• Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

Duke Collins’ Mom, Sharon Gipson aka “Mama Duke” Talks With ZRock’R About Her Son, Addiction, and The Upcoming Memorial Benefit This Weekend For The Charity She Has Founded In His Memory.


" My way of dealing with any bitterness I have towards things that I've been through, thats not to say that my life has been any worse than anybody elses, but it's my way of justifying it all. By making something positive out of it. Trying to present it to people in a way that gives my experiences some kind of meaning..." - Duke Collins ( Deadlights/ Droid)
” My way of dealing with any bitterness I have towards things that I’ve been through, that’s not to say that my life has been any worse than anybody elses, but it’s my way of justifying it all. By making something positive out of it. Trying to present it to people in a way that gives my experiences some kind of meaning…”   – Duke Collins


I consider myself blessed in many ways, mainly because I have been able to do things that a lot of people dream of doing but never dare get out of their comfort zone to attempt, and I have met a lot of awesome music folks because of that.  Definitely far from least of the people I have met in my travels was Duke Collins.   I first met Duke when Deadlights did their first tour of the states in support of their Warner Brothers release ( which you should go and find if you never heard it- because OMG- still think it was amazing!) opening for Danzig and Type O.  I was lucky enough to get to sit and chat with Duke about life and music and his hopes for the band and the future.  We did 2 more interviews after that- the last one being by phone when he was driving down the 405 in Southern California and I was sitting in my living room in Vegas,  after he had left his band and he was weighing out the options he had and deciding the next step musically.  Seems like a lifetime ago now, and little did I know that that last interview would be the last ever- why should I think that? The man had talent and I was sure we would see bigger and better things from him to come. It was just a matter of time.

Duke on stage, fronting The Deadlights
Duke on stage, fronting The Deadlights- circa 1998

When ZRock’R was doing the radio show on LV Rocks which I co-hosted, I would play Deadlights stuff now and then and one night, after playing “Falling Down”  I said to my co-hosts on air how awesome the band was live and I would love to know what Duke was up to these days-  and we proceeded to look for him and I was really happy when I was told he had been found- but I never expected to hear the words from my assistant, that we were just a matter of days too late, that Duke was gone, and his funeral was to be in just a few days.   I was in disbelief and truly saddened by that news.  Duke was a powerhouse on stage- a force to reckon with, and, he was one of the sweetest and most kind people you would ever meet off stage.   How could it be he was gone? Just like that?  We shared the news here and on the radio show and again were reminded of how short life really is.   When we learned what the cause was that led to his early departure from this big blue marble, the people that he so loved, his music and his beloved Southern California,  it was really heartbreaking to hear…..

Almost a year later and I got a call from fellow journalist who also works in PR,  Brenda Starr, and she told me that Duke’s Mom was putting together something to honor her son’s memory and to try and help other musicians who are dealing with some of the same things that Duke hadd and that she would like to talk with me.  I felt both surprised and very honored to say the least.   Sharon Gipson, or “Mama Duke” as she is known to Duke’s fans and friends,  is a very humble lady who loved her son dearly and like all Moms, tried her best to help him anyway she could.   Mama Duke is now putting together a foundation called  “Bridging the Gap”  as a way of  honoring Duke’s memory and trying to assist other musicians that, like Duke, want to get clean but because of the costs and the downtime required to do so, can’t afford to for fear of losing their home, or their car, or the only means they have to make money.   Yes folks, there is something called being a functioning addict and it happens more than you know and sadly, it is hard to break the cycle- no matter how badly they may want to…   That is where she hopes Bridging the Gap will come in.

So on a Sunday afternoon, I got the chance to sit and chat with Sharon ” Mama Duke” Gipson about the great things she has going on in Duke’s honor and about the show that is coming up in the area of California that Duke knew and loved….

