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Leonard Raymond Sipes
Tommy Collins
March 14, 2000
Age 69 
Emphysema 
 
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     Songwriter Tommy Collins --Haggard's "Leonard" -- Dead at 69
            By Edward Morris  

            Songwriter Tommy Collins -- 
            whose life Merle Haggard 
            celebrated in his 1981 hit 
            "Leonard" -- died Tuesday (March 
            14) at his home in Ashland City 
            near Nashville. He was 69 years 
            old and had long been suffering 
            from emphysema. Last 
            September, Collins was inducted 
            into the Nashville Songwriters Hall 
            of Fame. 

            Born Leonard Raymond Sipes in 
            Bethany, Okla., on Sept. 28, 1930, 
            Collins moved to California in the 
            early 1950s to pursue a music 
            career. He soon began performing on the "Town Hall Party" 
            radio show and in 1953 signed to Capitol Records. His first hit 
            for the label was "You Better Not Do That," one of his own 
            compositions. It held the No. 2 spot on the Billboard charts for 
            seven weeks. 

            Collins continued to chart singles over the next 14 years, his last 
            five for Columbia Records. His Top 10 successes were: 
            "Whatcha Gonna Do Now" (1954), "Untied" (1955), "It Tickles" 
            (1955) and "If You Can't Bite, Don't Growl" (1966). 

            One of the first to recognize the talents of Buck Owens, Collins 
            used Owens as his lead guitarist on several Capitol recording 
            sessions and for his first appearance at the Ryman Auditorium in 
            1954. 

            In early 1955, Faron Young's recording of Collins' "If You Ain't 
            Lovin' (You Ain't Livin')" climbed to No. 2. George Strait cut the 
            same song in 1988 and boosted it to No. 1.  

            Unfulfilled by the music business, Collins enrolled at Golden 
            Gate Baptist Seminary in 1957 to study for the ministry. He 
            subsequently worked as a Southern Baptist pastor for five years 
            before returning to music full time. 

            Merle Haggard recorded his first Tommy Collins song -- "Sam 
            Hill" -- in 1964 and then moved on to such Collins-penned hits as 
            "Carolyn" (1971) and "The Roots of My Raising" (1976), both 
            of which went No. 1. Mel Tillis scored a Top 10 in 1984 with 
            Collins' "New Patches." 

            Collins is the second member inducted into the Nashville 
            Songwriters Hall of Fame last year to die. A. L. "Doodle" Owens 
            passed away on Oct. 4. 

            Collins is survived by his wife, Hazel, three daughters and two 
            sons. 
                  Country.com Music News

    
        Tommy Collins; Writer of Country Music Hits 
                                                Tommy Collins, 69, country music songwriter whose work 
                                           was turned into hits by Merle Haggard, George Strait and Ferlin 
                                           Husky. Born Leonard Sipes near Bakersfield, the songwriter was 
                                           renamed by Husky in honor of the mixed cocktail called Tom 
                                           Collins. He helped shape the "Bakersfield sound" of country music 
                                           and became a major influence on other country stars, including 
                                           Buck Owens, before relocating to Nashville. He was inducted into 
                                           the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Sept. 19, which he said 
                                           was "one of the best thrills of my life." Collins, who also sang and 
                                           recorded, scored five Top 10 hits between 1954 and 1966 and 
                                           wrote a total of 22 songs for Haggard. Among his best-known 
                                           songs were Haggard's "Carolyn" and "The Roots of My Raising," 
                                           and "If You Ain't Lovin' (You Ain't Livin')" first popularized in 
                                           1954 by Faron Young and again in 1988 by Strait. He also wrote 
                                           "You'd Better Not Do That" and "If You Can't Bite, Don't Growl" 
                                           and, with Haggard, "Mixed Up Mess of a Heart." Haggard wrote 
                                           his own 1981 hit "Leonard" as a tribute to Collins. On Tuesday in 
                                           Ashland City, Tenn., of emphysema. ~Los Angeles Times 

 

 
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All-Music Guide
 
Born: Sept. 28, 1930 in Bethany, OK
Died: March 14, 2000 in Ashland City, TN
 
 Along with his contemporary Wynn Stewart, Tommy Collins was one of the first country musicians to establish a distinctive Bakersfield, California sound. During the course of the '50s, he released a series of hit singles that lightened up the tone of honky tonk with bouncing back beats, novelty lyrics and electric guitars. Collins explored a more serious side with his ballads, yet they continued to sound slightly different than his peers -- though they weren't as polished as the countrypolitain coming out of Nashville, they didn't have the grit of honky tonk. Legions of West Coast country performers -- most notably Buck Owens, who played guitar on several of Tommy's hit singles, and Merle Haggard -- built on the sound that Collins established in the early '50s. Collins wasn't able to cash-in on the Bakersfield craze of the '60s. By then, he had already quit the music business once, and was mounting a marginally successful comeback. Nevertheless, his influence loomed large, particularly on Haggard, who took Collins' "Carolyn" and "The Roots of My Raising" to the top of the charts in the early '70s. 

