3 October 1932, Leona, Texas, USA, d. 24 November 1993, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Collins was the embodiment of the Texas blues guitar style, using non-standard tuning, and slashing out blocked chords and sharp flurries of treble notes (played without a plectrum) to produce an ice-cold sound from his Fender Telecaster. As a youth he developed his style by listening to fellow-Texan Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Frankie Lee Sims and his own cousin Willow Young. His first singles, released from 1958 onwards on small local labels, were exciting shuffle instrumentals, of which The Freeze and Frosty became blues standards, but it was not until the late 60s that he was confident enough to use his laconic, understated singing voice with any regularity. A series of splendid studio and live albums over the following years extended his basic Texas style across the boundaries of jazz and funk, and established him as a major international blues attraction. His stage shows, which often included a walk through the audience as he played his guitar on its 100-foot lead, were memorable events.
Collins heavily influenced the style of Robert Cray, with whom he recorded and helped in his career. During the early 70s there was a lull in his own career when blues experienced one of its quiet periods. Ice Pickin announced his return to the major league, having been signed by Bruce Iglauer to record in Chicago for Alligator Records. On this album he was supported by the Icebreakers who comprised Larry Burton (guitar), Chuck Smith (saxophone), Casey Jones (drums), A.C. Reed (saxophone) and Alan Batts (keyboards). The album established Collins as a guitarist who could play pure blues, brassy Stax Records -influenced numbers and out-and-out funk. Further albums with Alligator in the 80s were all excellent showcases, although Collins strength remained his stage act. Two live albums in the 80s emphasized this; Frozen Alive and the excellent Live In Japan show him in his element. The version of Stormy Monday on the latter is a joy. For the 1993 compilation Collins chose his favourite past tracks and, with his band, re-recorded them with the help of musicians such as Branford Marsalis and B.B. King.
Collins did not possess a great voice and for some, the tone of his Fender Telecaster (against the smoother Stratocaster) was too harsh. What cannot be denied was his remarkable guitar technique, memorable stage shows and a humble and kind manner that left him with few critics. Collins endured his terminal cancer with great humility and refused to discuss the severity of his illness; his death at 61 was a cruel shock. He was a major figure of post-50s blues.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.