" Mama Duke" Sharon Gipson has founded "Bridging The Gap" since losing her son, musician Duke Collins, to a heroin overdose in 2015
” Mama Duke” Sharon Gipson has founded “Bridging The Gap” since losing her son, musician Duke Collins, to a heroin overdose in 2015


ZR: Coming up soon is the memorial for Duke in Santa Ana. What made you decide to go public with everything and put together the memorial and work with getting help for others who are possibly in the same situation Duke was in?

Mama Duke: The biggest deciding factor was, I call it ” the Dukeness”.   I woke up one morning in early July, and it hit me. I was really tormented. I felt like I must’ve missed something for this to happen to him, and I thought there’s gotta be a way to make a bigger awareness so people can stop and look at their loved ones and say, “Okay, something’s not right.” I thought of all the things that Duke and I talked about; about him going into rehab and the reasons why he couldn’t go. I thought about his whole life and everything that he would’ve done had he still been here, and I decided that this is something that he would have done. It was based on a comment that he had made to me. He said, “I don’t want to be that guy, Mom.”He didn’t like being an addict. He was beautiful, respectful, kind, and sweet. I  kept seeing him in that light and thought, “Well, maybe it can’t be that bad, and

Duke on stage
Duke on stage

we’ll get through this.”, but it was. I just feel like the most important thing I could’ve done was to get out of denial, myself. I had to be able to stand up and say, “My son is an addict.” because in order to

help your loved ones, you have to see through clear eyes. If you’re in denial, then you’re not helping them. He was my first born. I have two other beautiful children, and this has caused me to look at them in a different light and say to myself, “Wait, I’m not going to miss anything this time.” Other parents need to do the same thing. We all need to not be at the point where we say should’ve, could’ve, would’ve. We need to do everything that we can now, while they are here. I looked at all of the people that loved him so much and listened to everything that they had to say at his memorial. I sat there for two and a half, three hours, listening to every person come up and say “He is the reason I’m sober. He encouraged me. He made me go to AA. He went with me. He was there for me.” I thought, “You saved all these people, but you couldn’t save yourself? Why?” I went back to the things he would say to me. “I can’t go into rehab, Mom. I won’t have anything when I come back. I won’t have a job, a place to live, a car, I won’t have anything.” While it is a personal decision for each person who needs to be in recovery to find that one moment when they wake up and say they are going, once they do make that decision, who’s going to be there to help them? Whether it’s a father who is leaving their wife and kids worried about how his kids are gonna eat, or whatever, those kids are going to eat. We are going to make sure that happens. We are going to make sure there are no excuses so that person can spend their 90 days in recovery and come out a whole, new person again.


