Larkin Allen Collins Jr. was an American musician and songwriter known for his association with southern-rock bands ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd,’ ‘The Rossington Collins Band,’ and ‘The Allen Collins Band.’ He was a founding member and guitarist of ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd.’ He co-wrote many of its hit songs like 'Gimme Three Steps' and 'Free Bird’ with its late frontman, Ronnie Van Zant. Skynyrd received international recognition for popularizing Southern rock genre during the 1970s. However, it saw an abrupt end following the death of some of its members in an airplane crash that left Collins seriously injured. Collins later founded ‘The Rossington Collins Band’ with Gary Rossington and following its disbandment he started the short-lived ‘Allen Collins Band.’ Musical career of Collins was affected by his personal tragedies at different points of time. These included sudden death of his wife and later a car accident that left him paralyzed and his girlfriend dead. His physical condition allowed him to serve only as music director of ‘Skynyrd’ when it reunited officially in 1987.
Childhood & Early Life
Larkin Allen Collins Jr. was born on July 19, 1952, at St. Lukes Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, US.
He first developed interest in the guitar in 1963 when a friend received a guitar as birthday gift. He along with his sister and mother Eva went through a tough time when his parents divorced. His mother would work all day at a cigar factory and did a job in the evenings at Woolworths to meet ends. Collins studied at the Nathan B. Forrest High School.
He got his first Silvertone guitar and amplifier from his mother and started playing the guitar at age 12. He also received lessons from his stepmother, Leila Collins. Collins became proficient with the guitar quickly and soon formed his first band ‘The Mods.'
His passion for cars, particularly race cars developed in his childhood and lasted all through his life. This saw him garnering several collectible and performance cars later in his life.
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Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns, and Gary Rossington decided to form a band in 1964. They approached and convinced Collins to join them. Bassist Larry Junstrom also joined in. Initially the band was named ‘My Backyard’, then ‘The Noble Five’ and by 1968 it was called ‘The One Percent’ before finally zeroing on the name ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’ in 1969.
Skynyrd started gaining national success from early 1973. Collins and Ronnie co-wrote several hit songs for Skynyrd including ‘Gimme Three Steps’ (1973), ‘Free Bird’ (1974) and ‘That Smell’ (1977). With time live performances of Skynyrd and its signature songs ‘Free Bird’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ (1974) gained the band international fame.
The otherwise thriving Skynyrd faced a sudden setback after the Convair CV-240 passenger aircraft boarded by its members on October 20, 1977 ran out of fuel and crashed into a forest in Mississippi. The accident killed three band members, Ronnie, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines while Collins suffered two broken vertebrae in his neck and serious damage in his right arm. It was recommended that Collins go for amputation, however his father refused and although it took time, Collins recovered. The accident unfortunately led to an abrupt end to the 1970s era of Skynyrd.
Collins then joined hands with Rossington to form ‘Rossington Collins Band’ in 1979. It also included Skynyrd members Billy Powell and Leon Wilkeson, in addition to female lead vocalist, Dale Krantz. The band spawned two albums of which the first ‘Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere’ (1980) included their most successful single ‘Don't Misunderstand Me’ that charted in late 1980.
Shortly after dissolution of Rossington Collins Band in 1982, Collins started ‘Allen Collins Band’ in 1983. It included most of the Rossington Collins Band members excepting Krantz and Rossington and released the album ‘Here, There & Back’ in 1983. The band existed till 1984.
Collins along with his manager-father then made effort to reform Skynyrd and started inducting former Skynyrd members. Earlier in 1979, he performed at Volunteer Jam V at Skynyrd’s first stage performance since the plane crash. It marked his last performance with Skynyrd. After the band reunited officially in 1987, Collins by then paralyzed could only serve as musical director of the band.
Skynyrd donated substantial amount of its 1987–88 concert tour proceeds to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis while Collins came up with the Roll For Rock Wheelchair Events and Benefit Concerts in 1988. Years after Collin’s death, on March 13, 2006, Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Family & Personal Life
Collins married Kathy Evelyn Johns on October 10, 1970 with whom he had two daughters, Amy and Allison. Kathy had a fatal haemorrhage during miscarriage of the couple’s third child in 1980. Her death devastated Collins.
Personal tragedy struck again on January 29, 1986 when Collins’ new Ford Thunderbird crashed into a ditch. It proved fatal for his girlfriend Debra Jean Watts, and left him paralyzed from the waist down. He could use his arms and hands limitedly. The incident restricted him from playing the guitar again ever on stage. He pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter and to driving under influence of alcohol.
On January 23, 1990, Collins succumbed to chronic pneumonia and was interred in Jacksonville, Florida, beside his wife.