tommy collins pathmaker

Tommy Collins

American Country Music Singer And Songwriter

Tommy Collins wrote more than 800 songs but is usually remembered as a pioneer of the country scene in Bakersfield, California. At one point in the early 1950s, his band featured Buck Owens as lead guitarist, and Collins befriended a young Merle Haggard in the 1960s. Collins’ songs were recorded by such West Coast country music figures as Owens, Haggard, Red Simpson, Wynn Stewart, Jean Shepard, Wanda Jackson, Ferlin Husky, Dick Curless, Rose Maddox and Freddie Hart.

Born Leonard Sipes, he garnered early entertainment experience as a radio performer in Oklahoma City. Following a brief stint in the Marines, Collins settled in California. He broke through as an artist with a series of self-penned, clever, upbeat novelty songs in the early 1950s. One of his earliest classics was “If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’),” recorded by Faron Young in 1955. George Strait sang a hugely popular revival of this song in 1988, scoring a #1 country hit.

The songwriter’s tumultuous personal life became almost as notable as the hits he wrote. By 1957, he was disillusioned with show business, underwent a religious conversion, entered a seminary and became an ordained minister. He quit recording in 1960. Old friend Buck Owens kept the songwriter’s profile up with the 1963 LP Buck Owens Sings Tommy Collins. Merle Haggard and Claude King both released versions of the Collins tune “Sam Hill” in 1964.

Unfulfilled by his ministry, Collins returned to the country music charts in 1964 and scored a comeback hit in 1966. But by the early 1970s, he had become dependent on drugs and alcohol. His wife and duet partner divorced him, and he sank into depression. Haggard continued to support Collins by recording dozens of his songs, including the #1 hits “Carolyn” and “The Roots of My Raising.”

Collins moved to Nashville in 1976 and started over. Haggard wrote and recorded “Leonard” in his honor, and this led to increased interest in Collins when it became a hit in 1981. He signed with Sawgrass, Mel Tillis’ publishing company, and Tillis took the Collins tune “New Patches” up the charts in 1984. In 1993, Collins was signed as a songwriter by Ricky Skaggs Music, and he lived to see his induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999.