Rockabilly's Collins Kids: Still Young at Heart
Friday, January 26, 2007
"Hi, I'm Lorrie . . . "
" . . . and I'm Larry . . . "
" We're the Collins Kids!"
And they laugh at being able to say that some 50 years on.
He's calling from a ranch in the hills above Santa Barbara, Calif., and she's on the line from Reno, Nev., as they prepare for the Collins Kids' first Washington area appearance, part of tonight's second annual Link Wray Tribute at the Birchmere.
It's been a while since Larry and Lorrie Collins were kids. They were the mid-'50s' hottest pre-pubescent duo, best known for a series of sterling rockabilly singles and for co-starring on "Town Hall Party," a weekly Los Angeles television show hosted by country star Tex Ritter when Lorrie was 13 and Larry was 11. In fact, Lorrie was one of the first female rock-and-roll singers, precociously belting out tunes with the brassy, insouciant authority of someone twice her age, while Larry attacked his double-neck Mosrite guitar with lightning speed and ferocity belying his youthful appearance.
Some of those incendiary performances can be found on YouTube, and three DVD sets of "The Collins Kids at Town Hall Party" are available on Bear Family Records. The DVDs feature the pair racing through such future rock classics and frenetic rockabilly originals as "Beetle Bug Bop," "Whistle Bait," "Hoy Hoy" and "Hop, Skip and Jump," the last an accurate description of Larry's onstage moves. No wonder Ritter often introduced them as "those two little bundles of bouncing T double-N T!"
"I look at Larry, and at the time it didn't seem as humorous as it does now," Lorrie Collins admits, "but I'm thinking, 'How in God's name can he dance like that and play the guitar?' He was a weird guy! Our grandkids watch the tapes, and they get the biggest kick out of Uncle Larry dancing around like that, and they try to emulate him.
"We had a lot of energy, and we still do. Probably more than we should at this stage -- and Larry still dances around, trying to kill me!"
Over a five-year period starting in 1954, the Collins Kids tore it up on television with regular appearances on variety shows hosted by Arthur Godfrey, Perry Como, Dinah Shore and Steve Allen; recorded for Columbia Records; and toured on country package shows with the likes of Johnny Cash and Bob Wills (who once threw up on Larry in the back seat of his limousine). Lorrie played teen idol Ricky Nelson's first girlfriend on the top-rated family show "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet." Life even imitated art when they were briefly engaged.
Then in 1959, 17-year-old Lorrie eloped with Stu Carnall, Cash's manager and a man twice her age. Two years later, she gave birth to her first child and pretty much retired from recording, though the Collins Kids continued to do shows on the Nevada and California resort circuit for another decade. Larry turned to golf and songwriting, co-writing a couple of country No. 1s with "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma" and "Delta Dawn," the latter the first hit for another 13-year-old singer, Tanya Tucker.
And that was pretty much it for the Collins Kids for the next few decades, though in that time their recordings became staples in the rockabilly revival, with scratchy bootleg tapes of their "Town Hall Party" acts circulating in a rockabilly underground that was particularly fanatical in England. In 1992, after years of fruitless entreaties, organizers of a British rockabilly festival convinced Larry and Lorrie that they should revive the Collins Kids for the first time since they were, well, kids.