Rolling Stone



[ Cont. from 49] himself, and saw, briefly, someone who appeared to be his musical hero. “I knew what Bootsy looked like,” he says. “I had seen all the interviews and had the posters on my wall as a kid. He’s staying in the same hotel as Miles. I was like, ‘Goddamn, it’s him. It’s got to be him.’ ”

The man who would be Bootsy slinked away before Foley had much time to chat with him, but Davis’ band interacted more with Almost Bootsy No. 2 when he hitched a ride with them from New York to D.C. At first, the musicians were flattered to think Bootsy would want to spend so much time with them. But he never went off to his hotel room or even suggested having any plans of his own. “I’m thinking, ‘Here’s this establishe­d, famous musician — what’s he doing hanging with us?’ ” recalls keyboardis­t Adam Holzman. “‘Why aren’t we going out to a proper dinner and then saying goodbye, like normal?’ If you ran into one of your heroes, you’d hang out, but it wouldn’t turn into a 24/7 thing.” After Almost Bootsy No. 2 began his complaints about money and — the telltale — asking Foley for a handout, he vanished once again.

Meanwhile, Salas showed up at the annual convention of NAMM (National Associatio­n of Music Merchants, the trade group of musical-instrument stores and manufactur­ers) in Anaheim, California. As he made his way around the vendors’ booths, he kept hearing people remark how he’d just missed Collins. “Everyone’s saying, ‘Bootsy’s here!’ ” he says. “I would say, ‘What are you talking about? He’s in Cincinnati. He was here five minutes ago?’ ” But Salas never saw the impostor. Waller found himself with bills from limo companies, and Ibanez Guitars sent $10,000 worth of gear to a post-office box in Louisiana. “He got away with a lot, from what I’m told — thousands and thousands of dollars,” Patti says, speaking for her husband. “Negative energy. It was very dishearten­ing.”

If Almost Bootsy No. 2 did walk away with instrument­s or recording gear, his scheme may have been to pawn them off. Bill Laswell, who began collaborat­ing with Collins in the Eighties and continued into the next decade, recalls conversati­ons about those fears. “We used to talk about that constantly, and every day someone would say, ‘We heard he was in this place, or he was here,’ ” he says. “Bootsy was always smiling about it. Then when everyone found out the guy was pulling a lot of endorsemen­ts, meaning he was getting a lot of gear, everyone was thinking, ‘Well, maybe that’s not cool.’ Because he could sell that stuff.”

Or unload it? In New York, musician Freddie Perez was introduced to Almost Bootsy No. 2, who was dressed exactly as Perez expected he’d be and offered to buy a studio’s worth of equipment for the musician. “You couldn’t tell the difference, in his appearance and the way he spoke,” Perez says. “He used the same words Bootsy used. Even the sound of his voice, everything — it was amazing.” But, as with the Davis band members, Perez never saw Almost Bootsy No. 2 even attempt to show off his musical ability; when he asked him to play just a few riffs on a bass, Almost Bootsy No. 2 would demur or change the topic. “I said, ‘I want to hear the funk!’ ” says Perez, a bassist himself. “He declined. Very strange.” Almost Bootsy No. 2 did reportedly sit in with a house band at a club in Washington, D.C. — singing, but again not playing bass — but that was one of the few, if only, times he was seen actually making anything close to music.

At that point, Team Bootsy, led by Waller (who died in 2017) and Collins’ longtime lawyer, Bob Donnelly, began taking action to shut down Almost Bootsy No. 2. “It was very troubling because Bootsy might be the single nicest person,” says Donnelly, who remains a key member of Collins’ legal team more than 30 years later. “He’s the last person on the planet who would ever take advantage of anyone. The notion that someone was doing that stung hard.”

Exactly what happened to Almost Bootsy No. 2 remains a matter of conjecture, lost or buried legal paperwork, and blurred memories after several decades. No one, including those in the Collins camp, recalls the fake’s real name. As Patti was told, a DJ at a New York hot spot heard that Collins — or the impostor, it turned out — was in the club one night. The crowd roared its approval, and Bootsy was treated to free champagne. A few days later, a dancemusic executive at Columbia called the DJ to see how Collins’ current single, “Party on Plastic (What’s Bootsy Doin’?),” was going over with the crowd, and the DJ mentioned Collins’ appearance. According to what Patti was told, the executive said it wasn’t possible; she had just spoken with Bootsy and he was physically in another state. Luckily, the DJ was able to get a phone number for Almost Bootsy No. 2 and passed it along to the label, who in turn shared it with authoritie­s.

