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Mick Collins | interview | Gories | Blacktop | Screws | Dirtbombs | rock | Lollipop

Mick Collins

An interview with Mick Collins
(In the Red)
by Jon Sarre

If Ya Can't Get Down, It Ain't Rock'n'Roll, So Leave Rick Wakeman At Home: Chatting With Mick Collins

His record company proclaims him to be the "last black man in rock'n'roll." Mick Collins'll quibble with that tho... He doesn't buy into that hype, but rock'n'roll is what he's all about. He's the semi-legendary mainman behind the Gories, Blacktop, the Screws, and the Dirtbombs, he's produced the Demolition Doll Rods and Andre Williams, to name just two of the better-known acts he's worked with. The guy stays busy, that's for damn sure. He's got two new records out at the moment (sophomore efforts by both the Screws and the Dirtbombs) and mebbe a tour with the Cramps. It took a couple days to track him down, but once I did, he took some time out to talk about keepin' busy, growin' up hooked on rock'n'roll, doublin' up his rhythm section, what's goin' on these days and, uh, prog rock.

You've been busy lately, huh?
Well, I've been tryin'. I got the new Dirtbombs record, actually the new Screws record was done a while ago.

Yeah, I noticed that was done last year. I played the Dirtbombs record last night for a couple of musician friends. They were really gettin' off on it. One of the guys was talkin' about the freedom of coverin' other people's stuff versus rewritin' it and puttin' your own name on it. Is that what you like about playin' losta covers?
I really detest the practice of coppin' a couple licks off someone else and then puttin' different words on it. I really hate that and try to avoid that. The one time I did that, I got caught.

What was it?
It was "Let Me Hear the Choir Sing" off the first Gories record. I stole the first verse offa a Howlin' Wolf record I knew was never gonna see the light of day again and it was reissued ten days before the Gories record came out.

Yeah, but isn't that pretty much what all those guys did?
Yeah, but that's a totally different form of music though. It's a little bit more accepted.

How many songs have Willie Dixon's name on 'em, then ya go and hear someone like Charlie Patton, who was around years before...
I don't have many issues with stuff like that cuz there's an entire wellspring of song elements that go into the Blues. You bring your own voice to it, but at the same time, there's a huge tradition of field hollers, for example, that was public domain even back in the day... That's a lot different than coppin' a Bo Diddley riff and puttin' your own words on it. I mean, Bo may've taken it from a Charlie Patton song and God knows where Charlie Patton mighta gotten it from, but it was only done the one time in rock'n'roll. Y'know, you can only draw from so much in rock'n'roll before you get into complete derivation.

What are ya gonna do? There's only so many riffs you can use and there's only so much you can do with it.
That's the reason so many of the songs I chose come from so many different places. Different from the standard rock cool. You can only do "Louie, Louie" so many times.

And everybody does.
Exactly, and every band has one song based on the "Louie, Louie" riff... If you can learn "Louie, Louie" on guitar, you already know 150 of the greatest songs in rock'n'roll.

You kinda go all over the map on the new Screws record. I mean, I guess you did with the last one, too: There was the Zappa cover and the Mad cover, and the new one's got Contortions, some soul stuff, some blues stuff, Ike Turner...
I only chose one song on the new Screws album. My cover was the Miracles one. The rest of 'em were chosen by everyone else in the band.

You had a change of rhythm section, what happened to Dan Brown and Marty Moore?
Dan rejoined Royal Trux and Marty was already in school.

He's in school?
Yeah, he's goin' to college at the University of Florida.

For what?
I don't remember. When the time came for the new record, they weren't available, so we got Mike McHugh, who was the engineer in the studio, and Jimmy Hole.

He seems to be the In the Red house photographer.
Yeah, he's the art department... Hole is his real last name, by the way.

It's nice when you don't have to make up your rock'n'roll name. It's like you're fated from birth... Goin' back to the Dirtbombs record, you mentioned in the notes that your sister turned you onto rock'n'roll...
Yeah, growin' up, we always had records around the house. My dad usedta work at an autobody shop across the street from Michigan's largest distributor of records. So my dad usedta work on the guy's car, and in return, the guy would give him whatever came down the pike that week. We had thousands of 45s...

What did he bring home?
Everything. We had a complete set of Specialty Records, almost a complete set of Motown, a complete set of Chess Records... We ended up leaving a lot of them when we moved, but my sister kept the family record collection for years until I came along.

So you sucked this stuff up like a sponge from day one?
Yeah. There was no escaping rock'n'roll at my house. When I was old enough to work the record player, it was all mine.

How did ya get into punk rock from there?
I found a punk rock radio station while scanning the dial... They ended that particular show with "Too Drunk to Fuck" by Dead Kennedys. That was the wildest thing I'd heard on the radio.

Were you playin' music before that?
Yeah, I was doin' the school band thing.

What did you play?
The trombone. But I haven't touched it in a while...

Did you switch directly to guitar?
I switched from trombone to drums, but I wanted to play the keyboards. That was my first love. My brother had an ELP record, and up to that time, it was the wildest stuff I'd heard in my life. Around the same time, I saw Rick Wakeman. He had racks and racks of keyboards. I thought that was so cool.

You were into prog rock?
Uh, well, yeah, a little bit... I probably would've been into prog rock if it wasn't for the fact that I'm black...

Okay, I work with one of the guys from the Fireballs of Freedom. Those guys played with you a couple times.
Okay.

So we're listenin' to The Dirtbombs and he says, "Man, Mick Collins said we sounded like Yes." So that was actually a compliment?
(laughter) That wasn't me who said that. Man, Portland's a small town...

Well, yeah...
What I meant... (laughter) I don't remember sayin' that, but I do remember thinking you couldn't dance to what they were doing.

Yeah, you told me that.
Did I?

Yeah.
Well, when I hear a band you can't dance to, I immediately think of prog rock bands. It's one of my beliefs about rock'n'roll, y'know, Glen Branca does not play rock'n'roll!

No, Glen Branca does not play rock'n'roll...
Yeah, "Rock Symphony!" That ain't rock! There's nothin' rock about it, it's just loud!

Like Metal Machine Music, which is hard to sit through...
I like that record a lot. I was listenin' to it earlier...

Can you dance to it?
No, you can't.

You've done a ton of bands. Are there some that are like your babies... do you look more fondly upon some than others?
Yeah, well, everyone does. I don't look at 'em as children, essentially it keeps me from doin' a nine to five.

Do you have a real job?
No, I haven't had one since right before the Blacktop album (can't quite remember, sometime in the early '90s -JS).

What did you do?
I was a computer tech. That's the deep dark secret. I'm actually a computer geek, but I get to play rock'n'roll. I look at the Dirtbombs as geek rock.

I dunno about that...
There's a definite geek aesthetic. It's the experimental part of it. Not sticking in any genre. It's not your standard garage-punk stuff.

Do you actually have two drummers and bassists when you play out?
Oh yeah, that's the sound!

That sounds pretty complicated.
It is. It's like having a car with two carburetors. When everything's tuned right and it's working, great, but if they're a little bit off, the thing runs like hell, but that's the band.

With your press stuff this time around, on the sheet, they call you "The Last Black Man in Rock'n'Roll."
I don't know who came up with that. Larry (Hardy, In the Red CEO) musta.

There is a definite lack of kids in general, black and white, getting into rock'n'roll these days.
Well, turntables are 90 bucks. A guitar is 300. That'll tell you right there where the problem lies.

You think that's all it is?
Well, back in '82, yeah, that's what happened... When hip hop came along, it was just cheaper to grab a stack of records and a turntable... Now twenty years down the line, hip hop is such an ingrained part of black culture... You'd definitely be hard-pressed to find black rock acts. There's a few, but you can't be black and play rock'n'roll and expect acceptance from Black America. It ain't gonna happen.

It seems that way if you're white, too.
Well, yeah.

What do white kids in high school and junior high school listen to? They listen to hip hop, or they listen to that rage anger rap rock, y'know? It seems like all the people I know who are into rock'n'roll are aging punk rockers. You don't see too many younger kids...
Yeah, but occasionally, you see someone break out like Blink-182. I watch those guys and I'm like, "What are these guys doing that I haven't done?" Somebody's out there doin' it, just no one we know, apparently.

I've never actually heard Blink-182, but whenever I see 'em, I'm like, "Did they pick these guys up at the mall or somethin'?"
That's kinda what they're like... but later Black Flag stuff. They have stacks like a metal band, but they play hard and fast and jump around a lot and they're covered with tattoos and they have purple hair.

And they're cute...
They're sorta lovable lunkhead mallrats. They don't really seem to take any of this seriously at all.

It probably beats Brittney and the other one.
They don't come off as artificial as Brittney... At least the music they're doin' is their own music, although I couldn't care less about it. Their minds don't seem to be owned by anyone.

Not that you know of...
Not that I know of. It's all a plot.

Independence cuts two ways... You can do whatever you want, but only a few select people know who you are.
I know that one...

Who do you miss more, Joey Ramone or John Lee Hooker?
John Lee. No question about it. At the heart of what I do is always the stuff he did. Ultraglide in Black is a black record. It's black music. It's loud, black music with feedback.
(PO Box 208 Burbank, CA 91506)

 


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