Phelps “Catfish” Collins, 66, Funk Pioneer, Member of P-Funk and Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and Brother of William “Bootsy” Collins, Joins the Ancestors
I don’t believe it, but it’s true. It happened on Friday. From the Big C. Cancer.
The older brother of Cincinnati’s legendary funk icon, Phelps “Catfish” Collins was a jovial guitar player with a huge smile, a mentor who helped shape his brother’s musical career as well as his life.
“He was a father figure to my husband,” said Patti Collins, William “Bootsy” Collins’ wife. “He’s the reason why Bootsy is who he is.”
Phelps Collins died Friday after a long battle with cancer. He was 66.
Mr. Collins was a lifelong musician and Cincinnati resident. He was born eight years before Bootsy, who gave him the nickname “Catfish” because he thought he looked like one. He was fiercely protective of his family, once threatening to kill his father with a butcher knife if he saw him hurt their mother again, Bootsy told the Enquirer in an interview last year.
In 1968, Phelps and Bootsy Collins helped form local R&B band the Pacemakers, which became the rhythm section at the renowned King Records in Evanston. They played with James Brown, backing him on such songs as “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” as part of a group that became known as the J.B.’s.
When the women in your family speak plain for you when you are gone, you know that this was essentially a good guy.
Dude, damn. You shouldn’t have been smoking those flipping ciggies! Those flipping cancer sticks! What a loss! Even at his age, he could still play and play HARD.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame keyboardist Bernie Worrell played with the Collins brothers in Parliament-Funkadelic. Worrell said he and Catfish were the elders of the group.
“He was a loving, caring person, but at the same time, he wouldn’t take any bullcrap when it came to business,” Worrell said. “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.”
Bernie Worrell, as some of you know, has his own claim to fame even motion picture-wise. He was one of the driving forces in Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense, called one of the great rock films of all time and featuring The Talking Heads. He took all that from being with James, The JB’s, Catfish and Bootsy.
And he’s getting up there, too. George Clinton is 69 this year.
Collins’ guitar work can be heard on some of the biggest songs in the entire Funk canon, including Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” and Parliament’s “Flash Light,” two songs Rolling Stone put in its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” And Hip Hop music might sound a little different if it weren’t for Catfish — songs he played on were sampled on Hip Hop tracks by Snoop Dogg, Black Eye Peas, A Tribe Called Quest, Digital Underground, Big Daddy Kane, 2Pac, Biz Markie, Kurtis Blow, Hammer, Grandmaster Flash and tons of others. In more recent years, Catfish played on songs by Deee-Lite and fellow Cincinnatian Freekbass and he was a contributor to the soundtrack for the 2007 hit comedy Superbad. Catfish will forever be remembered as one of the greatest Funk guitarists in the history of music.
Wikipedia reports that early in his career, Catfish performed on a Vox Ultrasonic guitar with built-in effects. That is, according to his specs.
He got his nickname in boyhood from his more famous brother, whether in teasing or in earnest, the exact moment is forgotten. To him, Phelps Collins seemed to resemble a catfish. The name stuck.
Funeral arrangements are pending. Catfish follows Gary “Diaperman” Shider, also of P-Funk fame, in death. Diaperman died of cancer of the brain and lungs in June of this year. Word to yall: a fund has been set up to help Shider’s family shoulder the crushing cost of his medical bills.
Yall say a prayer for Catfish, in any language, in any religion. He was one of the best.