ZR: That’s the biggest problem that people really have. You have the issue, and unless you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, or making a ton of money, you can’t go and get things taken care of to get yourself straight and sober again. You’re kind of stuck.
Mama Duke: Yeah. There’s too many. I want to focus on musicians first, and we won’t isolate ourselves to that though. I have a lot of ideas and a lot of plans to move forward with this. A lot of beneficiaries who can help too. We are losing a lot of musicians left and right though, day after day. What if you woke up one morning and turn on the radio and there was nothing there? No music. So, we have to be at the point where we can look at them and go “Okay, I see you need help, and I am here to help you.” I don’t know how else to make my son’s love of people and his life, I’m not trying to make him into a legend here, but I want his legacy and what he would have done had he been sober, and I know for a fact in my heart that he would have done this himself.
I have been able to not suspend my grief and my mourning... but, I have been able to work through it better... "I lost my son, but you don't have to." Sharon Gipson with her son, musician Duke Collins
” I have not been able to suspend my grief and my mourning… but, I have been able to work through it better… “I lost my son, but you don’t have to.” Sharon Gipson with her son, musician Duke Collins
ZR: I would completely agree with you.
Mama Duke: I have not been able to suspend my grief and my mourning. It’s nonstop and never goes away, but, I have been able to work through it better by standing up and saying, “I lost my son, but you don’t have to.” You don’t have to lose your child. You don’t have to lose your husband. There is something that can be done, and we are here. It helps ease the pain a little bit. It won’t bring him back, but I can feel him smiling down thinking this is what we need to do and that it’s awesome.
ZR: How did you get the different musicians? I know Sunflower Dead is playing, and I know there will be a reunion of The Deadlights with different people on vocals in Duke’s place. How did you get everyone together? I know when The Deadlights called it quits, they were not exactly getting along well.
Mama Duke: I’m going to tell you in just two words: ” The Dukeness”.  I just opened up my mouth and asked. I would wake up in the morning and go “Okay, I need this person.” and would just ask! The response has been so amazing, and the people who want to help are so fabulous! I can’t explain it. No one has said no! I had the fortunate experience to go to the Rising Suns and Black Sabbath concert this past week and met another person who said, “I was very close to Duke for like twenty years, and, I’d love to be involved!” The more we have that can stand and tell people to open their eyes and stop looking at those you love through veiled glasses and understand that they need your help. They can’t do it by themselves. Everyone has had the same attitude and same concept. The only thing I can say is “The Dukeness”!  Everyone had such a great love for my son. One of my board members who happens to be a wonderful friend that I work with, we were outside talking and I said I wanted to do this so no one loses themselves over a silly reason. I asked if she’d help me and she said, “Yeah! I’m in!” I asked what we’d call it, and we looked at each other, and I said “We need to bridge the gap between success and this.” There you have it, Bridge the Gap.
ZR: I know that Rock for Recovery is involved as well. How did you get them involved?
Mama Duke: One of my other board members, Dawn, who I have known a number of years. She said he had done things like this in the past and would probably like to get involved, so to give him a call. So, I called him, and I opened up my mouth and asked, and he said he would love to be a part of it and backed us 100%. We have taken off from there and have been picking up people left and right, and things are going well.
ZR:I’ll possibly be talking with Jerry Montano hopefully too…..
Mama Duke: Jerry… I love Jerry to death. He held my daughter’s hand and mine through the first traumatic days of losing my son. Had it not been for Jerry I would have been in a padded room somewhere. My daughter is my rock. Jerry was there for us 100%. He has my utmost respect and love. I call him my other son. He had a great love for Duke as well. He still does…
ZR: Duke was awesome. From the time that I interviewed him and getting to meet him, he glowed. Pardon the cliche, but he had really good energy.
Mama Duke: He did. I recently had a spiritual advisor tell me that he had a white light inside of him.
ZR:  He made you feel comfortable. That’s one thing I remember about the first time I interviewed him. He made me feel very comfortable and at ease. Some musicians make you feel very uncomfortable and have the attitude of “Well, I’m the rockstar on stage and you’re just a girl and why should I talk to you, oh I guess I have to.” Duke was welcoming. He greeted you like an old friend, even though he’d just met you. So interviewing him again and again was like picking up a conversation with your friend that lives across country.
Mama Duke: Sylvia, I want to share a little short story from his memorial. It wraps up what you just said about Duke. I listened to everyone coming up, and I wanted to wait until everyone was done before I went up, because I wanted to hear what everyone had to say about him. This one guy comes up and says, “None of you people know me. I’ve never seen any of you before, and you probably have never seen me before. I can see there’s a lot of musicians out here. Duke used to come into the Walgreens where I work. I’m a clerk there. I’m a nobody. He would come in almost every day. Every time he came in he would call me by name, ask me how I was, how my family was, and if I had shared a story with him a few days before, he’d ask me how it was going. He was just a regular guy. One day I was driving down the PCH and saw him walking down the street. I thought I’d give him a ride. So, I pull over and say, ‘Do you need a ride?’ and he said, ‘Yeah! Thanks, dude!’ He got in the car, and it wasn’t until a couple of days later that I found out I had just given a rockstar a ride. I never had any clue because he treated me like a human being.” That’s how he was with everybody.
Hey we recognize that place! Duke cruising the Vegas strip...
Hey we recognize that place!   Duke cruising the Vegas strip…
ZR: That’s exactly it. He didn’t treat you any different. He didn’t treat you like you were below him. It was like, “Okay. Here’s another person.” He was something special.
Mama Duke: Thank you. I thank you so much for reaching out a year ago and sending me that interview. That was so fabulous. To give you a whole sum as to why I am doing this, there are so many reasons, and it won’t bring him back, but if I could just help one mother to not go through what I have gone through, that will be worth a million dollars to me.
ZR: I think that sums it up perfectly.

