A different frame of mind: The Mojo Collins story

By on September 19, 2018

After a summer away from performing, Mojo Collins will be back on stage Sept. 29 at the Tap Shack in Duck. (Kip Tabb)

Mojo Collins hasn’t been seem much around the Outer Banks this summer. Not by choice, but by  necessity. He had a heart attack while performing at the Tap Shack in Duck over Memorial Day weekend and has not had the strength to play a set for the past three months.

“Until you have one, a heart attack that is, you really don’t know the true experience of wanting to live and get better. It does zap you … and put you in a different frame of mind,” he said.

When he is on stage, Mojo is always impeccably dressed, his white hair and mustache perfectly groomed. He usually wears a Hawaiian shirt and a Panama hat, especially if he’s outdoors.

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He’s getting closer to getting back on stage. His strength coming back. He is making plans for an occasional solo performance or a show with his local band Triple Vision.

“We do have a show booked with Triple Vision. September 29 at the Tap Shack. I’m feeling better and I will be ready to roll for that one,” he said.

It’s the first time in 16 years that Mojo hasn’t been performing. That was the year — 2002 —  that he had an operation on his neck to remove bone spurs that made his fingers numb. Before that … it’s been a long time.

He grew up in Raleigh and learned to play from his father, who was a musician.

“They called him Wild Bill. He played with Homer Briarhopper and the Dixie Dudes and Jim Thornton, both of whom had TV shows in Raleigh and Durham,” Mojo said.

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Homer Briarhopper & his Dixies Dudes doing live radio at WNAO show “Wild Bill” Collins second from left.

Homer Briarhopper & his Dixies Dudes doing live radio at WNAO show “Wild Bill” Collins second from left.

“Jim Thornton had the Saturday Night Country Style on WTVD in Durham. That’s where I did my first show when I was nine years old. Sang a song. You and Me Together by Kitty Wells. My dad was over there smiling at me,” he recalled.

It was the beginning of a long career playing guitar and occasionally keyboards, a career that took him to the West Coast and back to the East Coast a couple of times and along the way he got to play or jam with or meet a who’s who of the history of rock and roll.

In the mid-1960s he was in the Air Force, stationed at a now closed SAC base in Glasgow, Montana. That was when he teamed up with a couple of guys on the base and started playing gigs in their off time.

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“It was called Mojo’s Mark 4,” he said. “They were mostly funk and jazz musicians. It was really strange. None of them knew what the blues was. I had been turned on to Muddy Waters before I got there and I started singing those songs in the band and they started calling me the Mojo Man and that’s where the name came from.”

After the Air Force, he headed back to North Carolina, hoping to catch on with a beach music band. He didn’t. “I guess I was too blues for them,” he explained. Then a friend from Montana called and said he was putting together a group. A couple of groups later, most of the personnel became Initial Shock.

The group was touring the Midwest when they sent their road crew to San Francisco to check out the music scene.

“Well, a couple of weeks later they came back with every drug known to man. I had never done drugs before that,” Mojo said.

It was 1967 and Initial Shock headed off to San Francisco just in time for the summer of love. Mojo doesn’t use drugs now, but at that time, they were very much a part of the culture.

Initial Shock was getting noticed. The band was on tour on the East Coast when promoter Billy Graham brought the group back to San Francisco to open for Janis Joplin for her first show at the Fillmore.

According to Mojo, it was Janis Joplin who requested the band.

“She taught me to sing it like it was the last time you ever did it,” he said. “I just never understood how she could shoot up and go out and act like nothing was going on,” he added.

Initial Shock broke up in 1969 and it was a low point.

“I was on the street without anything. Not even a guitar because all the equipment was confiscated because someone had it in their name,” he said.

But it also led to the closest brush with fame and success he had.

The original Sawbuck. Mojo Collins, top left; (LtoR) Chuck Ruff, Bill Church, Star Donaldso, Ronnie Montrose.

