Catfish Collins: Guitarist who laid down the rhythmic bedrock for James Brown, Parliament and Funkadelic

The Godfather of Soul, the late James Brown, was a hard taskmaster, fining his musicians for every mistake they made on stage. In March 1970, when most of his band quit after failing to get a pay rise, he didn't panic. He simply asked his right-hand man Bobby Byrd to put the Pacemakers, a young group from Cincinnati he had jammed with at King Records, on the next plane to Columbus, Georgia, where they backed him the following night. Among the musicians who became "the nucleus of a very good band" – as Brown put it – were bassist William "Bootsy" Collins and his older brother, the guitarist Phelps "Catfish" Collins.

The JBs, as their new boss renamed them, went on to play on "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine", "Super Bad (Part 1)", "Get Up, Get Into It and Get Involved", "Soul Power", and "Talkin' Loud & Sayin' Nothing", the extraordinary run of Brown singles that laid the foundations for the funk genre. Catfish's clean, insistent, syncopated rhythm-guitar parts, played on a Vox Ultrasonic with built-in sound effects, featured prominently on Brown's Sex Machine live album in 1972 – applause was overdubbed – though his prowess is best heard on the electrifying Love Power Peace: Live at the Olympia, Paris 1971, released in 1992. "James never went off on us," Catfish recalled. "He never fined us, like he did with Maceo [Parker] and those guys. We just got the job done."

Yet, after a little more than a year, following another argument over money, the Collins brothers left Brown and gravitated towards George Clinton and the flamboyant intertwined groups Parliament and Funkadelic. Catfish contributed to America Eats Its Young, the 1972 Funkadelic album, and played the distinctive rhythm-guitar motif on "Flash Light", the Parliament single which topped the R'n'B charts in 1978. He also seconded his bass-playing brother in the formation of Bootsy's Rubber Band, another offshoot involving Clinton, and appeared on most of their albums, including Bootsy? Player of the Year and the "Bootzilla" single, another US R'n'B No 1, in 1978. Catfish followed his brother into the orbit of the dance trio Deee-Lite and helped them record Infinity Within, their second album, in 1992.

Born in 1944, Phelps Collins wasnicknamed Catfish by Bootsy, who was eight years younger. They had a difficult childhood, though matters improved after the older Collins confronted their father with a butcher knife and swore he would kill him if he hurt their mother again. Bootsy borrowed his guitar whenever he could so Catfish eventually gave his brother an old guitar with bass strings and set him on his way to becoming one of the funkiest players around.

By 1968, they had formed the Pacemakers, an R'n'B band whose personnel also included Philippe Wynne, later of the Detroit Spinners. They became regulars at King Records and backed artists such as Marva Whitney and Hank Ballard on tour. During their tenure with Brown, they travelled to Nigeria where they met Fela Kuti.

The first incarnation of the JBs proved a great showcase not only for Bootsy but also for Catfish on theirinstrumental singles "These are the JBs", "Across the Tracks" – credited to the Believers – and in particular "The Grunt", which has been sampled by many hip-hop acts including Erik B & Rakim, Public Enemy and the Wu-Tang Clan.

The Collins siblings then formed the short-lived House Guests and issued a couple of singles before hooking up with "the group of maniacs with George Clinton" as Bootsy said. Catfish also discovered Roger Troutman and Zapp, in Dayton, Ohio, and introduced them to his brother and Clinton. In 2007, Catfish and Bootsy Collins were among the funk musicians assembled by Lyle Workman to record the soundtrack to Superbad, the American comedy directed by Greg Mottola.

Keyboard-player Bernie Worrell, a member of Parliament-Funkadelic alongside Catfish, paid him the following tribute. "He was a loving, caring person, but at the same time, he wouldn't take any bullcrap when it came to business. He was a hell of a musician. He taught me a lot about rhythms. People seem to forget that the rhythm guitar behind James Brown was Catfish's creative genius, and that was the rhythm besides Bootsy's bass."

Pierre Perrone

Phelps "Catfish" Collins, musician: born Cincinnati, Ohio 1944; married (two children); died Cincinnati 6 August 2010.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas