Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


COLLINS, Sugarcane

Blues singer and guitarist from the far north of Australia, where the rainforest meets the reef and where there are only two seasons (wet and dry). He was first drawn to the Irish-based traditional music of his homeland, but the Blues, when he found it, was stronger and darker, and ultimately held more fascination. He hit the road at 18 in the late 1970s at the peak of the Barbary Coast days, where the entertainment was either learn how to fight or play well enough to please fishermen, canecutters, miners, bikers and other desperados, when Cairns was a sugarcane town at the end of the road on the east coast of Australia. 'When I had thirty songs together I went and found myself a gig. I debuted solo at the roughest pub in town, the Oceanic Hotel.'

Cairns had a thriving live music scene, and Collins put together the Lake Street Sheiks and other small groups, with harmonica player Steve Gilbert and Jules Williamson on 5-string banjo. We did lots of jug band stuff in the Sheiks and I used to play mandolin and kazoo. But it was the Barron River Drifters, a cowboy/jazz sextet, that appeared all over the far north, in constant demand from 1987 to 1992. 'Right from day one that band just took off...I went from doing a couple of gigs a week to up to six or seven a week for about five years. I did my apprenticeship in the music business with this band.' But wanderlust kicked in, and Collins went to Europe in 1992, where he performed solo under the name of Black Cat Tail.

He also started working on his songwriting. Returning to Australia, with producer James Mann, Collins made his debut album of original material, Barron Delta Blue. The album spawned the catchy hit 'Pascoe River,' got two tracks on an EMI compilation as well as radio airplay, and was honored with a Song of the Year and two Queensland Album of the Year awards. A shift down south in 2000 saw Sugarcane appearing regularly on ABC Radio Brisbane, gigging in Fortitude Valley and teaming up with harmonica player Andy 'Cutlips' Vogel in a duo. Returning to Cairns and with Mann once again, Collins made his second album, Lake Street Serenade, in 2003. At the Queensland Recording Association’s Sunnie Awards, the songs received a record twelve nominations and won three Sunnies, and Collins was named Queensland Songwriter of the Year.

In the summer of 2005 he made his first solo tour of the USA. He shared the stage with Coco Montoya and WC Clark at the Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival, jammed with Pinetop Perkins in Illinois, appeared on the King Biscuit Time Show with 'Sunshine' Sonny Payne on Radio KFFA in Helena, Arkansas, and sang in the streets of Clarksdale, Mississippi during the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival. The 2006 Sugarcane Collins Got a Story to Tell Tour includes several Blues festivals in the USA, and his new album was called Way Down The River.