 Collins (b. Leonard Raymond Sipes) was born just outside of Oklahoma City, spending his entire 
 childhood in Oklahoma, where his father worked for the county. As a child, he began to sing and write songs, eventually appearing on local radio shows. Following his high-school graduation in 1948, he attended Edmond State Teachers College while he continued to perform music. During this time, he made a handful of singles for the California-based record label, Morgan. In the early '50s, he was in the army for a brief time, before he moved to Bakersfield, California with his friend Wanda Jackson and her family. Shortly afterward, the Jackson family moved back to Oklahoma, leaving Tommy Collins alone in Bakersfield. 

 In a short time, Collins had begun to make friends and contacts within the city, eventually becoming friends with Ferlin Husky and the pair roomed together. After recording a handful of Collins' songs, Husky convinced his record company, Capitol, to offer Tommy a record contract and the fledging singer/songwriter signed to the label in June of 1953; at the time of signing, he adopted his stage-name of Tommy Collins, since it sounded more commercial than Leonard Sipes. Capitol and Tommy immediately assembled a backing band, which featured a then-unknown Buck Owens on lead guitar. Following one unsuccessful single, Collins' released the jaunty "You Better Not Do That," which became a huge hit in early 1954, spendind seven weeks at number two on the country charts. Since the song was a success, Collins continued to pursue a light-hearted, near-novelty direction with his subsequent hits and the formula initially worked. Between the fall of 1954 and the spring of 1955, he had three Top 10 hits -- "Whatcha Gonna Do Now," "Untied," "It Tickles" -- and in the fall of 1955, the double A-sided single "I Guess I'm Crazy" and "You Oughta See Pickles Now," which both reached the Top 15. In addition to these hit singles, Faron Young had a huge hit with Tommy's "If You Ain't Lovin'," which was one of many songs that Collins wrote but didn't record that became hits. 

 Collins was on the fast road to major success, but it stopped just as soon as it began. Tommy had a religious conversion in early 1956, and much of the material he recorded that year was sacred music; occasionally, he recorded duets with his wife Wanda Lucille Shahan as well. In 1957, Collins enrolled in the Golden Gate Baptist Seminary with the intention of becoming a minister. Two years later, he became a pastor. During all of his religious teachings, Collins continued to record for Capitol, but neither himself or the label were much interested in promoting his records, and he had no hits. When his contract with the label expired in 1960, he stopped recording and enrolled as a student at Sacramento State College. For the next two years, he studied at the university. 

 In early 1963, Collins decided he was unfulfilled by the ministry, so he left the church and headed back to Bakersfield with the intention of re-entering the music business. Capitol agreed to re-sign him and in 1964, he returned to the lower reaches of the charts with "I Can Do That," a duet with his wife Wanda. 

 With the help of Johnny Cash, Collins switched labels and signed with Columbia in 1965; the following year, he had a Top 10 hit with "I Can't Bite, Don't Growl." For the next few years, he had a string of minor hit singles, none of which cracked the country Top 40. During this time, he also toured with his protegees, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, acting as their opening act. By the early '70s, both Collins' professional and personal lives were on the verge of collapse, due to his increasing dependency on drugs and alcohol. In 1971, Wanda filed for a divorce, sending Tommy into a deep depression. 

 Collins began to recover by continuing to write songs, many of which were recorded by Merle Haggard, including the 1972 number one hit single "Carolyn." In 1976, Tommy moved to Nashville, where he was able to secure a contract with Starday Records. Later that year, he released Tommy 
Collins Callin', a collection of his own versions of songs he had provided for other artists. Following 
the album's reelase, Tommy turned almost entirely to professional songwriting. In 1981, Merle Haggard had a hit single with "Leonard," his tribute to Collins. After the release of "Leonard," the spotlight again turned to Collins, who was now sober. Tommy signed a songwriting contract with Sawgrass Music, where his most notable success was Mel Tillis' Top 10 1984 hit, "New Patches." 

 Throughout the '80s, Collins kept a low profile, though his songs continued to be recorded. George Strait recorded no less than two of Tommy's compositions during the decade, taking his new version of "If You Ain't Lovin'" to number one on the country charts. European record companies like Bear Family began reissuing his recordings, which led to an appearance at the 1988 Wembley Country Music Festival in England. In 1993, Collins signed a new publishing contract with Ricky Skaggs Music and continued to write songs professionally throughout the mid-'90s. -- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide

 
 
  
 
 

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