Tony Collins, well-known guitarist in the Bristol, TN area, died Saturday morning (7/18). He had been hospitalized since the prior Sunday after suffering a massive heart attack at home. He was 54 years of age.
Collins was a popular figure in Bristol, not only for his remarkable flatpicking skills, but also as owner/operator of Goodman Jewelers on State Street. He was one of many pro-level players in the bluegrass world who dedicated their life to work and family, pursuing music as an avocation.
As a guitarist, Tony utilized his large hands and long fingers to float across the fretboard with an ease and speed that generated awe in all who watched him play. Incorporating techniques more common among electric guitarists, he combined a distinctive melodic approach that bespoke a wide range of interests, with a deep and profound understanding of bluegrass and modern acoustic music.
He was a fixture at the annual Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax where he made regular appearances in the Top 10 of the guitar competition. Musicians were drawn to him in the late night jams for his brilliance in execution, and the sheer joy he took in playing. Heads would shake every time he soloed, as you could hear case latches snapping shut.
Good friend Greg Honeycutt, a busy bassist in the Salem, VA area, shared this tribute.
“Bass players and guitar players have a very special relationship, probably more so with our music than any other genre. There is a rhythmic conversation of sorts happening between us within every song. Sometimes the dialect is difficult to translate, sometimes it’s the most natural sound you ever heard.
Tony Collins was one of the most immaculately-timed musicians I ever had the privilege to play with. I’ve often thought, while most of us can count to 4, 8, 16, or even 32 without thinking about it. Tony thought of where notes went at much smaller intervals, think – 64ths and smaller. His playing was indescribably genius.
Above all that, anyone who ever met him would quickly tell you, Tony Collins was our hero and our buddy first. Even if he weren’t a master-class guitarist, there was no better friend to have. We will miss him terribly, but we will never forget him.”
Details about funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
R.I.P., Tony Collins.