NASHVILLE, Tenn. —
When country music historian Wayne Daniel was asked to contribute to the first International Country Music Journal, the writer made a point of getting the story of Ruey “Curley” Collins of Catlettsburg into the global “who’s who” publication.
“That was my dad,” said Phil Collins, while sharing a collection of old photos, fliers, programs and news clippings featuring his father’s images and adventures. Collins explained Daniel, who once wrote for a journal published by the Journal of Country Music and hundreds of industry and academic journals, had already written a story titled “Benny & Curley: Stars of the Old Dominion Barn Dance” when he was asked to contribute to the first International Country Music Journal.
“He was ready for them, even though he didn’t know they would be calling,” Collins said with a grin.
Curley Collins grew up in Catlettsburg, but “left very early in his career,” Collins said, tracking his father’s journey from a family band to the Melody Mountain Boys, who traveled to Huntington for their own radio show, and later began working from barn dance to barn dance with the traveling broadcast. Even though his career as a “blue yodeler” earned him a wide base of fans, especially during his long partnership with Benny Kissinger and their years hosting the Old Dominion Barn Dance on WRVA radio, Collins said his father’s career is largely unknown in his hometown.
“The people that remember my dad are the older folks,” he said, soon adding his dad did not like the idea of recording his music because the people who did the recording made all the money, and he feared people would not want to come see his shows if they could hear his music any time they wanted.
“My father was just a pure hillbilly and he was proud of it,” Collins said with a chuckle. “He had to get his first real job after Elvis hit. Boy, he hated Elvis. But he came around to him later on when he heard that voice. He stayed in the music business after that, but radio went out and TV came in and his kind of music just wasn’t big like it was before.”
In the days before Elvis, however, Collins said he knows his dad was a star.
“I remember seeing a two-block line waiting to get in to see them in Richmond and they added a second show because of the crowds,” he said. “They did personal appearances and radio shows every day. Probably 5,000 people were at my dad’s wedding. They sold tickets. The governor was there!”
Collins said his father also had a tremendous influence of the music of his own son, Ritch Collins, who continues to be one of this area’s most recognized musicians. Collins said his son had become an accomplished guitarist playing more modern styles of music when a man from Scotland sent them recordings of Curley Collins playing at the Wheeling Jamboree.
“It was a CD of all these hot string bands just going ape. I shared it with Ritch and the next thing you know the Ritch Collins Three-O was coming out playing this old music. He said he liked it because it was pure and fun to play,” he said.
Daniel, who wrote the story about Collins and Kissinger, said he selected the duo, and Collins specifically, because of their celebrity and talent.
“Collins was talented and versatile,” he said, citing his vocal work as well as his skills as a fiddler and multi-instrumentalist. Daniel said Collins’ on-stage wedding was not as publicized as that of Hank Williams, even though he beat him to it by two to three years.
Collins said he has great pride in his father’s legacy, even though the life of a celebrity musician did not always lend itself to family ways.
“Growing up, my dad wasn’t much more than a voice on the radio to me, but he did come home. We always listened to him on a battery-powered radio and he would always say hello to his wife and babies,” he said. “I got very close to him later. I loved his music.”
The International Country Music Journal is published by Belmont University.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.