There couldn't be a better time than now to be Bootsy Collins.
At the moment, he has not one but two new albums in the stores: "Blasters of the Universe" by Bootsy's New Rubber Band, and "Lord of the Harvest" by the Collins-fronted Zillatron. If that weren't enough, there's also "Back in the Day," a compilation album offering the best of Bootsy's old Rubber Band.
Why so much all of a sudden? "I don't know," he says with a laugh. "I guess this is the time, you know?
"I've been pretty much busy doing a lot of recording and stuff, and I didn't actually plan for it all to come out at the same time, but it just seemed to. I pretty much got it all finished about the same time. Also, we had been talking back and forth with Warners for the past five years about the best-of, and they just decided to put it out this year."
It isn't as if Collins had been keeping a low profile before this. Even though he hadn't had an album of his own out since 1988's "What's Bootsy Doing," the star-bespectacled bass man remained active, doing a wide range of studio work and popping up in some unexpected places -- like on Deee-Lite's "Groove Is in the Heart" single and video.
What sparked his current bout of creativity was hooking up with producer Bill Laswell, who not only produced the Zillatron album but also helped forge unusual recording opportunities for Collins -- like Hardware, a Hendrixian power trio that paired the bassist with guitarist Stevie Salas and drummer Buddy Miles.
"Laswell really gave me an opportunity to get back to doing what I like to do, and that was being a musician," says Collins, over the phone from his Bootzilla studio in Cincinnati. "Playing with a lot of different artists and that whole trip -- I had gotten totally away from that, and never had the opportunity up until the last two or three years to get back into that and feel free about doing it. As opposed to having to make a record for the record company."
In a sense, his current situation reminds Collins of what it was like growing up in Cincinnati, back when the playing was the thing for local musicians.
"It was the thing to play in clubs," he says. "It was a big thing. People went out to see live bands all the time, and we were fighting around here trying to be the best band in the land. You had to compete for those little gigs that we used to get. You'd get paid, man, wine, money and two or three dollars gas money, but we were really competing for those gigs, you know? It was all positive, but at the same time, it was making us tighter, and making us more on it with the music."
Like it is now. As Collins puts it, "What is it the Beatles said? 'Back to where you once belonged.' That's what I'm talking about. I feel good. I'm back to that now."
It isn't just the playing, though. Ever since he burst onto the scene in 1970, playing bass behind James Brown on "Sex Machine," Collins has been known as much for his flamboyant appearance as his way with a groove. That came into full flower when he joined up with George Clinton's Parliafunkadelicment Thang in 1972. Collins' elaborate outfits and star-shaped "space bass" made him stand out even in that decidedly eccentric crowd.
"When I first started out, I was going for a look, an image more so than anything," he says. "When we were coming up, you had to look the part, you had to play the part, you had to be the part. So I was trying to do it all, create that monster, you know? So if a person knows me for what I look like or how crazy I am, something other than the music, I mean, it's still cool."
He laughs. "What is it they say? 'Call me anything you want, but just call me.' "
To hear excerpts from Bootsy Collins' album "Blasters of the Universe," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6189 after you hear the greeting.
Have a Blast
When: Sunday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m.
Where: Pier 6 Concert Pavilion
Tickets: $21.50 reserved, $15 lawn
Call: (410) 625-1400