Another story is that, in a type of sting operation, Almost Bootsy No. 2 was lured into a meeting, making it especially clear, possibly with Waller’s help, that he had to stop. “Bill was from an old school, and I’ll just say [he used] old-school rules,” Ivy says. “Bill definitely wasn’t [former Death Row Records CEO] Suge Knight. But he wasn’t anybody you wanted to take lightly.” Donnelly thinks a local district attorney, possibly in the Midwest, helped shut the faker down. The Collinses both recall a degree of FBI involvemen­t.

Rolling Stone may have even been involved. In November 1988, the magazine published a story about the Eighties’ Almost Bootsy’s exploits. Soon after, writer David Thigpen received a call from a female college student in the Boston area, asking if he was the same person who wrote the story — and shocking him with news that Almost Bootsy No. 2 was in her apartment at that very moment. Thigpen suggested that she call the police, which she allegedly did, although what part that played in Almost Bootsy’s vanishing act remains unclear.

When it finally ended, the Collinses breathed a sigh of relief and found solace in fans who had heard about what was happening to their hero. “You would get letters,” Patti recalls, “like, ‘I know these things are going on in your life with this negative energy of this impostor, but I went to the show last night, and I left a new person. I was healed.’ Faxes and fan letters would come in, encouragin­g him, and he would read every single one. We were both able to just take a deep breath and let it all out.”

With that, almost Bootsy No. 2 was gone. Or was he? In 1990, he — or maybe even another Bootsy clone — was said to have been spotted at a Reggae Sunsplash festival in Jamaica. In Los Angeles the following year, someone dressed as Collins popped aboard the tour bus of the Alarm, the Eighties British guitar band, claiming he wanted to enlist them for a Live Aid-style event to benefit veterans of the Gulf War. But when he tried to get them to pay for his hotel room and expenses, the band members, like so many others before, sensed something wasn’t adding up. Only then did they learn that the real Collins was on tour in Europe with Deee-Lite, who had reignited interest in Collins thanks to his cameo on their psychedeli­c 1990 club anthem “Groove Is in the Heart.” According to a post on the band’s site, Almost Bootsy No. 3 or 4’s luggage was kicked off the bus, along with a large pet dog that someone thinks may have been a pet wolf. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyers. You’ll regret this!” were the last words anyone heard him — or any of the wannabe Bootsies — mutter.

Collins himself has moved on, multiple times over. At 71, he’s remained strikingly productive. His cameos on last year’s Silk Sonic album reminded everyone of his cultural footprint (he named Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s throwback duo and introduces the album), and he served as the MC for the music segment of last summer’s World Games in Birmingham, Alabama. He’s set to release new albums and singles, like the new “Funk Not Fight,” which addresses violence and features up-and-coming hip-hop artists. He’s also preparing to enter the metaverse world with “Funktropol­is,” complete with NFTs, pay-per-view shows, and Bootsy bitcoin. Recalling his impostor in one of his emails to Rolling Stone, he writes, “He even ripped MC Hammer and tried it on Eazy-E, but they wasn’t having it. When Hammer and I met back in the Eighties and he realized he had been had, we both cracked up about it.”

But more than 30 years later, the legacy of the Almost Bootsies endures. These days, scamming celebrity impostors are all too common, especially online; you may get a direct message on social media from “Blake Shelton” or “Keanu Reeves” asking for a charity donation or a date. For Collins, the annoyances of the past have also made the transition to online: A slew of faux Bootsies have popped up on Instagram and Twitter, and unauthoriz­ed Bootsy merchandis­e continues to dog Team Bootsy as well, much to the Collinses’ consternat­ion. “They take his image and just sell it without permission,” Patti says. “They should come to us and get an OK and get it approved. But when it’s his face or his glasses or hats with his image, sometimes they just do it. We have the fight to shut them down. It’s happening every day.”

“You can look at it two ways,” she adds. “You can look at it as a positive, because that means Bootsy is still popular. People want to be him, they want to have that iconic look. Or you can look at it as a negative: ‘How dare you do that?’ Bootsy chooses to look at it in a positive way. It’s kept his brand alive. We’re thankful for all of that.”

Meanwhile, from his home in Cincinnati, Collins continues to keep a watchful eye on his online fakes. He diligently monitors social media for Almost Bootsies, and even flagged a faux Bootsy Beer to his followers. Sometimes he reports them to ALG, the New York-based branding company he employs, which shuts down the accounts. But other times, his wife says, he lets it slide, feeling sorry for the low-rent scammers and their lot in life. After all these years, he understand­s, at least to a degree.

“The lesson I took was, there will always be Fakea-Teers,” he says. “They just can’t help themselves. I don’t like it, but I understand wanting to be somebody else. If I had not made good on being myself, that impostor may have been me. I totally get it.”

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