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.
In 1971, the brothers formed a flashy funk group called the House Guests with band mates including drummer Frankie “Kash” Waddy and former Pacemakers singer Philippé Wynne. Wynne went on to lead a group called the Spinners, and the rest joined the free-wheeling Parliament-Funkadelic.
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.” Check out “Catfish” Collins performing with James Brown in 1971. (video below)
Phelps Collins later joined Bootsy’s Rubber Band and would go on to play rhythm guitar on albums by Deee-Lite, Freekbass and H-Bomb. He also performed on the soundtrack to the 2007 Judd Apatow comedy “Superbad” with Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell and other original members of the J.B.’s.
“He was one of probably the most underrated musicians in R&B and funk history,” said Cincinnati bassist Chris “Freekbass” Sherman, who cites both Collins brothers as influences. “He’s such an amazing guitar player. No one did it like him.”
Patti Collins said her brother-in-law, a father of two who lived in Kennedy Heights, made a life of music and continued to collaborate with Bootsy as the brothers grew older.
About a month ago, local musicians gathered at Celebrities in Roselawn to perform a tribute to Catfish, said Lincoln Ware, who hosts a daily radio show on WDBZ-1230 AM.
Ware said Mr. Collins, always a boisterous and smiling presence, clearly wasn’t feeling his best that night. But he sat back anyway, soaking in the music that had always meant so much to him.
Services are pending.