The original Sawbuck. Mojo Collins, top left; (LtoR) Chuck Ruff, Bill Church, Star Donaldso, Ronnie Montrose.

“I was walking down Market Street one day. This friend of mine … Roy Murray, he lives in Kitty Hawk now … He was in a band signed at the Fillmore called Naked Lunch. And he said, ‘Man what’s going on.’ And I said I’m trying to find a quarter for a cup of coffee and a smoke.’ He put me up for awhile and we said,’ Man you got to go down to the Fillmore and audition for them.’ He lent me an acoustic guitar and I auditioned for them and they hired me on the spot to write songs for them.”

He did that for six months — giving him the first regular payday he had had in some time, and it also led to the group Sawbuck.

“Ronnie Montrose was the lead guitar, Starr Donaldson second guitarist. Bill Church bass player, the drummer was Chuck Ruff,” Mojo said.

Mojo handled vocals, a lot of the song writing and rhythm guitar. Every member of the band went on to play with other first name acts to be a headliner on their own.

For a number of reasons, although the band had a strong following, it broke up.

“I came close,” he said.

About the time Sawbuck broke up, Wild Bill had a heart attack and Mojo came home and spent  two weeks in Raleigh. When he got back to San Francisco, he realized he couldn’t stay there.

“Everybody was shooting (drugs). And I said if I stay out here, I won’t make it home,” he said.

The next trip to Raleigh sealed his fate. He ran into a girl he had known in high school .

“I met Bonnie in Raleigh,” Mojo said. “We’ve been together 45 years.”

She was working at the Galleon Escalade dressing windows in Nags Head. She asked him if he wanted to go and other than some time in Wilmington, the couple has lived on the Outer Banks since that time.

Mojo never did hit the big payday that many of the people he knew from his days of the summer of love; certainly nothing like the Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane—groups he jammed with and opened for a couple of times in San Francisco. Or Lynyrd Skynyrd, who he opened for in 1971 or 1972. But it was always about the music and being on stage, performing for people.

“It’s never really been about the money. I don’t gauge my life on money. If I had million dollars I would probably just donate it maybe to the church or help somebody with it,” he said.

Mojo Collins – A Partial List of Awards and Achievments
Check out our review of New Glatitude, Mojo's most recent CD.

Check out our review of New Glatitude, Mojo’s most recent CD.

1985 FIRST PLACE – Blues & Jazz competition; PRESERVATION JAZZ COMPANY, Raleigh, NC

1988 TOP TWENTY – Louisiana Songwriters competition

1997-1999 voted best R&B “band” in Wilmington, NC

1999-2000 Received a NC ARTS COUNCIL FELLOWSHIP in Music for SONGWRITING

2006 “Wammie” Best “Solo Artist”; Beat Magazine Wilmington, N.C

2006 “Wammie” Best Local Performer & the LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD; Beat Magazine Wilmington, N.C.

Comments

  • Rob Beedie

    http://www.GlobalSurfNetwork.com

    An awesome talented musician.
    One of his best works in my opinion is Diamond Shoals Tales Untold.

    I couldn’t ask for a better friend.

    Thursday, Sep 20 @ 1:55 pm
  • hightider

    I wonder if he knew Rodney Marsh in Raleigh? I remember Jim Thornton’s club along with the Embers Club…those were places to go in Raleigh in the early and mid sixties.

    Friday, Sep 21 @ 5:52 pm
  • David

    Was he a part of the Mojo Men from the 60’s?

    Saturday, Sep 22 @ 2:59 pm
  • Bent Hunt

    I met MoJo in Nags Head around 71 or 72 and was BLOWN away! He was the best guitarist I ever got to spent time with and we had some good jams. I used to call him “Mr. Southern Comfort”, it didn’t matter if he was playing for a couple of friends or several hundred, He was always SMOOTH and sincere in his execution! A very humble and loving artist.

    Monday, Sep 24 @ 9:42 am
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