I just read this week that singer Lorrie Collins died. She was 76. If you are younger than 60, you probably don’t remember her, but I do. Our paths crossed one night in Tucson when I was 16.
I was in the Catalina High School student newspaper office with my friend Dorothy McCutcheon. We were both reporters for the Trojan Trumpeteer. On that January day in 1958, the local morning newspaper, Arizona Daily Star, had just been delivered. It was a staple in the office, and we read it every day. I was glancing through that morning’s edition when I came across a gem of a story.
I turned to Dorothy and said, “Look, The Collins Kids are playing at the grand opening of Wilson’s Furniture.”
The Collins Kids were a brother and sister act that did mostly country music but also touched rock and roll and were being played by the local stations. Larry was 13 and Lorrie was 15. But, the big thing at the moment was that Lorrie was dating TV star and pop singer Ricky Nelson and had appeared on the Ozzie and Harriet TV show several times recently. The situation comedy had been on TV for many years and was very popular, especially among the teens. So at that moment, Lorrie was a hot item. And, I was a fan.
For some reason I was always drawn to doing things that seemed ridiculous or impossible. But, I always had the feeling that I could do anything I set my mind to.
There was a school dance in the cafeteria that night.
I said to Dorothy, “I’m going to take Lorrie to our school dance.”
She said, “You’re crazy! She’s not going with you; she is dating Ricky Nelson, you’re just a kid in Tucson.”
“Just wait and see” I boasted.
Lest you imagine evil things about me going out with a 15-year-old girl, remember, I had just turned 16 and Ricky Nelson was 17, so we were all about the same age.
The last show at the furniture store by The Collins Kids would be at 8pm, so I figured they would be done by no later than 8:45 or 9. Perfect. The school was only a few minutes away and I would have no problem getting there before it was over at 10 or 10:30.
What was the big plan? I would go to her show and then at the end go backstage and invite her to go with me to the school dance. How hard could that be? Of course she would want to go. How could she pass up the offer by the skinny crew-cut kid with horned rim glasses.
So, at 7:30 I got my mom’s 1956 Buick Special and was on my way for a date with destiny. Amazingly enough, as I think about it now, I never imagined that she would turn me down.
I arrived at the store right before 8 and watched the duo perform their last few sets. There was no stage, they were in the middle of a furniture store, and it was packed with people. But, they had a small area roped off toward the back, where they exited, and that was where I figured I had to make my move. Last song, applause, Collins Kids back toward roped off area, I make a dash to where Lorrie was taking off her guitar.
“Hi Lorrie, I’m Ray Lindstrom from Catalina High School. Say, we’re having a dance tonight at our high school and the kids there are big fans of yours. Why don’t you come with me to the dance, I know they would all really like seeing you.”
That was my pitch.
She replied, “Gee, that sounds like fun…let me ask my Mom if it’s okay.”
She walked over and spoke for a few seconds to a middle-aged woman nearby. In a flash she was back and said, “Sure, Mom thinks it’s okay as long as we take my brother, Larry, with us.”
“Great, I’ll go get my car and meet you in front in about 5 minutes.”
And, that was that. When I think about it today I just laugh. Who could imagine asking a 15-year-old star to go to a school dance…somebody who had never seen you before…make a 15 second pitch, and have her mother agree on the spot to let her go in your car…with the only safeguard being her 13-year-old brother along for the ride! I suppose people didn’t worry much in those days.
I brought the car around, Lorrie got in the front seat with me and her brother hopped in the back.
When we arrived at the dance, the disc jockey, Harry Grant from KAIR announced the celebrities present, we eventually had our dance together, and I had them back at their motel by 11pm.
I don’t remember what we talked about, but I thought it was fun and I hope they thought so, too. Within a year she had broken up with Ricky Nelson, ran off with Johnny Cash’s manager to become a teenage bride, and her career was pretty much over.
About 15 years ago she was featured on a PBS special, “The Girls of Rockabilly.” She was then in her 60’s. I wouldn’t have recognized her, but she still looked terrific.
Her brother had a successful career as a songwriter and won a Grammy Award for composing the song Delta Dawn.
The Monday morning after the dance I collected my welcomed accolades from Dorothy and 60 years later we still joke about the night I took Ricky Nelson’s girlfriend to the high school dance.
A couple months after this, Dorothy and I spent some time with John Wayne while he was in Tucson filming Rio Bravo. But, that’s another story.