Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The #59 Guitarist of the Rock Era: Allen Collins

Up next, a much-loved guitarist whose career was cut short by a traffic accident:
#59:  Allen Collins, Lynyrd Skynyrd Band, Rossington-Collins Band, the Allen Collins Band
23 years as an active guitarist
Larkin Allen Collins, Jr. was born July 19, 1952 in Jacksonville, Florida. He was one of the founding members and guitarists of the great Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd and co-wrote many of the group's songs.

Collins joined Lynyrd Skynyrd two weeks after Ronnie Van Zant and Gary Rossington and came in at the same time as Bob BUrns and Larry Junstrom. Thus, Lynyrd Skynyrd was born in the summer of 1964. Collins wrote many of Skynyrd's biggest songs, including "Free Bird", "Gimme Three Steps" and "That Smell". The group received national attention when they opened for the Who on their Quadrophenia tour of 1973.

But tragedy struck on October 20, 1977 when the plane carrying members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and their entourage crashed in Mississippi, killing three members of the band including Van Zant. Collins was seriously injured in the crash, suffering two broken vertebrae in his neck and severe damage to his right arm. Allen eventually recovered but took the tragedy especially hard. He began to question religion, a major part of the group's ties, and started drinking more and doing more drugs.
In the 1980's, Collins and Rossington formed the Rossington-Collins band, which did fairly well. But when Collins' wife Kathy died in 1980, Allen again turned to drugs and alcohol to mask his grief. Due to missed concerts and conflicts, the Rossington-Collins Band split in 1982. Allen then started the Allen Colins Band which put out the album Here, There & Back and remained active for two years.

In 1986, Collins was involved in a car accident that claimed the life of his girlfriend and left him paralyzed from the waist down, with little use of his arms and hands. Collins plead no contest to vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol. The accident ended his guitar career.
The surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited in 1987 but Collins could only serve as musical director. As part of his plea bargain the year before, Collins addressed fans at every Skynyrd concert with an explanation of why he could not perform, relating the dangers of drinking and driving and of drugs and alcohol. The group donated a good portion of concert proceeds to the Miami Project, which treats victims of paralysis. Collins founded Roll for Rock Wheelchair Events in 1988 to raise awareness and to provide those living with spinal cord injury with opportunities for activity.

Collins died January 23, 1990 from chronic pneumonia, a complication of the paralysis.

While in Lynyrd Skynyrd, Collins played a Gibson Firebird fitted with a chrome, dog-eared P-90 pickup in the bridge position and a Gibson "teaspoon" nickel vibrato arm. In 1976, he switched to a Gibson Explorer which he played until the end of his career. Allen ocasionally would play a Gibson Les Paul Jr. He also played a Sunburst Fender Stratocaster and an all-black Stratocaster with white single-coil pickups. In 2003, Gibson Guitars honored Allen with a limited edition Explorer. The guitar is made of African limba wood and features a Maestro vibrola and classic humbucking pickups.

Gone but certainly not forgotten is the great guitar playing of Allen Collins. His solo work (along with Rossington) on "Free Bird" is cited often among the best guitar solos in music history.  Allen ranks as The #59 Guitarist of the Rock Era*.

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