Corrections or additions?
Author: Richard Skelly. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February
23, 2000. All rights
She’s Blues, But Not Folk: Collins
Unlike a lot of other up-and-coming
Wilmington, Delaware’s Mary Arden Collins isn’t afraid of the blues
singer label. Just don’t call her a folk singer, she says.
The 28-year-old guitarist, singer, and songwriter counts Aretha
the Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin as her major influences. All
three acts have long been associated with blues and soul music, really
two branches of the same tree that also includes gospel music. The
late Joplin was perhaps the greatest female white blues singer who
Yes, Collins sings blues. But she also sings funk and blues-infused
rock ‘n’ roll. Collins’ two CDs, a self-titled full length album
in 1997, and a recent five-track recording "Alone With The
have been making waves on commercial radio stations as well as adult
album alternative (Triple A) icons like Philadelphia’s WXPN-FM.
Jonny Meister, the popular, longtime host of "The Blues Show"
on Saturday nights on ‘XPN, says of Collins: "Finally Elvis with
cleavage…one of the musical surprises of the year." Collins
makes her Princeton debut at the Triumph Brewing Company on Nassau
Street this Saturday, February 26, at 10 p.m.
Collins actually lives in Arden, Delaware, a small village a bit north
of Wilmington. It’s an artists’ colony of sorts, she says. "My
first name Mary Arden came about because my parents liked the town
and the Shakespearean reference as well," Collins explains,
a very artsy, literary town. We have musicians, writers, and fine
Collins’ father is a lawyer who began his career as
a writer. Her mom took an early leave from teaching to raise five
children, of whom Mary Arden is the oldest. "I think that’s
where my writing comes from," Collins says of her dad and the
original songs on her two releases. Based on the quality of the
on her five-song CD, "Alone With The B-Sides," I’m betting
she’s got enough songs to easily record another two full-length
So did her father influence her genetically or was he an active
coach? Both, she says. "I think it was growing up in a household
where literature and writing were important and respected."
Collins didn’t begin playing guitar in earnest until after college,
as a kid she was already developing her voice and her songwriting.
"When I was really little I wrote songs for fun at home."
Collins recalls being moved by a husband-and-wife folk duo she saw
at church. At age 11, some of her friends suggested she audition for
a school production of "Annie." She got that gig and continued
singing with a procession of bands through high school. She also did
high school theater, community theater, and "even got paid"
for the latter, she adds.
"I loved the stage and I loved performing and I was able to
my stage presence," she explains. "Then one day it hit me:
I was getting tired of portraying other people and I thought it would
be great if I could do my own thing. So I was asked to sing back-up
in a band and that led to doing a couple of songs as a lead
She took a break from her singing endeavors to attend college at St.
Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She made her parents happy and
graduated in 1993 with a degree in fine art and English.
"Interestingly enough, they didn’t have a music program at St.
Joe’s," she recalls, "and when I decided to go to college,
I was at a crossroads. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to school for
music or for a liberal arts education. I chose liberal arts, and I
think it was good for me. Throughout my life, I’ve gone to small
schools, and it was good for me to get the individual attention and
confidence to believe I can do anything."
In any case, Collins gave up her singing-as-an-avocation role for
four years while attending St. Joe’s. But she spent her free time
checking out other musicians and listening to the radio and records.
"I think the main thing my St. Joe’s experience taught me was
that I can’t live without music in my life. I didn’t do that much
music while I was there and I felt like something in my life was
So how has she supported herself post-college? "I’ve
been full time with music for almost four years now," she says,
explaining how she came to another crossroads. Like a lot of recent
college graduates, she was unsure what direction to go in and what
to do. She was involved with the environmental movement and social
issues in college and thought she might make more of a mark on the
world by pursuing that. A good Irish Catholic, she was confused for
a while, like a lot of college graduates with a 1960s mindset who
were raised in the 1970s and ’80s.
"I really wanted to do something that would help the world become
a better place and I had to struggle when I got out. I really
whether it would be a selfish thing to do," she recalls, of her
eventual decision to pursue the life of a musician, a road usually
spread with plenty of potholes.
Fortunately Collins has supportive, hip parents who played the music
of the Rolling Stones, the Doors, and the Beatles in their home. When
she decided to try to make a living playing her own music, she took
a part-time job in customer service at the Medical Center of Delaware.
"When I was getting the music off the ground I did teaching at
pre-schools and I would sing at weddings and children’s birthday
anything that was music-related," she explains.
"Once I was booking a full time schedule, I was able to quit my
day job," she says. "It was only after much positive feedback
from my audiences, after people told me, `Your music touched me and
moved me and makes me think about things I’m usually complacent
that she decided to pursue music full-time. She was also empowered
by memories of her childhood songwriting done "just for fun."
That, she says, "came full circle when I grew up. I left this
one band I was in and decided I’d like to do that for myself."
Collins continued to develop her Wilmington-area audience. When
started asking when they could get the songs on a CD, she recruited
local musicians and recorded with a band. Today Collins does solo
shows as well as shows with a band. Her debut, "Mary Arden
was released in October, 1997. Immediately, a commercial radio station
in Wilmington latched onto it, and later, WXPN in Philadelphia began
playing it as well.
Once she started fronting her own band and doing her own shows, her
dad encouraged her to sing Janis Joplin as well as her original blues
and funk-infused rock songs. She began singing songs associated with
Joplin, like Kris Kristofferson’s "Me and Bobby McGee,"
Benz," and "Piece of My Heart."
"I got such a tremendous response every time I would sing Joplin,
and blues tunes in general, I thought I’d start writing some of my
own. Because those are the songs that really made me feel like I was
putting my whole self into the music, and with every breath I exhaled
it emptied me and then it just filled me back up again," she says.
At Triumph Brewing, Collins will be accompanied by her usual backing
band, which includes drummer Mark Beecher, bassist Paul Coletti, and
Rosann Mattei on lead guitar. All three are from the Philadelphia
Given the lack of any other major musical trend — besides rap
— Collins and her band just may have a shot at the big time with
their unique brand of soul and blues-influenced roots rock. Already,
Collins opened as a solo artist for blues singer Keb’ Mo’ on his
and New England tours last year, and she has opened for Lucinda
and the Doobie Brothers back home in the Wilmington area.
"I’ve heard people describe our music as folk-rock and bluesy
funk-rock. There are a lot of different abstracts thrown in
Collins says. "The one thing it’s not is acoustic folk music."
— Richard J. Skelly
Street, 609-924-7855. The guitarist, singer, and songwriter and her
funk and blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll. $3 cover. Saturday, February
26, 10 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.