Mama Duke: We have so many fascinating people coming to the event, and it has been so much work. I really appreciate everybody who has helped put it together. I have never done anything like this before. My son was so protective of me, that being his mother, a lot of people go “How could you not know all of these people?” He was insanely and selfishly protective of me. I would go to one of his shows and he would make sure that someone was babysitting me. I’m not kidding! His eyes were on me at all times, even when he was playing. He’d make me be b

Family was something Duke held dear, no matter the distance.
Family was something Duke held dear, no matter the distance.

ackstage by one of those huge speakers or somewhere else where he could physically see me. As soon as he was done playing he would jump off the stage and say, “Hi, Mommy.” He’d grab me and whisk me off. He might introduce me to one or two people and then we’d run off to dinner or a movie. He didn’t let me hang around. He was always like that. The very first show that I ever went to was way back in the day when he played a little place in Newport Beach or Costa Mesa. I’d come to visit and my brothers said that Duke was playing, and I wanted to go and he goes, “No, you can’t go, Mom.” I asked him why and he goes, “Well, because. You just can’t go. That’s not a place for you.” So, he walked off and my brother said, “Oh, you’re going.” So, they snuck me in. The minute that Duke saw me, he almost flew off the stage. He finished his song and flew out and goes, “Oh my God, Mom! What are you doing here?” Well, to watch him play, and he goes, “Mom. This is not the kind of music a woman like you should be listening to.” He was like that all the time! He looked at my brothers and between gritted teeth said, “Get her out of here.” and they said no, haha. So, he goes, “Oh my God, Mom. Stay right there. DON’T MOVE!” They had a mosh pit and stuff going on. So, he was always like that. He never raised a fist to me. He never swore at me. He treated me like I was the most precious rose that had ever bloomed on a bush. He treated me like a queen in every fashion at all times. He never missed a beat. He’d do little things out of the blue like send me Chanel No. 5.  The Christmas before (he passed), I am adopting two of my grandchildren, and he called me up and said, “I’m not going to make it out, but I ran into Wal-Mart and saw a bunch of things for you to get the kids.” I was hoping it wouldn’t be too much because I’m just a regular working Joe. He told me he had sent money. That’s how he was. The kids got new bikes and toys and games. Uncle Duke made Christmas. It gave him pleasure and joy. That’s just what he always did.

ZR: Is there anything that you want the world to remember about Duke in particular?

Mama Duke: I would like them to remember that he had a great care and a great love for everyone around him. It didn’t matter who they were, what they did, or how they came into his life. He had a great respect for humanity. I have his journal, and one of the things that he wrote in there that was most profound to me was something to the effect of, “I don’t understand how people treat others the way they do. It’s not supposed to be like that. You’re supposed to care for other people. You’re supposed to look out for other people.” I think that is how I would like them to remember him. He was not a scumbag who was looking for his next hit here or there with a paper bag in his hand, sleeping on the sidewalk. He was walking around just like we do. I want them to remember him as the kind, beautiful person that he was. Like I said, if he were here, he’d be doing the same thing for them now. ”

Duke with one of the tribal elders- Duke is of Cherokee heritage.
Duke with one of the tribal elders- Incase you didn’t know, Duke was of Cherokee heritage.
Mama Duke would like to add that she absolutely cannot take all of the credit for what we are doing. It is the combined efforts of many, who all loved Duke in each their own way. Each and every one. We all want the same thing.
Thank you so much Mama Duke for taking the time to chat with me- it was indeed an honor.
Duke was an amazing person- one who will be missed dearly by family, friends, and fans alike-  
May Duke’s star forever shine and guide those who look for solace to the help they so need- 
They may very well just find it with his own Mom,  as she works to bridge the gap…

We can’t encourage you enough to attend if possible  The Duke Collins Memorial & Concert w/ The Deadlights this Saturday, March 19,  in Santa Ana, California.

