“I need to step away.”
That is how Joe Collins summed up the impending break-up of The Collins Brothers Band.
The band posted on their Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon that March 6 would be their last public show. The announcement set off a reaction among fans as frenetic as the band’s onstage energy.
“I figured it would take a lot of people by surprise. But I didn’t realize how many people would be upset,” Collins told us the day after the announcement. “I’ve gotten a lot of texts, and people posting on Facebook, and things like that.
“I’ve had some people in the last couple of days trying to give suggestions saying, ‘Why don’t you just dial it back a little bit. The music scene needs you.’ And, I appreciate that. But dialing it back won’t get it done.
“When things like this happen,” Collins said regarding the break-up announcement, “A lot of people who maybe are on the fringe and don’t know us very well just assume there’s something wrong, and there is nothing wrong.
“It has nothing to do with music,” he said. “It has everything to do with my family. I’m getting older and my kids are at that age where they’re into every sport you can think of, and I’ve missed a lot of it.
“When your 13-year-old daughter looks at you and says, ‘Do you have to go play tonight?’, and you say, ‘Yes,’ and she slumps her shoulders and puts her head down…,” he said, with his voice trailing off. “When she does that a couple of times, it makes you think what you’re doing.
“I made a commitment that I wasn’t going to miss any more. It’s not like I’m taking music out of me. It will always be in there, because that’s my passion. But, when you have children, that becomes your passion, and you know, that’s where I want to be.”
Joe Collins and his brother Cory founded The Collins Brothers Band 15 years ago. During that time, they have become arguably the most popular regional act in Southeast Tennessee, playing clubs, big stages and many charity events.
“I’m real proud of our charity work and philanthropy. It was always a goal of mine to give back as much as we took, and I’m proud to say I think we did that.” He added that the American Cancer Society was the band’s No. 1 cause, since it touched the Collins family.
In addition to his daughter, Collins and his wife Holli have an 8-year-old son. The couple will celebrate their 15th anniversary in May.
Collins said he has been talking about the decision with Holli “for probably 2 or 3 years.”
“And, me and Cory talked about it,” he said. “I’m the only one in the band who has small children, but they understand. Cory knew this day would come, and he’s sad too, but they all understand and they know family comes first.”
Collins knew telling the band would not be easy.
“That was a difficult decision on our (his and Cory’s) part of when to tell them,” Collins said. “We didn’t want to call them. We wanted to tell them face-to-face, because we spend so much time together we’re kind of like family.
“So we decided after our last show at Pokey’s, which was Feb. 6, to all meet in the back room. And, that’s when we told them.”
He described the scene as “a sad time.”
“We shut the doors, and there was a lot of tears and a lot of hugging. It was very, very emotional to see six large, grown men just crying and hugging each other. I always knew we had something special, but that confirmed it for me.”
The 48-year-old musician didn’t take the other members’ feelings lightly. “I’ve been down about — not the decision — but I know it’s affecting their lives too. It’s not all about me. There’s a corporate entity out there called The Collins Brothers, so even though I’m the owner and president and all that stuff, it affects a lot of people.
“But they let me know before I left that night that they understood.”
He talked about how important that sentiment was to him. “It was everything,” he said. “It would’ve been so much more difficult if they would’ve had any bitterness, but they didn’t. Just from what they told me, they know what kind of guy I am, and they probably — they could tell I had been struggling with this for a while. But they gave me full support and that made me feel a lot better.”
Collins said Holli will be glad to have “a normal guy” around the house.
“She is 110% ‘Let’s go,’” he said with a laugh. “She has had the brunt of doing everything with the kids — especially on the weekends — for a long, long time. And, she’s been my No. 1 supporter. So without her, there would’ve been no Collins Brothers Band. But, I know she is glad to have me back as a normal guy. We have been married 15 years in May, and I have been doing the music since Day 1 with her, so it’s going to be good for us.”
He added, “It’s going to be a change in my life because I’ve done it for 15 years, but it has to be done, and I actually feel very, very good about it.”
The Collins Brothers Band will take their final bow on the same stage where their run began, Pokey’s in Cleveland, Tenn.
In an understatement, Collins said, “We could’ve done a bigger place or got a bigger venue. But, Pokey’s is sentimental to us because that’s where we started. And, I remember the very first time Pokey let us play there, and there were a lot of people who wouldn’t let us play. But he did, and we thought it was appropriate that we end there, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Steve “Pokey” Clark believed in Collins and his band from the beginning. But that wasn’t the case with everyone. “There’s a lot of people who helped us, and there’s a lot of people who didn’t,” Collins said. “I try not to dwell on the negative.”
Collins thanked “all those people who gave us a chance in the beginning. They know who they are. It was very hard for us the beginning,” he said. “And, there are several – not just club owners – but individuals who gave us a hand, gave us a chance, and we owe a lot of people a lot thanks.”
He shared a long list of memorable moments, such as releasing their first album, hearing his music on radio, opening for the likes of Montgomery-Gentry and Gene Watson, and playing at the legendary Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville.
With each success, Collins said he thought, “Wow, how did we get this?”
He said, “These are things I had hoped for, but I didn’t have enough pride to think they would ever happen.”
Collins added, “Things like opening up for all these big acts we did, I never dreamed of doing that when we first started. Having a song I had written being played on the radio? I never dreamed that would happen when we started. Or, to have a song of mine taken by NASCAR and used on their television special was never part of my dream.”
Instead, Collins’ dream was simple.
“I just wanted to get up and sing in front of people and try to get better, and better, and better. And, I think – I know that’s what we did. And I wanted me and the band to be the best at what we do. And, I think that we have done that. And, I think there are a lot of people who have let us know that.
“I’ve been asked — I can’t tell you how many times — ‘How do you measure success? And, how will you know you’ve made it? And, of course you can give all kinds of answers,” he said. “You know, one of my goals was to play the Grand Ole Opry and I never got to do that. But, that doesn’t mean I won’t get to.”
“So, yeah, it’s been a success, because I never thought it would be like this,” he said. “I never thought people would care when we went away, and that’s probably the biggest thing. People care about The Collins Brothers, and I can’t believe it. I can’t believe what a disruption it caused on Facebook. That let me know we touched a lot of people.”