Ray Collins, the original lead singer for the L.A. avant-rock band the Mothers of Invention, died Dec. 24 in Pomona, Calif. He was 73.
A staff member at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center confirmed Collins’ death. He was admitted on Dec. 18 in full cardiac arrest and had been in a medically induced coma since.
Collins grew up in Pomona, and performed with various local rock and doo-wop bands. In 1964, he joined the Soul Giants, an R&B cover band that became the nucleus of the Mothers of Invention.
Problems with the group’s guitarist led to the recruitment of Collins’ acquaintance Frank Zappa, who brought his own music to the unit, which was rechristened the Mothers. Zappa’s sardonic, musically complex songs and the group’s outlandish live shows gained them a reputation in Hollywood’s Sunset Strip clubs, and ultimately a contract with MGM Records.
Collins sang lead on the Mothers of Invention’s early breakthrough releases, including their debut “Freak Out!” (1966), “Absolutely Free” (1967) and the doo-wop throwback “Cruising With Ruben & the Jets” (1968).
However, tension between Collins and Zappa – which had led to Collins’ absence from the 1968 album “We’re Only In It For the Money” – climaxed with the singer’s exit from the group. He was troubled by the group’s low-comedy aspect; “I wanted to make beautiful music,” he told Inland Valley Daily Bulletin writer David Allen in 2009. He would appear sporadically with Zappa through the ’70s.
After his exit from the Mothers, Collins lived in L.A., supporting himself for a time as a taxi driver. He received a settlement from Zappa, who died in 1993, for his work with the band.
He moved to Claremont, Calif., in 1991, where he lived on his Social Security checks and songwriting royalties – enough to survive, he told Allen, “but not enough to pick up women.”