By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Paul Collins found rock & roll in a Vietnamese taxi. "I'll never forget," he says. "We were all scrunched together, and the rain was coming down, and 'Big Girls Don't Cry' came on the radio, and it just blew my mind." Collins recalls the vocal harmonies and the feel of the pop radio hit. "That's what really fired my imagination. I guess I never looked back."
With a civilian father employed by the Army, Collins says, his family lived all over the world. And even though Collins was only a child at the time, he says the taxi ride turned out to be a defining moment. "That is the great thing in the power of rock & roll," he says. "You never know when it's gonna hit you."
By the age of 17, Collins was playing drums with Peter Case and Jack Lee in a San Francisco punk-ish band called the Nerves that starved for lack of gigs. "We were in that funny age group: We were too young to be hippies. There was no new scene yet; the punk scene hadn't really hit. It was this in-between-the-gears kind of thing."
The band appeared to go unnoticed. Collins was staggered by the band's failure to break through. "When I heard those songs, I said, 'This cannot miss. We're gonna be as big as the Beatles,'" he recalls.
But in 1976, the Nerves couldn't make ends meet. They moved to Los Angeles and disbanded soon after. "When the Nerves broke up, that was a very traumatic thing for me," he says. "I was the youngest member of the band, and I could not see that band not making it. I was just the drummer, but I thought that Jack Lee's and Peter Case's songs were the shit. In a way, I was right because 'Hanging on the Telephone' became a huge hit—unfortunately, not for us." Blondie released a cover of the Nerves' song in 1978; it charted in both the U.S. and the U.K.
"A friend said, 'Listen Paul. You're lucky it worked out this way. Otherwise, you'd probably be dead now from an OD,'" Collins remembers.
By 1977, Collins had switched to guitar. "Being in LA in 1977 without a contract and having lost the band . . . man, the panorama was bleak. I was parking cars," he says. "Fortunately, I met Steve Huff through The Recycler, and we started working on songs that ultimately led to the Beat," which was later called Paul Collins' Beat.
Collins' melodic, guitar-driven songs are said to have inspired the Knack, Joe Jackson, the Romantics and more. After brief stints in alt-country and folk-rock, power pop would become Collins' milieu. "You can draw a direct line from the Nerves to The King of Power Pop," Collins says of his latest CD.
"But power pop today is not what it was when I started, and I think that's a good thing," he says. "It's got a fresh look and sound." And, he adds, power pop is not dangerous. "You look at Nirvana and that whole thing, and that was dangerous. Or rap music. You know what I mean? That's why I'm comfortable promoting this music."
This article appeared in print as "Power Papa: Paul Collins' new record hearkens back to his days in the Nerves."