Ray Collins, singer-guitarist and co-founder of The Mothers Of Invention, died Monday (24 December) in Ponoma, California, after being admitted to the hospital on 18 December for cardiac arrest. He was 76 years old.
Collins' musical career began in Ponoma, where he sang in various doo wop and R&B groups. In the early '60s, he fronted a cover band called The Soul Giants. Following a dispute with the group's guitarist, Collins sought a replacement and remembered a young musician that he had met some years earlier: Frank Zappa.
Zappa quickly became the guiding musical force of The Soul Giants. The band changed their name to The Mothers Of Invention and ditched cover tunes in favor of Zappa's original compositions, a innovative mix of free-form rock, jazz and classical, with satirical lyrics that praised non-conformity.
Collins sang lead on the Mothers' debut album, Freak Out! (1966), as well as its follow-up, Absolutely Free (1967). Finding himself disenchanted with Zappa's satirical musical predilections, he quit the band after the second release.
"I wanted to make beautiful music," Collins told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in 2009. "I was raised on Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole." Regarding the band's outlandish stage shows, Collins said, "I didn't like doing that stuff on stage. Too much comedy, too much making fun of stuff."
Collins reunited briefly with the band for 1968's Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, and he worked from time to time with Zappa. He would ultimately quit music, making a living as a taxi driver and dishwasher, while receiving Social Security checks and the occasional royalties from the song Memories Of El Monte, which he co-wrote with Zappa.
Still, Collins he had no regrets about possibly missing out on the big time. "When I walked away, I walked away with nothing," he said. "But that's my personality."