Phelps “Catfish” Collins, the legendary funk guitarist who played with James Brown and Parliament/Funkadelic, died Friday in Cincinnati after a battle with cancer. He was 66. “My world will never be the same without him,” said his brother Bootsy Collins in a statement. “Be happy for him, he certainly is now and always has been the happiest young fellow I ever met on this planet.”
Growing up in Cincinnati, Catfish inspired Bootsy to outfit an old guitar with bass strings, helping to define Bootsy’s signature funk sound. Catfish also introduced his brother to the music of Indiana blues guitarist Lonnie Mack. The siblings first played together in the Pacemakers, a funk act, in 1968. One year later, James Brown recruited them to join the original lineup of the J.B.’s, Brown’s touring band. Catfish’s clean, funky strumming was integral to Brown classics like “Super Bad,” “Get Up,” “Soul Power,” and “Give It Up.” “It was like playing a big school with James [as the teacher], like psychotic bump school, only deeper,” Bootsy told Rolling Stone in 1978.
When the original J.B.’s split from Brown in 1971, the Collins brothers joined Parliament-Funkadelic, playing on albums like 1972’s classic America Eats Its Young. (Catfish also played in Bootsy’s side project, Bootsy’s Rubber Band.) In 1983, Catfish split from Funkadelic, remaining mostly quiet until 2007, when he contributed guitar to the Superbad soundtrack.
Collins’ death comes just one month after fellow Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist Garry Shider passed away from cancer at 56.