A superb guitarist in both small-combo and orchestral settings, John Collins had a truly epic career. His decision to make a life of music could be seen as following a family tradition, since his mother was the flamboyant pianist and bandleader Georgia Gorham. But the way Collins went about making music may have also represented a negative reaction to the out-front nature of entertainers such as his mother, who came out of the vaudeville and medicine show traditions. Guitarists such as Collins tend to stay way in the background, carefully crafting chord voicings that will hide them like mist. Collins' most famous playing relationship ended up being with Nat King Cole, a setting where the guitarist became famous for never taking solos! His first instrument, the clarinet, was a different sort of beast, incapable of doing anything but sitting on top of the rest of the band. Collins switched to guitar sometime before relocating from Alabama to Chicago, where Frank Langham was his first serious teacher.