Johnny Collier is grateful for the recent recognition he’s received as a singer and songwriter, but he doesn’t take for granted the hard road that has led him to this success.
Raised on a farm in a rural Missouri town, Collier spent decades after moving to the Shoals paying his dues and touring with a string of big names in country music.
However, as his songwriting career took off, a major medical setback temporarily put those dreams on hold.
He had spent most of 2017 working on his second album, Love Me for Who I Am, but before that album was finished, he suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and a stroke.
“One day I came in with a headache so bad I almost couldn’t function. I had it for two days,” Collier said. “I could speak, but I could say, ‘The blue duck hit a white stick.’ It was so random.”
His wife Dallas urged him to see a doctor. He underwent three surgeries and spent weeks in the neurosurgical intensive care unit at UAB Hospital in Birmingham.
“That was tough. I mean, my mindset changed,” Collier said. “For a long time, about a year and a half after I came home, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere in this world.”
Finally, Collier said his love of music helped him find meaning.
Collier’s music career didn’t really take shape until he moved to northern Alabama shortly after graduating high school, though he got his first guitar at age 11 and eventually began playing in a band with a few others from his hometown.
He had never heard of Florence or Muscle Shoals before moving to the area. He came to the Shoals looking for work and was considered for a job with his uncle at a factory in Sheffield.
“I didn’t know anything about the Muscle Shoals music scene,” Collier said. “I didn’t really get into music seriously until I came here. I started meeting all these other musicians who had recorded and played with Loretta Lynn and so on and so forth.”
He started cutting tracks at FAME and other local recording studios. Though he said he was more interested in performing, he felt the recording scene helped open doors for his career.
“I met so many people. You meet people in the studio that you might never see outdoors or in clubs,” Collier said.
One such acquaintance was Swamper Albert “Junior” Lowe, who was touring with Hank Williams Jr. and his band when he called Collier.
“He said, ‘You play guitar too, don’t you?’ I said yes. He said, “Well, we’ll find out. Just be here Friday night.”
“I played with them for three or four months. That’s really how I got started in the professional scene here at Muscle Shoals. I was 21 or maybe 22,” Collier said.
His move to northern Alabama also led him to hone his songwriting skills. He said he started writing as a teenager but didn’t gain confidence in the craft until he started collaborating with other writers.
“When I came to Muscle Shoals it was different. I found several people writing songs here,” Collier said. “I got serious about it. I’ve been to a few songwriter clubs and all of that, but I’ve learned from personal experience with other songwriters and musicians here in Muscle Shoals.”
Collier continued to expand his music career, working and writing with other industry greats such as Roger Clark, Daryl Singletary, Marty Raybon, Stella Parton and Razzy Bailey.
He began touring with his own band, The Misbehaviators, and released several original singles that led to the recording of his first full-length album, Take You to the Country.
An unexpected twist
Collier had a taste of great success after the release of his first album, but after a brain aneurysm set him back in the middle of recording his second album, he said it was a big struggle to get back into the music industry.
“My views on music have changed. I wasn’t up to date with the music on the radio and what was happening around me,” he said. “It changed my thought process. It was like if the sun comes up tomorrow, that’s fine; If not, that’s fine. I didn’t care either way.”
His wife Dallas, who also serves as Johnny’s manager, said those lows lasted about two years. Despite the depression, she said, he’s managed to advance through music.
“In 2019 he did 238 shows in about 18 states. We were home 53 days a year, the year after he had his aneurysm. It was a tough time,” she said. “And then one day he woke up and suddenly his eyes lit up again. It was like this was the day. A part of him was back… and then COVID struck.”
Things had their way. The couple used the pandemic lockdown to promote their second album, which was completed and released in late 2019.
“As a result, he was nominated for awards,” she said.
In 2020, Collier’s lead track “Never Really Famous” landed at number one on the Top 100 Indie Year End Countdown. The song earned him a win in the country music category at the 2020 Hollywood Music in Media Awards.
“It was a big deal. The person who introduced me for the award was Toto’s saxophonist,” he said. “I met people there who had 18 Emmy awards. How they found me in this world I don’t know.”
In 2021, the single “Honey for Hire” earned him a second nomination for the Hollywood Music in Media Awards.
That year he was also nominated for Entertainer of the Year and Artist of the Year in the Traditional and Classic Country category. His second album was nominated for Album of the Year and “Honey for Hire” was nominated for Song of the Year at the Josie Music Awards.
“This year is just exploding,” Collier said.
He said the last single he released from his second album, A Hole in My Heart, continued to spark interest in 2021 and 2022. The song was nominated for a Who’s Hoo Country Music Song of the Year Award.
That year, Collier received seven nominations from the International Singer-Songwriter Association and was named a finalist for three of those awards – Entertainer of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and his video for “A Hole in My Heart” was a finalist for Music Video of the Year .
He received two other Josie Award nominations, two Alabama Music Award nominations, and was recently named Male Country Artist of 2022 at the Alabama Music Awards.
“Everything started to fall into place. I didn’t know how to react at first,” Collier said. “It’s great. I think we have one awards show left.”
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