RIP: Ray Collins of Mothers of Invention / LOUIE of the Week

On Christmas Eve, Ray Collins, original lead singer for Frank Zappa‘s Mothers of Invention, died in Pomona, Calif. He was 76 years old.

Ray Collins began his musical career playing with Little Julian Herrera and the Tigers. When they recorded ‘I Remember Linda’ in the 1950’s, Ray sang high falsetto backing vocals. Shortly after recording this track, Little Julian was arrested and the band broke up a little later.

David Allen interviewed and wrote about Ray for a 2009 article in Inland Valley Daily Bulletin:

Around 1961, Collins saw Zappa perform at the Sportsman Tavern in Pomona, across from the Broadside on Holt east of Reservoir, and introduced himself.

“We just liked each other instantly,” Collins said. They shared a love of a wide range of music, including doo-wop, and an admiration for TV comic Steve Allen. The two hung out and performed together sporadically as a mock folk duo, recording a single as Ned & Nelda.

Circa 1964, Collins joined the Soul Giants, an R&B cover band, by accident. When the band auditioned at the Broadside, the club owner insisted that Collins, his friend, would have to replace the singer if the band wanted the gig.

“I felt kind of awkward about it, someone firing someone else and giving me the job,” Collins says.

The band consisted of drummer Jimmy Carl Black, bassist Roy Estrada, saxophonist Davy Coronado and guitarist Ray Hunt. Hunt, however, was incompetent or purposely messed up to be spiteful, Collins relates.

“I was new to the band but it was up to me to get rid of him,” Collins says. After the deed was done – no punches were thrown, he insists – he made a fateful suggestion.

“I told them, `I know a guitarist in Cucamonga. His name’s Frank Zappa,”‘ Collins says.

Zappa auditioned and fit in perfectly, but he was a prolific songwriter and a new direction was called for.

“If you will play my music, I will make you rich and famous,” Zappa is said to have told them.

Ray’s association with Frank Zappa was not meant to last. After two records with the Mothers (rechristened as “Mothers of Invention” by record label), Ray quit the band in 1968 right before the landmark “We’re Only in It for the Money” album. Ray contributed to some other albums with the band, including “Cruising With Ruben & the Jets,” but his music career basically ended in 1968.

The David Allen article provided more details about his life after Zappa…

He moved to Claremont after a modest legal settlement with Zappa over his and other founding members’ contributions to the band, he says. Zappa died in 1993 of prostate cancer.

Collins turned down several offers to join the Grandmothers, a band made up of graying ex-Mothers.

Instead, he’s lived a hand-to-mouth existence, mostly by choice. His only income is Social Security and twice-annual royalty checks from co-writing the doo-wop song “Memories of El Monte.”

It’s enough to survive. “But not enough to pick up women,” Collins cracks.

Ray was admitted to the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center on December 18 after being found unconscious in his van. Paramedics found him in a state of ventricular fibrillation, he was rushed to the hospital, where he was placed under a medically-induced coma.

Thanks to a Facebook fan page, I learned more about his condition, which ultimately came to an end on Christmas eve.

As a tribute to Ray, here’s Ray singing “Plastic People” (a mutant variation of LOUIE LOUIE) with the Mothers of Invention, from an unofficially released archival soundboard recording of a show in Denver at the Family Dog, dated May 3, 1968.


Please greet Ray Collins, Claremont’s own Mother– article by David Allen for Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (May 2009)

United Mutations musical history and discography for Ray Collins

Ray Collins fan page on Facebook

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