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Tommy Collins Biography

Last updated: 01/16/2004 09:28:46 PM

by Barry Dixo

Tommy Collins (Leonard Raymond Sipes) was born on a farm just outside of Oklahoma City on the 28 September 1930. He was the youngest of six children born to Leslie Raymond Sipes and Willie Etta Brown Sipes. His father worked part time on the farm and spent many years working for the county as a road worker, while his mother looked after the house and children. At a very early age he was listening to the music of Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Tubb, and with the encouragement of his mother he started to write and learn to play the guitar.

After finishing high school he graduated to Central State Teachers College in Edmont, Oklahoma. While at college he started to get serious about his music and started entering talent contests and occasionally he would sing a few songs on Cousin Jay Davis' radio show on KLPR in Oklahoma City.

In 1951 he won a talent contest at KLPR that led to a regular radio show, and it was this show that brought him to the attention of the Morgan Brothers from Fresno, California. The brothers, who were in Oklahoma City at the time, heard him singing with his band The Rhythm Okies. They offered to record the band at a recording studio in Oklahoma City and four songs were cut Campus Boogie, To Beautiful To Cry, Smooth Sailin' and Fool's Gold. All the songs were written by Leonard Sipes except To Beautiful To Cry, which was written by Floyd Spiva. Campus Boogie and To Beautiful To Cry, were issued as Leonard Sipes and His Rhythm Okies and Smooth Sailin' and Fool's Gold were issued as The Rhythm Okies. Leonard Sipes (vocal/rhythm guitar), Billy Porter (lead guitar), Johnny Gilchrist (steel guitar) R M Bradshaw (bass) and Russell O' Neill (fiddle).

Later in the same year he went into the U.S. Marine Corps, but due to an injury from his college days he was discharged and he headed back to Oklahoma to try and resume his musical career. It was at this time that he started going out with Wanda Jackson, and in 1952 Wanda and her parents went to see relatives in Bakersfield, California and Leonard decided to go along. When the Jacksons returned home he decided to stay. He became good friends with a local singer and disc jockey called Terry Preston (Ferlin Husky) who was a great help to him.

He soon had a song writing contract with Cliffe Stone's Central Songs and was soon to become a recording artist for Capitol Records. It was Ken Nelson the A & R man at Capitol who suggested he should change his name. This came about during a Terry Preston recording session when Leonard went to get some food and drinks for the musicians and one of the drinks ordered was a Tom Collins and it was Terry Preston who gave him the name Tommy Collins.

On the 25 June 1953, he made his first recordings for Capitol Records. Four songs were recorded, You Gotta Have a Licence, Let Me Love You, There will Be No Other and I Love You More and More Each Day. All songs were written by Tommy Collins. The second Session was on the 8 September 1953. The songs recorded were, Boob-I-Lak, You Better Not Do That, 1 Always Get a Souvenir and High On a Hill Top, again all songs were written by Tommy Collins and were recorded at The Capitol Recording Studios in Hollywood, California. The musicians on these recordings were as follows: Tommy Collins (vocal/rhythm guitar), Buck Owens and Ferlin Husky (lead guitar), Lewis Tally (rhythm guitar), Fuzzy Owen (bass), and Bill Woods (fiddle). Ken Nelson produced all recordings.

In 1957 at the height of his career he decided to give up music and along with his wife and children he moved to Oakland, California, and entered the Golden Gate Theological Seminary to study for the ministry. Although he had retired from the music business he still recorded for Capitol, but eventually his contract was not renewed.

After completing his studies at the seminary he became a pastor in Colfax, California followed by a short spell back in Bakersfield, and a post in Mettler California. It was at this time that he decided that the ministry was not for him so he decided to go back into music.

Tommy re-signed with Capitol and his first session was on the 11 February 1963 and the second session was on the 29 August of the same year. The following year he did two more sessions on 8 April 1964 and his final recording session for Capitol was on the 6 October 1964.

Songs recorded at these sessions included, Oh What a Dream, When Did Right Become Wrong, 1 Can Do That, Shindig in the Barn, and the final recording, All the Monkeys Ain't in the Zoo. Musicians on these recordings included, Joe Maphis (rhythm guitar) Glen Campbell (lead guitar), Wynn Stewart (guitar), Buck Owens (lead guitar), Merrill Moore (piano), Billy Strange (lead guitar), Jelly Sanders (fiddle), Pee Wee Adams (drums), Roy Nichols (lead guitar), Wanda Collins (duet vocals and backing vocals). His best friend Merle Haggard also played (rhythm guitar and harmony vocals) for him.

After Capitol Tommy signed with Columbia Records. The first recording session was on the 2 November 1965 at the Columbia Studios in Nashville. The songs recorded on this session were Klippa Kloppa, If You Can't Bite Don't Growl, A Man, Gotta Do What a Man Gotta Do, and Man Machine. The Musicians on the Columbia Sessions were Grady Martin (lead guitar), Harold Bradley (bass), Ray Edenton (rhythm guitar), Bob Moore (bass), Buddy Harman (drums), Charlie McCoy (harmonica), William Pursell (piano), Lloyd Green (steel guitar), Joe Zinkan (bass), Pete Wade (guitar), Tommy Jackson (fiddle), Floyd Cramer (piano), Fred Carter (guitar), and The Hardin Trio and The Jordanaires on backing vocals.

Between November 1965 and March 1968 Tommy recorded a varied selection of songs for Columbia. These included covers and songs he wrote himself, plus some re-recordings of his Capitol recordings. Included were Branded Man (Merle Haggard), Cincinnati Ohio (Bill Anderson), Break My Mind (John D. Loudermilk), and re-recordings of You Better Not Do That and Shindig in the Barn. The Final session with Columbia was on the 11 March 1968. The songs recorded at this session were, Women You Have Been Told, Sunny Side of Life, and He's Gonna Have To Catch Me First. As well as Morgan, Capitol and Columbia, Tommy recorded for Starday, GW and Password Records.

Buck Owens recorded a whole album of his songs and Merle Haggard has recorded about 20 that include, The Roots of My Raising, Carolyn, Goodbye Comes Hard For Me, The Man Who Picked The Wildwood Flower, and When Did Right Become Wrong, he also wrote is own tribute to Tommy Collins in a song called "Leonard" that told the story about his life.

Many other artists have recorded his songs over the years these include Willie Nelson, Jean Shepherd, George Jones, "Little" Jimmy Dickens, Rick Trevino and George Strait.

Tommy Collins has had his personal problems over the years, he is still writing songs, but unfortunately he does not perform anymore. He remarried in 1998 and lives with his wife in Ashland City, Tennessee.

When Leonard finally came to California He was twenty one years old as I recall He loved to write a song and pick the guitar And he came to hang a gold one on the wall.

Leonard by Merle Haggard