some kind of smile or joy. That's what I kept in my mind. When we was growing up, we didn't get more than a gift or two, maybe. But it wasn't just about the gifts, it was about the family and we enjoyed each other. If we didn't get nothing but a cowboy set or a train set, it was, 'Wow, this is Christmas ... Santa Claus was here!' It was the bomb! That's what I wanted to project in the songs."

Although Collins' began work almost as soon as Shout Factory commissioned the project, his frenetic schedule over the past two years prevented him from giving it his complete attention. Last year, his calendar was loaded — sessions with Snoop Dogg, score work for two films and video games and time and attention on an upcoming animation project — so once he got some breathing room in 2006, he seized the opportunity to finish Christmas is 4 Ever.

"When I first started off this year, my mind was really focused on getting the record done, and I didn't let nothin' get in the way," says Collins. "I just went ahead and finished it."

Although the digital age could have enabled Collins to piece together e-mailed performances from around the world, he estimates that about 85 percent of Christmas is 4 Ever was recorded in Cincinnati at his Bootzilla Re-Hab studio. There are a good many familiar names populating Christmas is 4 Ever, including the aforementioned Snoop Dogg, keyboard legend Bernie Worrell, former Rubber Banders Joel Johnson and Frank "Kash" Waddy, iconic R&B vocalist Bobby Womack and Country fiddler Charlie Daniels among them.

"I pretty much had everybody come in," says Collins. "I just talked to them first and everybody was pretty fired up about a Christmas record. Usually I would do it when I was working on something of theirs and they were here and I would say, 'Hey, let's throw this Christmas thing up and get busy.' Snoop came in last year and did his part. Charlie Daniels e-mailed his part in, with the Pro-Tools, because he was on the road and he couldn't come in. His was kind of difficult to get, but we finally worked it into the schedule and got it on the record."

So how exactly does Charlie Daniels wind up on the only Funk Christmas album of the year?

"Actually, we did the Monday Night Football thing together," says Collins, referring to the star-studded, "Are You Ready for Some Football" intro segment for ESPN's Monday night broadcast. "And we just really kind of clicked. I started jamming on the stage, and he came over and started jamming with me and we hit it off real good. We shared numbers and he said he wanted me to work on his upcoming record — that's what I'm working on now; I'm redoing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" — and he told me if I did something with him, he would do something with me."

Christmas is 4 Ever only represents about half of the material Collins did for the album, and he enthusiastically says there will be another Bootsy holiday stocking stuffer in the future ("We got to keep the Funk flowing ...").

One of the sticking points for Collins was the fact that he had to turn in his Christmas record to the label in July. So how did he get into the holiday frame of mind with this past spring and summer's blistering temperatures?

"Once you get in the zone, it's like an actor; he has a script and he has to become that part," says Collins. "When I was doing the Christmas record, I had to become Christmas at Christmastime. I had to be there. I had to become Boot-a Claus! I had to imagine that, and focus that in my mind, and stay there. It wasn't hard at all, because I didn't have no distractions. I have no windows in the studio. I didn't have the Christmas tree up, but I had Christmas lights up, and I turned the air all the way up so it felt like it was snowing. It was really cool.

"I should have got one of those snow-blowers and blown snow all up in the daggone studio. I really woulda been there then. Maybe I'll do that next year." ©

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