The news spread on social media like a shockwave Tuesday following the death of one of Bakersfield's most beloved musicians.

Local trumpeter and bandleader John Hollins, who had been on life support for more than two weeks at a local hospital, succumbed early Tuesday to complications following two bouts of open-heart surgery earlier this month.

He was 66.

"Music was the love of his life," said Tracy Peoples, who was holding back tears Tuesday as she talked about her friend and musical mentor.

Peoples met Hollins at a Kern River Blues Society jam held at Trout's in Oildale in 2009. Hollins was the jam master and he invited Peoples up to sing.

"We started becoming friends," she remembered.

Eventually Hollins would form the John Hollins Band and Peoples would become its lead singer.

"But I'm only a fraction of his incredible history," she said.

On Tuesday, one musician after another, one fan after another, posted or commented on Facebook until the river of grief and sympathy and admiration seemed to have hit flood stage.

"John Hollins was a true son of Bakersfield. I was his biggest fan," said veteran singer-songwriter Monty Byrom.

"There will never be another like John Hollins. I know he had a long, great run in life. I will not only miss his friendship and company, but also his trumpet playing. I am forever grateful for all the times I spent playing in his band," wrote keyboard wizard Chris Neufeld.

"When you play with someone that much over the years, you can almost anticipate what will happen next. Saying goodbye to John when I moved away (to Idaho) was as tough as it gets," wrote saxophonist Dennis Wilson, who teamed up with Hollins many times over the years.

"Our last recordings together," he said, "are now forever on Monty Curtis Byrom’s record 'The Byrom Brothers-The Age of Music.'"

Phil Conner, who visited Hollins' hospital bed at Bakersfield Memorial daily — and posted reports each day of Hollins' progress — and lack thereof — was trying to make sense of it all following Tuesday's sudden turn.

Years before, Hollins had suffered a brain aneurysm and had to have it surgically repaired. Then came colon surgery and bladder surgery. He's been through a lot, Conner said.

"But he was so resilient," Peoples said. "I was confident he would bounce right back again. He's always been a fighter."

Born May 26, 1953, Hollins family history is spotty.

His son, Sean Hollins, who lives in Lompoc, said his father was born in Arkansas, but is not clear on exactly when he arrived in Bakersfield.

"He was adopted by Harry and Viola Hollins, one or both of whom were journalists at The Californian.

"Music was definitely a big part of his life," said Sean Hollins. "He played trumpet in church."

At West High School, John performed in marching, concert and jazz bands. And by a young age he was playing in local rock bands, including the influential blues band D'Blue along with other late local legends "Daddy" Ray Arvizu and Sonny "California" Lackey.

Three marriages and three divorces would also be part of his life, along with raising children, working as a carpenter, and navigating a music career.

Several friends said Hollins was proud that he was sober the last eight years of his life. And despite performing in bars and other venues where alcohol was served, he never again succumbed to the temptation.

"John's passing has left a void in my life," said Ernie Lewis, a local musician and singer who performed with Hollins for years. "My heart is with his family and friends, (a group in) which I am proud to be to be included."

It's a huge group.

"I was a fan my whole life, since I was 8," remembered Byrom, who performed on stage as well as in recording studios with Hollins.

"I met him the same day I met Sonny California, at the Pierces' house on Sunset (Avenue). He was always nice to me and my buddies. That goes a long way when you're a kid.

"I'm so proud that we got him on our last record," Byrom said. "He was humble and lovable right to the end.

"I must have said this a thousand times 'Hey John did you bring your horn?'

"Now he can blow it with Gabriel because Bakersfield lost one of it's best today."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

(1) comment

99 Cent Comedian

I asked John once why he chose the trumpet. He said when he was five years old he saw Louis Armstrong at Disneyland and he knew then. At age 14 he said he was first chair for Bakersfield Symphony. He also said he'd been in the orphanage in the building that later became Sinaloa's Restaurant downtown. It was an unpleasant time for him as you can imagine. There was physical abuse in the orphanage,

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