MITTY COLLIER-SHADES OF A GENIUS.

MITTY COLLIER-SHADES OF A GENIUS.

When I was writing my review of The Fame Records Story-1961-1973, one of the tracks I mentioned was Mitty Collier’s Take Me Just As I Am which she recorded at the legendary Fame Studios in 1968. Until the box set was released last year in 2011, this excellent track had never been released. Back in 1968, Mitty’s career was struggling, and she’d been sent to Rick Hall at Fame in an attempt to revitalize her career. However, four years previously, in 1964, Mitty had recorded the track that most people will remember her by, the stunning I Had A Talk With My Man Last Night, the secular version of I Had A Talk With God Last Night. This was the biggest single of Mitty’s career, reaching number forty-one in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B Charts. A year later, in 1965, Mitty released her debut album, Shades of A Genius.

When Mitty recorded I Had A Talk With My Man Last Night, she was just twenty-three years old, and blessed with the most soulful of voices. She could bring songs to life, inject emotion and passion, as well as make a song swing. Since she’d been a teenager, she’d been singing in church, joining gospel groups The Hayes Ensemble and The Lloyd Reese Singers. Later, when she was at college, she started singing in the local rhythm and blues clubs to pay her way through college. Then, while spending time in Chicago in 1959, Mitty entered disc jockey Al Benson’s talent show  at the Regal Theatre. Amazingly, she won the show six consecutive weeks, resulting in her winning a chance to perform at a concert where Etta James and B.B. King were topping the bill. It was at this concert that Ralph Bass first became aware of Mitty Collier. He was so impressed with Mitty that he offered her a recording contract with Chess Records.

Having signed for Chess in 1961, Mitty spent the next eight years releasing fifteen singles and one album, Shades of A Genius. Although her debut single Gotta Get Away From It in 1961 failed to chart, by 1963 Mitty had her first hit single I’m Your Part Time Love, which reached number twenty in the US R&B Charts. Her next big hit was a secular version of James Cleveland’s gospel song I Had A Talk With God Last Night, which was changed to I Had A Talk With My Man Last Night. This reached number forty-one in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B Charts. After the success of I Had A Talk With My Man Last Night, Mitty released her next single No Faith, No Love also written by James Cleveland. On its release in 1965, it reached number ninety-one in the US Billboard 100 and number nineteen in the US R&B Charts. Having had two successful singles, Chess decided that Mitty should record her debut album, Shades of A Genius. 

Shades of A Genius was released in 1965, and featured twelve tracks. Three of the tracks were written by Ray Charles, while James Cleveland, Willie Dixon and Henry Glove contribute one apiece. The album was produced by Roquel Davis, while Riley Hampton, Bert Keyes and Phil Wright arranged the tracks. Sadly, Shades of A Genius wasn’t a commercial success, although there’s some wonderful music on the album. After this, Mitty had only one further hit single on Chess, Sharing You in 1966, which reached number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 100 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. Other singles were released, but failed to chart and after Mitty visit to Fame in 1968, where she worked with Rick Hall, rerecording Gotta Get Away From It All. However, this failed to revitalize her career, and shortly afterwards, Mitty left Chess. 

Having left Chess, Mitty recorded five further singles and an album William Bell’s Peachtree label based in Atlanta, Georgia. However, tragedy would strike in 1971, when Mitty developed polyps on her vocal cords. She lost her ability to sing, and decided to end her secular singing career, instead devoting her life to Christianity. Having regained her voice, she recorded the first of a series of gospel albums in 1972, The Warning. This was followed by 1977s Hold the Light and I Am Love. Later, Mitty devoted more and more of her time and energies to religion and her community. Eventually she became a preacher and then a pastor in Chicago, where she still sings gospel music. Since then, Mitty has received a number of honors and awards for her work in her community, including being given the key to the city of Birmingham in 1987 and receiving the National Council of Negro Women of Wonder Award in 2000. All of this is far removed from her previous secular music career, when she released a series of highly regarded singles and her 1965 album Shades of A Genius which I’ll now tell you about. 

