Jesse Collins, and then some.

A blog dedicated to those who would rather be at the cottage.

Archive for the 'Distractions' Category

The Day the Music Died

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

I absolutely make no guarantees that this post will remain up for any length of time. Whether it’s my own discomfort with being completely transparent on the internet (a function of age, perhaps) or just the overall embarrassment over the cheesiness of the clip, I’m just not sure if I want this thing out there for too long. But I do want to share it with some friends and family, along with the rather unique story that accompanies it, so here goes.

Even those among my friends that know that I began my career as a performer don’t necessarily know that I started as a singer. I had a some success in theatre circles in Toronto and some regional theatres, performing in musicals and industrial shows. The corporate shows took me all over the world through those early years, and introduced me to my incredible missus—but that truly is another story.

This one revolves around the Canadian-prototype of the National Idol syndrome: few know that the Americans stole the idea from us. It was called DuMaurier Search for Stars (the cigarette sponsorship provides some carbon-dating on the episode) and I was a semi-finalist in 1982, I think it was. And now is as good a time as any to take you down Memory Lane. Don’t miss the terrific Marty Robbins and Touch of Scent ads at the beginning. They really give it context.

DuMaurier Search for Stars 1982 from Jesse C. on Vimeo.

And now the Rest of the Story:

The video above depicts the first time I ever sang in front of an full orchestra. We shot it at the old CBC Studios on Mutual Street, where I would spend the next few years working on radio drama and comedy. But that day in the early eighties is remembered by players in town for much more than my cheesy performance. Here’s why.

I was singing two songs that day, and after rehearsing them both with the band, the sax player Bernie Pilch announced that he wasn’t feeling up to snuff and would sit out the first tune. While we recorded that fist song—another standard, As Time Goes By—he had a massive heart attack in the hallway at the CBC. He was taken away by ambulance but it was clear that they had not been able to revive him.

It was obvious to me that he had been a dear friend of all the players collected there that day; they had been playing live big band gigs at the CBC and elsewhere for many years. But the times were changing; this was the last days of big orchestras, the studios would soon be torn down and television would devolve from variety shows to reality shows, never to recover. In hindsight, Bernie Pilch’s passing that morning represented the beginning of the end.

I was a kid, and pretty nervous about the gig that day. I didn’t know what would happen next as people milled about the hallway, looking at their shoes, solemn and quiet. Finally, the pianist Garry Gross spoke up. He thought Bernie would want us to do the next tune, he said, and that was what we did. The ‘next tune’ was the version of I’ll Be Seeing You that is reproduced above. I usually smiled more when I sang it—but not that day. We did it one take, and I’ll never forget it.

With a banjolele on my knee…

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

In honour of my Uncle Bert’s birthday, I had to post this great article I tripped over at

The first musical instrument I ever learned to play was the banjo-uke. My Dad’s a cabinet-maker, and one of his early projects was to make a couple of the miniature banjos for my Uncle Bert, who was an avid George Formby fan and damn good banjo player. Growing up hearing him play impressed upon me that it’s pretty tough to remain in a bad mood when you’re playing a banjo. I got my first one when I was twelve.

A banjo-uke is the near-cousin of the ukelele, which has been enjoying something of a renaissance on the internet of late. One of the weirdest, warmest and wackiest homages to the uke—as well as to music, to politics and to humour—is neatly wrapped in a “Benefit Concert for Warren Buffett”: two guys play every song in the Beatles library (164 songs, for the record—pun intended). Full details are available at this Ukulelia blog post but the best part is the dénouement. Our boys deliver a brown paper bag with bills and coins representing “hundreds of dollars” to Mr. Buffet, himself. The video of that exchange is a treat, and is reproduced below.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Bert.

The Family Virtual Christmas Card

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Hot off the hard drive, here it is. The watercolour is my first attempt at painting. An unapologetically blatant rip-off of a Tony Bennett masterpiece, it was just meant to be an exercise. His is three times as large, and a 100 times better (I can’t sing as well as him, either) but I was still pleased that mine manages to convey some of the serenity of a country Christmas. Click on the image for full-size view.

Have a Happy and a Merry, everyone.


Collins Christmas Card 2008

Collins Christmas Card 2008

The Good Ol’ Hockey Game

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Some moments are priceless. (more…)

My First Ride

Monday, October 6th, 2008

Murph dropped me a line about noticing a ’62 Plymouth Valiant on the road today and being struck by how ugly it was. It got me thinking about a post I’d been meaning to put up for quite awhile. A short tribute to the best car I ever owned. Flat-head 6, the last year of the 6-Volt battery and front-seat like a living room sofa: my 1954 Pontiac Pathfinder. The grill was a little dinged, and I was missing a headlight rim. Replaced that rim once from the Barrie Flea Market but hit a deer on Highway 12 and that was that the end of it.

It was a two-door coupe with a mint interior. What a beauty.

And it was also the perfect car to do bad James Dean impersonations in front of…

My First Car - 1954 Pontiac Chieftain

Wikipedia has a great entry about my first car.

Some of the more interesting optional items available for the first generation Chieftain included a radio with seven vacuum tubes, tissue dispenser, under seat heaters, and a Remington Auto-Home shaver.

Ah, those were the days!

Mind you – mine never looked this buff:

When I haven't been fishing, I've been looking at these on the dial-up: