The other morning, while taking a much needed shower at my folks house where the humidity was steady at 90% and listening to my iPad's Spotify cache on Shuffle, this song came on and stayed in my head for the rest of the day. Looking it up after my shower, it said I had cached it from the album Columbia Country Classics Volume Three - Americana. Not remembering why I would cache a nearly fifty year old song I had no recollection of ever hearing before, I began to obsess over my playlist and to the best of my deductive capabilities, it looks like I had intended to cache the next song on the album, Johnny Cash's classic "A Boy Named Sue", but instead saved the Tommy Collins track "If You Can't Bite Don't Growl". Another happy accident.
First thing I did was look up the other four volumes in the Columbia Country Classics series on Spotify and spend a few hours listening to them via the spotty DSL connection at the little house in the Ozarks. A few days later in a hotel room in Roswell, New Mexico, when I finally had a strong enough WiFi signal to stream video, I looked the song up on YouTube and found this wonderful performance from The Buck Owens Show. It is from the second episode of the series and it originally aired in syndication on March 15, 1966. After a brief introduction from Buck himself, Tommy comes in at 8:10, backed by the Buckaroos:
Further research revealed that Owens and Collins had known each other professionally for at least thirteen years by the time of the show's taping in early 1966. When Leonard Sipes was first signed by Capitol Records in 1953, he changed his name to Tommy Collins and assembled a band of Bakersfield, California's finest, including a then unknown Buck Owens on guitar. After six consecutive Top 15 Country hits, Collins had a religious awakening and, after a few years at a Bible college, he became a pastor. He continued to record but most of his songs were sacred and neither Capitol nor Collins felt any need to promote them and his contract expired quietly in 1960. Sometime in 1963, Tommy Collins had a change of heart and moved back to Bakersfield and "If You Can't Bite, Don't Growl" was his last Top 40 charting hit, reaching number 7 in 1966; coincidentally, the single peaked the same week that second episode of The Buck Owens Show aired. The song has since been incorporated into the Country Bear Jamboree attraction at Disney World where young HERC may or may not have heard it in 1980 or 2001. Collins passed on in 2000.