Rocket J Remembers Lorrie Collins

Lorrie (Lawrencine May) Collins passed away on August 4, 2018.  There have been plenty of obituaries written for her, including one in the venerable New York Times.  The facts about her life can be summarized in a few paragraphs, but I’ll give you the bullet points:

  • Born on May 7, 1942, in Tahlequah, Oklahoma
  • She won her first talent contest at the age of 8
  • Her brother, Larry, two years younger than she, was a Rockabilly guitar prodigy
  • Together they formed The Collins Kids, moved to Los Angeles and performed on Tex Ritter’s Town Hall Party

All that information is readily available on the internet.  Now let me tell you what Lorrie meant to me as a female Rockabilly singer. 

It’s hard to conceive of in this age of instant music where you can stream or download your favorite new songs with a click of a mouse, but back in the day, we had to actually leave our comfy houses and go to brick and mortar records stores to find the music we wanted.

That’s how it was back in the early 80’s during the First Rockabilly Revival.  We enjoyed not only the revival artists like The Rockats, Buzz & The Flyers and The Stray Cats, but there was the thrill of learning all about the original artists that played Rockabilly.

Independent labels caught on to the trend first.  Rounder Records, at that time a true independent the likes of which you don’t see anymore, decided to license some old recordings by some of the girls (most of them were in their teens) who had recorded Rockabilly in the 1950’s. Their compilation Wild, Wild Young Women, released in 1981, was my first exposure to Rockabilly gals and to The Collins Kids, especially Lorrie. The cover featured prominent pictures of Lorrie looking glamorous posing with her one-time boyfriend, Ricky Nelson as well as Janis Martin (The Female Elvis), and The Davis Sisters.

Not gonna lie.  Some of these tracks deserved the obscurity they languished in for nearly 30 years, but the ones that don’t are electrifying.  The Collins Kids’ two cuts on this comp, Hop, Skip & A Jump and especially Hoy, Hoy jump right out at you.  Hoy, Hoy fascinated me so much with its frenetic energy is in my set list until this day! But, I hear you saying, what about Wanda?  What about Janis? 

To be sure, Janis was exciting as well, and I do love her.  Wanda hadn’t been reissued up to this point.  Perhaps Capitol Records could sense what was on the horizon and were holding her recordings back until the right moment.  Who knows? 

No, it was Lorrie who captured my imagination.  Here was a girl only a little younger than me singing raw, subversive Rockabilly just like the guys did!  It was edgier than the girl groups that came a little later and well before acts like Suzi Quatro and The Runaways.  It sounds so tame to listen to now, but Rockabilly was always a threat to the establishment and this was eye opening stuff for a girl who wanted to sing the music she was beginning to love.

As the Stray Cats got bigger in the UK, suddenly, Rockabilly was being thrust into the spotlight again, and record companies, never shy about trying to make a buck, turned to their back catalogs and rushed to release the old recordings they had in their vaults.  Larry and Lorrie were on Columbia Records and, also in 1981, mined their archives to release two 2-record compilations called Rockabilly Stars Volumes 1 & 2.  The Collins Kids were on the cover of Volume 2, so I completely dissed Volume 1 and picked up the second one (this oversight was later rectified when my husband and I merged record collections – he has Volume 1).

With a whopping five tracks by The Collinses, my education continued. Their version of Just Because and Larry’s Whistle Bait are frenzied (his musical abilities at the age of 11 would make most adult guitarists cry), but it’s Lorrie’s Mercy & Rock Boppin’ Baby that drew me in.  They’re innocent and yet sultry at the same time and Mercy especially showed that she could rock as hard as the boys did!

Lorrie came into my life when I was looking for role models.  I wanted to sing Rockabilly, but up until that point my exposure had only been to the males who became much more well known than most of the women ever did.

Years later, in the 1990’s, The Collins Kids began performing again at Rockabilly Weekends like Hemsby, Viva Las Vegas & the Rockabilly Rave and I got to meet Lorrie and Larry and tell them both how much they had meant to me.  I believe they appreciated hearing that and Larry took me under his wing for a little bit and had me write for his short-lived online fanzine. 

Lorrie, you were an amazing talent and an amazing person.  We, and especially I, will never for you.

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