Shades of A Genius opens with a song written by Ray Charles, Come Back Baby. It’s just the rhythm section and piano that accompany Mitty’s sad and powerful vocal. As the strings sweep in, she pleas with her lover to come back so “they can talk things over one more time.” Adding to the emotive and moving arrangement are the rasping horns, which cut in, punctuating the track, as Mitty’s voice soars, drenched in emotion and desperation. It’s a hugely moving track to open the album, demonstrating Mitty’s ability to bring lyrics to life, so much so that you almost become spellbound in her delivery.

Probably the best known track Mitty ever recorded was I Had A Talk With My Man Last Night, written by James Cleveland. From the first time I ever heard the track, I was smitten by both Mitty’s delivery and the arrangement. With an organ opening this beautiful ballad, while the rhythm section play subtly and a piano accompanies Mitty’s stunning vocal. Her vocal marries power, passion and emotion, while the arrangement floats along, at almost like a waltz. The track works as either a secular or gospel track, and of the two versions, I much prefer the secular version. Here, Mitty’s delivery is powerful, adding a combination of drama and passion to this love song. However, what really helps the track is the arrangement, which builds and builds, reaching a dramatic, spectacular and stirring crescendo, where Mitty’s delivery is totally peerless. Of all the songs she recorded, this will forever be synonymous with Mitty Collier. You only need to hear the song once to be uplifted, and become smitten with its beauty.

Lush strings dramatically sweep in as Would You Have Listened opens, while the rhythm section and subtle backing vocalists accompany Mitty. A combination of anger and frustration fill her voice, at the hurt caused to the man she loves, by “the other woman.” Adding to the sadness and drama of the track, are horns which blaze in, while the strings sadly sweep in and out of the track. As the track progresses, Mitty’s vocal grows in power, with a hint of defiance combining with the frustration, while a piano, strings and horns combine with Mitty as the song reaches its dramatic and powerful climax.

I Gotta Get Away from It All was the song that Mitty would later rerecord with Rick Hall at Fame Studios in 1968, when she tried to reignite her career. However, this is the original version of the Lloyd Reese song. Shivering, quivering strings subtly enter adding a sense of sadness, as Mitty desperate vocal sings of a mistreating man, who “beats and scolds” her. She has to get away from him, she sings, against an arrangement where the rhythm section, chiming guitars, piano and shimmering strings create a sad and sympathetic backdrop. Later, they combine to create a dramatic ending to the track, as Mitty’s vocal soars, full of heartache, hurt and even hope for the future. As I said before, Mitty draws you into the story behind the song, so much so, that you become caught up in the drama, which becomes very realistic, no more so than right here.

Willie Dixon wrote was a prolific songwriter, whose songs were covered by so many of the on Chess Records. This includes My Babe, which Mitty covers here. The track just bursts into life with a swing. Horns rasp, cooing backing vocalists and the rhythm section are responsible for this, and we hear a very different Mitty hear. With the backing vocalists providing a contrast to her powerful vocal, Mitty takes the song by the scruff of its neck and makes it swing. While horns rasp and blaze, the rhythm section drive the track along, Mitty gives a joyful, swinging vocal, that demonstrates her versatility as a vocalist.

Of all the Ray Charles songs there are to cover, what could be better that the joyous and uplifting Hallelujah (I Love Him So) to close side one of Shades of A Genius. With bursts of horns punctuating the track, strings sweeping in and a drums and piano playing an important part in the arrangement, Mitty’s gives a joyous rendition of Ray’s uplifting lyrics. With bursts of drums and horns adding drama, while flourishes of piano and strings add to the beauty of the arrangement, Mitty makes sure the track swings along beautifully, bringing side one of the album to a close.

Side two of Shades of A Genius opens with the Henry Glover penned Drowned In My Own Tears. Horns play slowly, adding drama, before a hugely emotive vocal from Mitty enters. The reason for her unhappiness and despondency is her partner has left her. As strings sweep in, adding to the sadness, the rhythm section add to the song’s drama. Flourishes of piano add hope to Mitty’s vocal, while despairing horns rasp, accompanying Mitty’s distraught vocal to the song’s finish.

