Zillatron (Bootsy Collins) – Lord of the Harvest
…a cyberfunk creation by Bootsy Collins and Bill Laswell, driving funk into the virgin territories of ambient, hardcore, techno and beyond, with Praxis bandmates Buckethead and Bernie Worrell-a sonic landscape of the gradual apocalypse.
Although William “Bootsy” Collins’ career as leader and sideman is too extensive to document here (it includes, to begin with, 20-30 major releases under the Parliament, Funkadelic and Bootsy’s Rubber Band trademarks), it’s fair to say that the tireless bassist and funk icon has created more alter egos for himself than your average character actor. “Casper” and “Bootzilla,” his earliest roles, were successively replaced by “The Player,” “Boot-Tron,” “Star-Mon,” “The One,” “The Count” and many more. His latest yin-yang identity matrix, as manifested on Lord of the Harvest, is as the omnipotent Zillatron (“the great Overlord of Cyberfunk”) and his “lycanthropic counterpart” Fuzzface-two superheroes of epic proportions and near-impenetrable mystery.
Over the years, Bootsy and Bill Laswell, who originally co-produced Lord of the Harvest for Laswell’s Black Arc series, have developed an intimate working relationship that has spanned projects for artists as diverse as Material, Herbie Hancock, Sly & Robbie, Praxis, Axiom Funk, Ryuichi Sakamoto, several solo releases for Bootsy, Bernie Worrell and George Clinton, and countless others. Lord of the Harvest fearlessly bursts into new areas of sound, aided and abetted by mutant fretmeister Buckethead, whose twisted guitar acrobatics are most recently well-known among Guns ‘n’ Roses fans (although acolytes of the slightly older school will remember him as the noise anchor for Praxis, Death Cube K and other Laswell-produced forays). Funkateers will also take note here of synthe-sorcerer Bernie “Bernardo DaVinci” Worrell-a longtime bandmate and collaborator with Bootsy-on electric piano, Hammond B-3 organ and assorted keyboards. Finally, hip-hop heads will recognize the presence of some originators-the Last Poets’ Umar Bin Hassan and rap forefather Grandmaster Melle Mel-on various chants throughout the album.
The production on Lord of the Harvest has a general collage-like feel, with found snippets and samples flying around unexpectedly. “Count Zero” and “Smell the Secrets” employ ambient, trance and dub strategies, creating the appropriate sonic backdrop to Bootsy’s mad dystopian vision of the near future. “Exterminate” and “No Fly Zone/The Devil’s Playground” dip heavily into hardcore thrash, with Buckethead leading the charge. Of course, Bootsy’s extra-syrupy “Sugarcrook” ballads get a nod with “The Passion Continues,” while a heavy dose of his pure virtuosity on bass penetrates tracks like “Bugg Lite” and “Fuzz Face”.
As Lord of the Harvest will attest, Bootsy Collins has consistently reinvented himself with every project he has undertaken. His earliest recordings include a song called “Fun in Your Thang,” credited to an artist named “Bootsy Phelps”-an amalgamation of his nickname and the real given name of his brother “Catfish”. The teenaged Bootsy and his brother Catfish (on guitar) also performed as The Houseguests-a local funk-and-soul outfit that was regularly booked solid on the midwest chitlin circuit. In fact, it was through the sheer luck of hanging around in the right place at the right time-Cincinnati’s King Records studio in the late 1960s-that the brothers ended up replacing the ever-cantankerous James Brown’s touring band at a crucial time. Although he never received credit, Bootsy composed the bassline for “Sex Machine,” one of Brown’s biggest hits, soon after joining up as the Godfather’s goodfoot bassist at the age of seventeen.
Around this time, it being the late 1960s and an era of free love and expanding consciousness, young Bootsy discovered hallucinogens while touring with JB. Apparently Mr. Brown didn’t take too kindly to having his young bass player leave the stage in the middle of a gig. As Bootsy explained to the late Billboard editor Timothy White, “It was acid that eventually made things extra crazy. One night with James, I thought the neck of my bass guitar had turned into a snake. That pretty much cooled my deal with the Godfather.” On the lookout for a new gig, Bootsy and Catfish ended up joining George Clinton’s raggedy posse of psychedelic outlaws, soul singers and heavy-metal wailers in Parliament/Funkadelic, where they fit right in.
It was with P-Funk that Bootsy really came into his own as a composer. He and Bernie Worrell can laugh now about the fact that Bootsy’s bassline for the classic “Cosmic Slop” was appropriated, uncredited, upon his hooking up with Clinton. (These days Bootsy thinks of it as “paying his dues.”) Likewise, it was with P-Funk that Bootsy began to develop his stage persona, adapting Jimi Hendrix’s stoned stage patter to his own purposes. Eventually, Bootsy and keyboard wizard Worrell developed a whole new sound-a psychedelic update of the James Brown thang, with a few Larry Graham (Sly & the Family Stone) innovations tossed in: circular basslines that breathe, blasting horn sections, scratch guitars and single note unison lines, and even more funky special effects like popping and distorted fuzz-bass. All this permeates the cyberfunkic sprawl of Lord of the Harvest, and with the musical mutations of Fuzzface to back him up, Zillatron is once again poised to convert all detractors to the ways of The One. He who sows the wind reaps the funky storm.