Here are all the details:

Duke Collins Memorial & Concert to benefit the creation of Bridging The Gap w/ The Deadlights, Death Division, Sunflower Dead & Radiodrone at The Underground DTSA, Santa Ana, California-  This Saturday, March 19, 2016

You can get tickets at: Duke Memorial TICKETS

There will be a Special Presentation by Wes Geer from Hed PE & Korn

There will also be a raffle for an Avenged Sevenfold autographed guitar donated by M. Shadows at the event.



Proceeds will go to benefit Bridging The Gap


All Star Jam Sessions with:
Dave Buckner Papa Roach
Bill Hudson Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Joey Gold Love/Hate
Sonny Mayo Snot & Sevendust
Carl Benseley Snot
Wes Geer Hed PE & Korn
DJ Product Hed PE
Nate Lawler Death on Wednesday
Clinton Calton D.I.
Mike Dupke W.A.S.P.
Loyd Grant original Metallica guitarist
Ronnie King – Offspring & Platinum Selling Music Producer
Tumor from Snot
Mike Duda W.A.S.P. Nation (Official)
Marcelo Moreira Circle II Circle

and more to be announced

The show is age 21+

You can get show updates here: DUKE MEMORIAL UPDATES

If you are unable to make the show,  you can still help.  Please send your donations for Bridging the Gap HERE

PHOTO CREDIT:  Photos courtesy of Sharon Gipson and Duke Collins Facebooks, Used with permission 
Photo of Duke on Stage by Vincent Photo courtesy of Brenda Starr 
The Deadlights photo courtesy Warner Bros Records.
Video from youtube.com ” AmiroftheDesert” channel

By Sylvia Lee

Editor/ Staff Writer and Co-Founder of ZRock'R Magazine. Sylvia has worked in and around music since she was 16, though it has always been a part of her life. In radio ( her last radio job was in the mid-90's at KKLZ before departing for other pursuits) , as part of various tour support/production crews, in promotion of both bands and even clubs (recipient of the Climax/Plan C Entertainment Blackberry Award in 2007 for her work as production manager of the Las Vegas MC Jin show ) and in rock journalism with a music column in the late 80′s called MusicLine in the Independent News in central Illinois. Sylvia has also has written articles and reviews for SCOPE, The Reader, Las Vegas Music Scene Magazine, Vegas SoundZ (she was PR director for LVMS where she helped push a little known and upcoming at the time Vegas photographer then known as Shane O'Neil Dobbs ( he later dropped the Dobbs), landing him his first concert shoot for a publication with Nine Inch Nails at the Thomas and Mack in '95) and she also did PR for Vegas SoundZ when they were in print). She also was a contributor to LA’s FIX Magazine. Sylvia credits her love of rock journalism and working in and around it to the person she calls the “First Lady of Rock n Roll Journalists” The legendary Jaan Uhelszki who co-founded influential music publication CREEM Magazine, but also gives a nod to the women who were also involved in the early days like Lisa Robinson and photographer Lynn Goldsmith. Sylvia's eye for talent and ear for great music have never failed her. Ever sarcastic with a love for Metal, Grunge, Punk, and Industrial Music; the occasional glass of fine wine; enjoying some classic movies (the original Universal horror films are a favorite) or binging episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, Good Omens or all 4 seasons of Stranger Things - she is the fearless leader of this bunch of talented lunatics.

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