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Published: 2006/07/20
by Andy Tennille

Used with Mick Collins

A walk through the used record bins of some of the country’s finest music stores with musicians, both famous and infamous.

The definition of the word “musicologist” is one who studies the historical or scientific aspects of music. If anyone’s handing out doctorates or pinning medals on people’s chests for knowledge in the field, they best get one to Mick Collins.

Since forming The Gories in 1985, Mick Collins has been a formative voice and influential icon in the Detroit punk scene, be it as a musician in the countless bands he’s formed over the past 20-plus years, as the host of several radio shows or even the weekly deejay gigs he has at The Brewery. His music collection contains more than 7,000 vinyl LPs and thousands more CDs and cassettes, and his love of music extends beyond any particular genre. Listen to his music and at any time you might hear funk, R&B, pop, soul, avante garde, punk or rock. In 2003, Collins, under the guise The Voltaire Brothers, released his homage to 60s and 70s-era funk with I Sing the Booty Electric featuring one of the all-time great song titles,“Transparabolicwobblemegatronicthangmegabutyl-spasmotickryptorumpalistics (a.k.a. Siege of the Booty Chirren).” His current band, The Dirtbombs, has had more than 13 different lineups in its eight years in existence, all featuring two bass players, two drummers and Collins on guitar and vocals.

Despite being so directly related to the Motor City’s punk community, Collins first taste of music came from the Warner Brothers cartoons he watched as a kid.

“It was probably ’71 or ’72, I think. This is back when an LP cost $3.99 brand new. I had a dollar and I knew exactly what record I wanted to buy – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 as performed by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. I was a big classical music fan as a kid thanks to Carl Starling and Warner Brothers cartoons. Classical music and jazz were my two first loves. I learned all the classical and big band jazz music from watching cartoons as a kid. That’s how I know that this is Stardust,” Mick says as he whistles the melody in time with the classic Artie Shaw version playing inside Amoeba Music.

If the music played on Warner Brothers cartoons was Collins’ earliest influence, the next biggest would be CKLW, the Windsor, Ontario-based radio station.

CKLW had a clear channel, which meant that no other radio station could broadcast on 800 hertz on AM, and they had a 50,000-watt signal. On a clear day, you could hear them pretty much from the North Pole all the way down into Central America across the Gulf of Mexico. They had a listenership somewhere in the neighborhood of 68 million people,” he says. “So that’s what I listened to as a kid. CKLW was the most powerful radio station in the world back then. If you put together all the Clear Channel stations today, it still wouldn’t be as influential as CKLW was back then. Everyone listened to it. To this day, we’ll be riding in the van and hear a song like Give Me Just A Little More Time’ by The Chairmen of the Board. The song will end and everyone in the band will sing the call sign CKLW, Motor City’ at the exact same time.”

Like so many of us, another of Mick’s influences came from his siblings. One of his brothers was in Vietnam and returned home from his tour with one of the swankest hi-fis available in Japan.

“It was the coolest stereo ever. No one on my block had ever seen anything like it,” Collins remembers. “Now that he had the coolest stereo, my brother decided to become a jazzbo and bought all these jazz albums, but he ended up hating most of it and gave me a bunch of Oliver Nelson and Jimmy Smith albums. After hearing Jimmy Smith, I knew I wanted to play keyboards. He just had this amazing style. I gravitated to what he did on Verve with the big band stuff more than the Blue Note albums he made because I thought the big band stuff hit harder. They were just a little more rockin’.”

Hearing Collins front The Dirtbombs or another of his various bands, you might be hard pressed to hear the influence of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald or the great Nina Simone. But Simone nearly caused The Dirtbombs to cancel a tour in England.

“I’m just in love with Nina Simone,” Collins gushes as he eyes Simone’s Wild Is The Wind. “I’ve elevated her to the goddess status. In fact, we’ve almost cancelled a tour because Nina Simone was playing in Ann Arbor on a Saturday and we were slated to start a tour in London the night before. So we held a band meeting and talked about it for a good hour. I mean, this was Nina Simone we’re talking about here.”

Not many guests have ever asked where Amoeba’s disco section is. Most music aficionados say disco was the death of American music, but Mick claims disco music was great until Travolta slipped on Tony Manero’s white suit and patent-leather boots.

“I listened to a lot of disco as a kid. I stopped counting when I hit 500 disco albums, but I probably have close to double that now, so somewhere near 1,000,” Mick says. “Two of my favorite records were Keep Your Body Workin’ by Kleer and Keep on Jumpin’ by Musique. Maybe High on Mad Mountain’ by Mike Theodore. There are some fantastic disco records out there, the only problem is that the only disco people hear is Donna Summer, The Bee Gees and The Village People. Disco music, before Saturday Night Fever especially, had some really amazing musical arrangements and experimentation by primarily black producers, except for a few notable cats like Tony Bonjovi. Yep, Bon Jovi’s dad was a disco producer. After Saturday Night Fever, it was all basically crap at that point. It was all white cats trying to sound like one another and they completely burned the genre to the ground.”

At around the same time that he was checking out disco, punk began to infiltrate Detroit and make its way to Collins’ stereo.

“We’d been hearing about punk rock, bits and pieces here and there. As kids, we followed the Sex Pistols’ tour through the South through the news and reviews,” he says. “I took my allowance from one week and went and bought Never Mind the Bullocks. I was the first kid on my block to have it. It was 1980 the record had been out almost four years. Everyone would come over to jam this record and the general consensus amongst my friends was that it was awful. Everyone thought it was terrible some people sorta liked Holidays in the Sun’ and maybe Bodies,’ but after that interest waned. But I just loved it.”

If The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bullocks was the catalyst for Collins, then discovering Iggy Pop and the MC5 playing punk in his hometown pushed him over the edge.

“I heard Iggy’s Search and Destroy’ and the MC5’s Looking at You’ for the first time on a local punk rock radio show. I was listening to the radio late at night when I was supposed to be going to bed for school the next day and just freaked out when I heard it,” Collins says. “So I called the deejay and asked what it was, cause I thought it was The Damned but had never heard anything by them that I thought was worth a rat’s ass. He told me it was the MC5 and I went away thinking I’d heard one of the greatest records ever. I still feel that way.”

Just as he finishes giving props to the MC5, Collins is accosted by an Amoeba employee inquiring if he wants any birthday cake before complimenting him on last night’s show. Nearly everyone in the store knows Collins there’s even an employee with whom he once played in a band. Amoeba definitely shows Collins some love, and he’s more than willing to reciprocate.

“The Dirtbombs love to shop at Amoeba,” he confesses with a laugh. “We hit the one in L.A. and the one here. It doesn’t matter if we were in this one yesterday cause tomorrow we’re gonna be in the other one. That’s the way it is. We joke in Detroit that the Board of Directors of Amoeba jump for joy when they hear that another Dirtbombs West Coast tour got announced cause it means their quarterly profits are going to be up 10 percent. We drop a couple of hundred bucks a piece in both stores. They love to see us walk in the door.”

Mick’s Picks – Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 – Jimmy Smith & Oliver Nelson, Peter and the Wolf – Herbie Hancock, Takin’ Off – Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bullocks – Trouble Funk, Drop the Bomb

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