No Faith, No Love was another of Mitty’s hit singles, reaching number ninety-one in the US Billboard 100 and number nineteen in the US R&B Charts. As shimmering strings, horns and the rhythm section combine to create a dramatic and powerful opening, they give way to Mitty’s vocal, which is accompanied by piano, horns and sweeping strings. Quickly, her vocal grows in power, matching the power and drama of the arrangement. It’s a string laden arrangement, with piano, horns and rhythm section all playing vital roles. Here, emotion and drama go hand in hand, while waves of the arrangement reveals itself. This is the perfect accompaniment for Mitty’s emotional and powerful delivery of the lyrics.

Roquel Davis who produced Shades of A Genius wrote Together using his nickname Billy Davis. This wasn’t the only track he wrote on the album, co-writing No Faith, No Love and Little Miss Loneliness. This is another track that allows Mitty to demonstrate her versatility and talent as a vocalist, while the arrangement, adds to the song. Producer Roquel Davis is able to coax the best out of Mitty, getting her to deliver the song he wrote with right combination of emotion and passion. Let Them Talk was written by Sonny Thompson and is a slow track, where rasping horns and rhythm section open the track, giving way to Mitty’s deep and emotive vocal. It’s a defiant vocal from Mitty, who doesn’t care who knows that she loves her man. With strings sweeping in, backing vocalists singing subtly, and horns and drums adding a dramatic element, which matches the power and passion in Mitty’s voice. This is an impressive, dramatic and quite beautiful song, sung with defiance and passion by Mitty.

Little Miss Loneliness opens with a slight, moody and dramatic combination of rasping horns and drums accompanying a thoughtful, sad vocal from Mitty. The cause of her sadness and loneliness is her partner leaving her. While she delivers the lyrics with a more tender style, the drums and horns accompany her, driving the song along. As the song progresses, her vocal grows in power, as emotion and sadness takes over. It’s a heartfelt delivery of the lyrics from a heartbroken and distraught Mitty.

Shades of A Genius closes with Ain’t That Love written by Ray Charles. This is the third Ray Charles track on the album. However, given the quality of songs he wrote, this is no bad thing. Swirling strings, piano and rhythm section accompany Mitty’s vocal, as horns punctuate the arrangement. Mitty delivers the song with aplomb, delivering the lyrics with a swagger, allowing the song to almost swing along. Later, a trumpet plays a solo, as Mitty’s vocal drops out. When it rejoins, the strings sweep in, as Mitty’s voice soars powerfully, as the song heads to its dramatic conclusion. This seems a good way to end what has been an album full of some wonderful music.

It seems remarkable that during the eight years Mitty Collier was with Chess Records, that she only released one album Shades of A Genius. This seems strange, given that  Etta James released seven albums between 1961 to 1968. Maybe Chess wasn’t the right label for Mitty, as other artists, including Marlena Shaw discovered. She recorded some of her best music after leaving Chess. Mitty however, stuck with Chess for eight years, and during that time, released just fifteen singles and one album. Whether Mitty had changed labels she’d have found the success her talent deserved, we can only speculate. Sadly, after she left Chess, her career was cut short in 1971, when she developed polyps on her vocal chords. After this, her life took a new direction, when she went on to devote her life to her Christian faith. However, the one album secular album she did record, Shades of A Genius, is just a glimpse at the sheer talent and versatility of Mitty Collier as a singer. She could inject emotion and passion into a song, and whether it was singing a song with sadness or a swing, then Mitty could carry it off with aplomb. Three years after the release of Shades of A Genius, Mitty was sent to Rick Hall at Fame Studios, in an attempt to revitalize her career. One wonders if Rick Hall could’ve got much more out of Mitty Collier than those at Chess did. Can you imagine Mitty Collier backed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and Muscle Shoals Horns? Sadly, by the time Rick got the chance to record with Rick, it seems her career at Chess was all but over. Maybe if he’d gotten a chance to record a follow-up album to Shades of A Genius then the Mitty Collier story would’ve been very different. That however, is all supposition and speculation. What i do know, however, is that Shades of A Genius is an album full of some wonderful music, from one of the most underrated and hugely talented soul singers Mitty Collier. Standout Tracks: I Had A Talk With My Man Last Night, Would You Have Listened, Hallelujah (I Love Him So) and No Faith, No Love.

MITTY COLLIER-SHADES OF A GENIUS.

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    1. Mitty Collier : Shades Of A Genius (1965) | Mr. Moo's What Da Funk

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