An Early Rock Pioneer:
1940 - 1991
Matt Collins was born as Karlo Metikosh on February 8, 1940 in Zagreb,
Croatia (former Yugoslavia). Studied to become a classical pianist but
got absorbed into rock and roll in 1956 via couple of singles (Bill
Haley, Elvis, Little Richard)that he got as a present with an imported
record player. Finding replacement needles for western gramophones was
next to impossible in 50's Yugoslavia so he had to improvise with
ordinary sewing needles to cater for his hunger for music. Needles to
say he played those few precious records to the bone.
Got his first paying job in 1958 in a cabaret show. Since nobody in the
management knew nothing about rock and roll they simply filed him under
Negro spirituals and made him wear black shoe polish makeup on stage.
In 1959 he puts together a vocal group "Regal", and sings to French
tourists in holiday resorts on the Adriatic coast. The band appears a
few times on regional television which sparks a controversy over its
name. In Serbo-Croatian language "Regal" is most commonly associated
with a three wing wardrobe.
In December of 1961, encouraged by French "fans", Matt arrives in Paris
with only a Dollar in his pocket. He had spent his modest budget on a
trendy shirt in Dannemark. For some time he lives in the street or in
shelters and goes to auditions. Finally, he gets to play at American
army bases. For this he had to learn the songs which were popular
stateside. Since he had little money, Matt went to a record shop on
Chaps du Elliseys where they had booths for listening. He spent hours in
that store played all the songs several times until he learned them all.
At that time Matt caught the attention of Phillips Records as one of the
most popular singers in a club called "Golf Druo". Philips records
coupled him with a vocal group "Double Six of Paris" in an
effort to cover the Cascade's hit "Rhythm of the Rain" in French. Making
cover of American hits in native language was a common practice
throughout Europe, for these records easily outsold the originals. The
record was a huge hit in France which led to further singles on Philips
like "Nobody But You" and "She's Not You".
In 1962 riding high on the tide of his French fame (in the poles he was
higher than Syvie Vartan and Johny Hallyday- The French Elvis) Matt
comes back to Yugoslavia. He toured his homeland a few times in the mid
6O's, always to fanatic response of the audience. Yugoslav singer have
always been popular in the Soviet Union, so Matt joined a few package
shows. In this country he was known as the Man of steel (Zheleiznoe
Thchowek) because of his gold lame suit like the one made famous by
Elvis. It was here that he was ordered to sing either in Russian or
Serbo-Croatian, because whenever he sang in English the authorities had
to bring policemen on horses to calm down the audience. Eventually a
deal was struck.
One song per concert COULD be sung in English.
From 1966 to 1971 Matt and his band were under contract to appear in
Hilton Hotels across Mediterranean, Asia and Africa.
In Teheran he appeared with an Italian band on The Schah's birthday
party. Time was scarce to prepare a sort of "Happy Birthday" song, so
Matt came up with the idea to sing a rock version of a Croatian folk
song "Mariza"-"These are not the sails of my boat, they are the
underpants of my girlfriend Mariza". The Schah Resa Pahlavi liked the
song and awarded each member of the band with a golden coin.
In Morocco he played for the harem of King Hasan. The band was locked in
the bathroom, golden plumbing and all, while the speakers were placed in
the actual premises of the harem.
Once in Addis Ababa during the meeting of The Organisation of African
Unity, the emperor Bokhasa, later to come to international fame as
cannibal, liked their music so much that he offered to buy the band a
drink. Matt tried to negotiate a Dom Perignon, but Bokhasa was an anti
alcoholic so he ordered the waiter to bring them each a cup of coffee.
In 1971 he returns to Yugoslavia once more. He meets an upcoming young
singer Josipa Lisac. It was love at first sight. Matt gives up his
singing for a role of live-in husband and an exclusive songwriter.
Josipa becomes one of the biggest stars of former Yugoslavia and still
remains a huge celebrity in her native Croatia.
During the 70's Matt draws attention to himself as author of rock opera
"Gubec Beg", based on a leader of peasants uprising. In the 80's and
until his death in 1991 Matt Collins was the songwriting force behind
his wife's huge success.
In 1984 he caused a stir in the media being a bad boy behind Josipa's
sold out concert in the capital of Yugoslavia, Belgrade.
During the course of that same night Matt, Josipa and their party
crashed a Folk Club where the newspapermen saved Matt's life by
preventing him from snatching the microphone away from the house singer.
Now a reader should be avare that Yugoslav folk music consists from a
Accordion based melody with Greek and Turkish elements thrown in for
good measure. Singing R&R there, would be like trying to enlighten
guests at a Hassidic wedding with a little Heavy Metal. Matt was in a
grave mood:" Maybe these people never heard of Rock and Roll. In my time
we had The Twist, Madison.. Do I have to learn to KOLO (a traditional
ring dance)just to save myself from being run over by the crowd?"
The party had a meal during which Matt indulged in some target practise
using tchevapchtci ( a grilled minced meat fingers) as ammo and singer
as a target.
The next stop of Matt's Belgrade cruise was a trendy discotheque. The DJ
spotted Matt and unearthed a copy of "Hey Hey Hey"-(a Little Richard's
cover). Nobody could stop Matt from grabbing the mike this time and
singing along with his voice on the record. This all came as quite a
shock to regulars raised on Duran Duran and Boy George.
Nevertheless the raw energy vibes it was reported in the press, was
something that everyone understands and is able to feel.
Matt got a standing ovation for his little stunt-some applauded to the
legend whom the recognised, others to the brave imitator of the singer
from that strange old record.
Matt Collins died in summer of 1991. Exactly one year later his wife
Josipa launched the first of now annual tribute concerts where
contemporary artists mix with 60's veterans to pay homage to a great man
and Rock and Roll - the music that started it all.
courtesy: Miroslav Schossberger
© Rockabilly Hall of Fame ®