Monday, September 14, 2015
Augusta Lee Collins / The Stratosphere
As a photographer, you meet a lot of people just once. The meetings slip through your fingers and life very quickly. Some people stick with you, stay in your stratosphere, always reminding you that you had once crossed paths. Augusta was exactly that.
Augusta Lee Collins, 69, made a name for himself as a session drummer with numerous bands coming through the Bay Area, including sitting in with jazz greats Herbie Hancock, "Cannonball" Adderley, Sun Ra and Bobby Hutcherson. But over the last 30 years, Collins reinvented himself as a blues singer and guitarist and was a fixture at farmers' markets and blues jams in the region.
While he never achieved great fame, his long career left an impact on local musicians who remember him as influential and inspiring but very humble. In the course of his reinvention from drummer to singer and guitarist, he overcame a drug problem and homelessness but always remained an icon, Bay Area Blues Society executive director Ronnie Stewart said Wednesday.
In 2010, Collins was inducted into the West Coast Blues Hall of Fame. Collins' musical career dates back to the thriving West Oakland music scene of the 1960s, when his band the Metropolitan Sound Company would play downtown clubs, high school dances and outdoor concerts. Stewart said he first became aware of Collins while attending Fremont High School in 1966, when he would jump on an Alameda-Contra Costa Transit bus in East Oakland to go out for parties and dancing. Metropolitan Sound Company was among the bands he'd see.
"He was part of that whole era of young musicians who were making that crossover from blues to R&B," a movement that defined what came to be known as the "Oakland sound" in funk and R&B that drew the attention of artists nationwide, Stewart said. That first band played until the early 1970s, according to Stewart. After that is when Collins embarked on a career as a session drummer playing on albums and live for numerous artists working in and visiting the Bay Area.