Billy "Bass" Nelson

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For many, Bootsy Collins is the most renowned bassist of Parliament-Funkadelic's long and winding career. But Billy "Bass" Nelson was the original, supplying some of the troupe's most memorable…
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For many, Bootsy Collins is the most renowned bassist of Parliament-Funkadelic's long and winding career. But Billy "Bass" Nelson was the original, supplying some of the troupe's most memorable and classic grooves on their early recordings. Born in Plainfield, NJ in 1951, Nelson befriended future P-Funk leader George Clinton at an early age, as he worked at a barbershop that Clinton ran at the time -- sweeping the floor and entertaining customers by singing and dancing. Nelson relocated back to Plainfield after a brief spell in Brooklyn, NY during the mid-'60s, which saw Nelson serve some time in jail for joy riding. Upon his release, Nelson got back in contact with the Clinton crew, who by this time had turned their attention from hairstyling to music. By late 1966, Nelson was invited to join the burgeoning group (which, due to contractual red tape, would alternate between the names Parliament and Funkadelic over the years), but initially as a guitarist. Although the group was flying high with their first hit single, "(I Wanna) Testify," Nelson was never fully comfortable playing the six-string, and inquired about switching to the bass. He got his wish, as childhood friend Eddie Hazel took the vacated guitar position, which led to the group honing their eventually patented psychedelic-funk sound.

Osmium
Shortly after relocating to Detroit in the late '60s, Parliament and Funkadelic (the latter of which Nelson named) began issuing albums on a regular basis, as their lineup would swell to include ten members. Nelson's funky bass grooves graced such early classics as Parliament's Osmium (1970), in addition to Funkadelic's self-titled debut (1970) and Free Your Mind (1970), plus Maggot Brain (1971, which contained the Nelson-sung "You and Your Folks"). Soon after, a falling-out between Nelson and Clinton (mostly over money issues) led to the bassist's departure from the group in October of 1971. Nelson subsequently went on to either play or record with such renowned artists as the Commodores, Chairmen of the Board, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Jermaine Jackson, Lenny Williams, Parlet, Fishbone, and the Temptations (the latter of which saw Nelson and Hazel unite for the group's 1975 hit, "Shakey Ground"). Nelson also reunited briefly with Funkadelic, to play the bassline on the track "Better by the Pound" off of 1975's Let's Take It to the Stage. By the late '80s, Nelson was often name-checked as a prime influence by such up-and-coming funk bassists as Norwood Fisher (Fishbone) and Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers). Nelson rejoined Parliament-Funkadelic for good in 1994, and briefly led a gathering of Funkadelic alumni under the name of O.G. Funk who issued the album Out of the Dark the same year.