by Barry Dixon

  • March 14, 2000.

  • Tommy Collins dies. This note is from: Michael Henson (
    "I am sorry to announce that Tommy Collins passed away today. As most of you probably know he was a great friend of mine and of the country music world. Tommy was the man who Merle wrote about in the song called "Leonard." He wrote many of Merle's hits. His son, Tommy, would appreciate any email and/or cards in care of me, Michael Henson, at either or P O Box 567, Sallisaw OK 74955 and I will make sure that Tommy, Jr., recieves them."
    -Michael Henson

    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
    1980, Shade Tree Music

    BEAR FAMILY BCD 15577 El

    More About Tommy

    The following text was posted on Internet discussion groups following Tommy passing, March,1999. has good information on Tommy Collins' influence on the Bakersfield sound.

    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 release, 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

    Rockabilly Hall of Fame