American guitarist (Larkin) Allen Collins Jr. was born on July 19, 1952. In the summer of 1964 he and four of his friends founded a group titled the Noble Five. They played their first paying show a few months later at a car parts store’s Christmas party. They earned 10 bucks which after splitting the cost of gas left them with 1.75 each.
They practiced constantly and played whenever and wherever they could. Soon they would change the name of the group to Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was a take-off of the name of their Gym teacher, Leonard Skinner, whom they took issue with because of his strict enforcement of the school dress code policies on long hair and sideburns.
By the start of 1973 the band had become big in Florida, scored a contract with MCI Records and released their premier platter, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd with its chartbuster “Free Bird”. They were selected as opening act for The Who’s tour that year had scored two more hit albums—Second Helping (with its big single, “Sweet Home Alabama” ) and Nuthin’ Fancy (featuring “Saturday Night Special”) by 1975.
Soon they became one of the country’s hottest bands. As perhaps can be expected, the temptations of touring took hold of the guys in the group and soon they were known as a bunch of redneck, rock star drunks. Surprisingly, they still managed to stick to the music enough to release guitar-driven singles such as “Gimme Three Steps” and “Double Trouble”.
They would go through a line-up change in 1976 to solidify their signature sound. Steve Gaines would join and the band would even add a female backup group called The Honkettes. They reached a record high the following year and hit the road on their Street Survivors tour. (The album spawned hits such as “What’s Your Name?” and “You Got That Right”.)
Unfortunately, on October 20, 1977, after the fourth of what was would have been an 80-concert tour, the Convair CV-300 carrying the band and its entourage from Greenville, South Carolina to Baton Rouge, Louisiana crashed outside Gillsburg, Mississippi. Among those killed in the crash were frontman Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and his wife and Honkette Cassie Gaines.
Most of the original, surviving members of the band reunited on the tenth anniversary of the plane crash for the Tribute tour. Van Zant’s younger brother, Johnny, signed on as lead vocalist. There was one founding member was glaringly absent from the line-up: lead guitarist Allen Collins.
Collins, one of the group’s most infamous substance abusers both before and after the plane crash, last played with the band in 1979 at the very first post-crash band reunion in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1986, he lost control of his car while driving drunk. The accident killed his girlfriend and left him paralyzed from the waist down with only limited use of his arms and his hands.
He pled no contest to vehicular manslaughter and to driving under the influence. As part of his plea bargain, he was required to make PSAs concerning the consequences of drinking and driving and the dangers of alcohol and drugs.
He would serve only as musical director due to his injuries. Before each gig, Collins would be rolled up to the mic where he would tell fans he would not be playing due to the choices he had made years ago on that fatal night. The band also donated a good deal of money from the tour to the Miami Project which is involved in the treatment of paralysis.
In 1988 Collins numerous benefit concerts and Roll For Rock Wheelchair Events in order to increase awareness and to provide opportunities for people with spinal cord injuries and other physical challenges. In 1990, on January 23, Collins died from chronic pneumonia due to decreased lung capacity caused by his paralysis. He was 37.
Collins was laid to rest at Riverside Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida. Those who wish to visit his gravesite must drive 75 yards past the fountain after entering the cemetery. Walk down the path to the left which leads into the Garden of Cross.
There is a stone marked “Collins-John” 80 feet down the walk. Across from the bench there are the graves of Allen and his wife Kathy who died in 1980 due to complications after a pregnancy. The Tribute tour had been so successful, however, that although Collins died the band reunited permanently and his musical legacy has lived on in the end.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.