In early 1968 Chess Records dispatched gospel-drenched singer Mitty Collier to the humid halls of Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
The Chicago label enjoyed a Muscle Shoals rebirth with Etta James at Fame and in February, 1968 New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas had a Chess hit with Otis Redding’s “Good To Me” which was recorded with the country-soul magic at Fame.
One of the first things on the agenda was a remake of Collier’s 1961 Chess recording “Gotta Get Away From It All.”
Written by Collier’s colllege compatriot Lloyd Reese, “Gotta Get Away From It All” is a scorching ballad about domestic abuse……
…..In a dramatic phone call to her mother, Coillier laments how “he beats me and scods me….and knocks me down.” Her desparate voice crests while matching the big blues horn arrangements. Broaching that behind-the-doors subject in a 1961 era that was defined by Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care of My Baby” and Pat Boone’s “Moody River” was dicey marketing.
“That was my first song for Chess,” Collier, 71, said during a conversation in the office of her More Like Christ Christian Fellowship Church, 82nd and Dobson in Chicago. “I got the reputation for being the first one to talk in a song (before rapper Millie Jackson). It was true. It was hard to do at the time but now people associate with that song. The topic is more open today.”
By 1972 Collier indeed had gotten away from it all.
She left rhythm and blues and became an ordained minister.
She does not sing secular material except in the play “The Mitty Collier Story: From Man To God” which will be presented at 6 p.m. Nov. 17 at the JLM Abundant Life Center, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd. [($25; (708) 997-0687]. Collier also has a new gospel album ” I Owe It All To The World,” (Dialtone) that features the Rev. James Cleveland’s “I Had a Talk With God Last Night,” from which Collier delivered her secular 1964 Chess hit “I Had a Talk With My Man.” Collier wrote her play in the late 1980s.
Mitty at her church, Nov. 2012 (Rich Hein photo)
From 1978 to 2003 she was editorial assistant for the Journal of Chemical Physics at the University of Chicago.
“Chess was trying to get that Stax-Memphis sound with me,” “That’s why they went to Rick Hall and Muscle Shoals. I’m doing that song in the play.” The Muscle Shoals version is also the lead off track on the stunning “Shades of Mitty Collier (The Chess Singles 1961-68) which is available at Dusty Groove in Chicago.
Collier’s success with Chess took her across America.
“One year I was on a package tour where Jackie Wilson was the star,” she recalled. “Gladys Knight and the Pips were on. The Temptations. Barbara Lynn. We lived on the main strip in Birmingham (Ala.). My parents fixed all this food when we got to town. After the show at the City Auditorium the big bus pulled up on my Dad’s lawn. Everybody got out. Now, Jackie Wilson had his three Cadillacs. He traveled in one Cadillac and two Cadillacs carried his clothes (laughs). Everybody got to drinkin’ and smokin’. My Dad had this little tool shed in the back. When everybody ran out of alcohol, my Dad went back there and got some Jim Beam and Bourbon. They drank that stuff up as fast as they could. Gladys (Knight) and I were close. She mentions me in her book because we were both married to fellows named Jimmy. Gladys said I was the confidant that she needed.
“I guess I was doing that before I became a preacher.”
Collier is better known around the south side of Chicago for her community outreach work than as a rhythm and blues singer. The pulpit of her modest church—originally a corner laundromat–feature posters which read “God Said Thou Shall Not Kill.”
She started a Bible Study Telephone Prayer Line in 1983 as a member of the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church on the south side of Chicago.
The prayer line still exists.
“We had 40 members from the choir start on six different lines,” Collier explained. “I was teaching on all the lines. At that time I would call you, they would call somebody else. Now we have conference lines where each line has its own number and I can join in on any line I want. It starts at 4:20 in the morning with six lines. We study from the same book. We do that 365 days a years until 9 a.m. Now, I’m not on at 4:20 every morning. I get in the lines when I get ready. But I’m on the line every day.”
Call to make an appointment to get in the line 708-868-2091.
Mitty has been talking since her 1964 Chess smash “I Had a Talk With My Man,” later a hit for Dusty Springfield.
The phone line expanded into Collier’s “Feed A Neighbor (FAN) outreach, which also still exists.
“We started on the second Saturday of February, 1985,” she said. “The coldest day of the year. Members of our prayer line fixed up hot food and we served it from the trunk of our cars in a vacant lot at 63rd and King Drive. We later went to 47th and Vincennes. Within 15 minutes there all the food was gone. Every bit of it. People were coming out of doorways, cars. Homeless folks. We stayed there until 2003 when I started the church. Then we went to the parking lot at 1818 E. 71st. Now we do it from the parking lot across the street here.”
“I can’t stop doing this.”
The More Like Christ Christian Fellowship Church is at 82nd and Dobson [(773) 371-2448.]. Collier also preaches and sings traditional gospel at 11 a.m. every Sunday at the modest 100-seat non-denominational church.
FAN is held between 10 a.m. and noon the second Saturday of every month.
The next FAN will be on December 8, which features BOB (Bags Of Blessings).
“I can’t get away from acronyms,” Collier said with a laugh. “For Christmas we give away bags of blessings with fruits, candies, hats, scarves. Its about 400 bags. Its always enough. And if it is too cold we serve from the back of the church. The men from the church come and set up tables. We have the clothing on racks. And in all these years we’ve never had an incident. When we were on 47th Street and someone would come up and mess with the stuff, the people would stop them. We would have up to 600 people. Now we have about 125.”
A sense of community is even reflected in her play.
The young Mitty Collier is portrayed by Victoria Brady, an actress who also operates the Ray of Hope Center of the Arts on 71st St. Collier has known Brady since she was a teenager.
“She’s a fantastic singer,” Collier said. “She’s been in plays like ‘Dreamgirls.’ I take the rest of the play out.”
Collier cannot live in gospel and secular worlds at the same time.
“It’s an individual thing, I guess,” she said. “I’m totally committed. I know where I came from. If I hadn’t changed I wouldn’t be here today. The God I serve says you cannot serve two masters. That is in the book. Other people may be able to, like Aretha (Franklin). I can’t. Maybe Al (Green) can do both, maybe he didn’t make the complete change over like I did. I won’t criticize anybody. I’m talking about me. This is what I do. I don’t find it hard to do the R&B in the play because that’s my life. But outside of that I won’t do it for no amount of money.
“Under no circumstance.”