MY first wages in journalism were blown on an old Selmer Pennsylvania tenor saxophone that someone had traded in for an organ to the keyboard shop at the top of Leith Walk in Edinburgh. Although I’d been raised on jazz by my father it was really Mel Collins who was to blame for that.

Collins was on many of the records I loved most in the pre-punk mid-1970s of my teenage years. Crucially he was part of King Crimson, whose particular band of progressive rock has proved more lastingly influential than that of any of their contemporaries. He also played on Streetwalkers, the fine album songwriting team Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney made when their adventurous band Family called it a day.

The funky direction of his playing on that disc was more fully explored in the music of the excellent Kokomo, the London-based r'n'b combo who were contemporaries, touring partners and friendly rivals of Scotland’s Average White Band, where the Collins sax soloed alongside the guitars of Jim Mullen and Neil Hubbard and a peerless vocal line-up.

Since then his distinctive sax style has graced work by The Rolling Stones, Stray Cats, Clannad and Darts, while his career had the ups and downs experienced by many a musician. When Celtic Connections honoured the songwriting of Gerry Rafferty in 2012, Mel Collins was onstage, although his is not the voice of the famous solo on Baker Street – a tale recounted by Rob Adams in these pages at the time.

This month, Collins is back in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and back in the company in which I first heard him, King Crimson. The latest line-up of the band boasts no fewer than three drummers, Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey, alongside the keyboards of Bill Rieflin, bassist Tony Levin, with founding guitarist Robert Fripp, Jakko Jakszyk on guitar and vocals, and Collins on saxes and flute. Covering every era of the band’s output, they make a sophisticated sound and can also be, as you might expect, quite loud.

Jakszyk is crucial to the rapprochement that brought this edition together. Ten years younger than Fripp and Collins, and a musician whose diverse background includes work with Swing Out Sister, The Kinks and former members of Japan, he played King Crimson music with ex-members of the band in the 21st Century Schizoid Band, a project that won the blessing of Fripp, keeper of the King Crimson name.

“Thirty years ago I didn’t want anything to do with him,” Collins says now of his band leader. “Robert can be very difficult to work with, but he has now apologised for all the mean things he said.”

The sax-man’s memories of his time with King Crimson are fascinating, if not altogether happy. His last album with the band was the live Earthbound, recorded on tour in America by a band that also included Boz Burrell, recruited as a vocalist and taught to play bass by Fripp. In a constantly fluctuating line-up, auditions were a regular event, and Collins remembers Bryan Ferry as among those who turned up applying to sing.

“That band played a British tour, some dates in Germany, and in America,” says Collins. “They were package shows with Humble Pie, Black Oak Arkansas and Alexis Korner – all sorts of different styles of music that people would be happy to hear at festivals. It was a very healthy situation in those days.”

The American trips also gave Collins the opportunity to hear his jazz heroes and the desire to play different sorts of music, so although he was asked to stay on for the band that would record the very different-sounding Larks Tongues in Aspic album, he decided he couldn’t go any further.

“I decided I was not going to be beaten down any more, but I drove away in tears when I was 22 years old and left King Crimson behind.”

Music had been all that Collins had known. His father was also a saxophonist, a sought-after studio session player who played on film scores and on television variety shows from the London Palladium, as well in the big bands of Geraldo, Jack Parnell, and Roy Fox. His mother was a singer in the Fox band and the couple were doing a summer season on the Isle of Man in 1947 when Collins was born.

“I had piano lessons at 10 and then got a clarinet when I was 11 or 12, which was the time of the trad jazz revival and Acker Bilk playing Stranger on the Shore.”

Collins remembers receiving no encouragement at school in Epsom though, where music was limited to “bell-ringing and recorders”, and his father did not approve of rock’n’roll when his son picked up on the sax playing on recordings by Little Richard and Fats Domino and then went to see The Rolling Stones play at Epsom Baths.

“But because my parents were in the business, they didn’t worry about me not having a ‘proper job’, so by the time I was 17 or 18 I was playing in a covers band that won a residency at the Star Club in Hamburg, where The Beatles had played, and I turned professional. In those days that meant applying for a work permit – and of course that may be coming up again.”

Back in London, Collins played second tenor in a soul band as well as in jazz-rock groups, when a gig at the Marquee Club brought the invitation to join King Crimson after the band’s debut album In the Court of the Crimson King had become a huge success. But Germany was to feature significantly in Collins’ career when it hit the doldrums years later.

“In the 1990s the session work scene dried up. I had domestic problems and other issues, and I was playing gigs just to pay the mortgage. Eventually I lost the house and split up from my wife.”

At this low ebb, he took a gig playing with Marius Muller-Westernhagen, a German actor and singer who is a stadium-filling institution there. That enabled him to buy a houseboat that became his home and led later to an invitation to join the house band for a German television chat show that became very popular with a younger generation for its irreverent humour. A six-month contract became 18 years of work, during which time Collins kept his musical interest alive by playing on the underground music scene in Cologne, and would sometimes escape to do tours with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, leaving a local dep to fill the TV gig.

Around the time it came to an end, the call came from Jakko Jakszyk to play King Crimson music again, and then Robert Fripp decided it was time to become involved, and Collins knew he could handle that this time around.

“Of course we all thought that having three drummers was not going to work, but it is so well orchestrated it does, although it is bit loud at times. But the standard of musicianship in the band is so high people are blown away, and we play material from the whole range of King Crimson music, right back to those early 70s albums.”

And more lucrative these days, I wonder?

“Yes, it has been amazing and very profitable. Robert has always made sure that we all get an equal split – and the crew stays in the same hotels!”

Collins doesn’t quite spell it out, but egalitarianism coming to the court of the Crimson King is possibly more of a surprise than the generous quotient of drummers.

King Crimson play Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Monday November 12 and Edinburgh Playhouse on Tuesday November 13.