STAPLE SINGERS / ”I’ll Take You There”
The story properly starts in 1914 in Winona, Mississippi when Roebuck “Pops” Staples was born deep in blues country. Friendly with the legendary Charley Patton, Roebuck made a name for himself playing dances, picnics and such. After switching his allegiance to gospel, Roebuck joined up with the Golden Trumpets, a singing group out of Drew, Mississippi. By 1941, Roebuck had set up homestead in the Windy City and joined up with Chicago’s Trumpet Jubilees. As his children grew, Roebuck formed a family group. Initially it was Cleotha, Mavis and Pervis who supported Roebuck Staples and became known as The Staple Singers. They may have been located in Chicago, but their style was down home. Their initial success was as a folk-gospel group, recording first with Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records and later with Riverside and Epic. The first Staple Singers hit, “Why (Am I Treated So Bad),” was recorded on Epic. In 1968, the Staples signed with Memphis-based Stax Records and released two albums produced by Steve Cropper and backed by Booker T. & the MG’s. In 1970, Perivs was replaced by his sister, Yvonne and, more importantly, Al Bell became the group’s producer. Bell was responsible for their greatest commercial success. Bell funkified the Staples sound. Songs such “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” feature iconic bass riffs that by themselves are enough to identify the songs. The Staples sound, now featuring Mavis as the lead singer, became a funky mix of contemporary Seventies sounds, gospel harmonies, jazz elements, and upful messages. All the selections in this week’s jukebox are from the Stax-period release, The Best of The Staple Singers. Here is a wide range of the Staples’ sound. Bob Dylan’s “The Weight” is given the Stax southern soul treatment as Mavis’ smoky lead vocals carry the track. Motown’s Smokey Robinson-penned “You’ve Got To Earn It” prominently features a harmonica but also includes a jazz flute & trumpet duo interlude—amazingly, the song sounds both country and urban. Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay” is distinguished by distinctive harmony singing that is far more complex than it initially sounds. Pops Staples’ heavy guitar vibrato undergirds the song, which rocks peacefully on a bed of soft strings. It is completely different from Otis’ original, but at the same time, this version sounds just right. It’s quite an accomplishment. The pieces de resistance, however, are “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself.” Pops was great at crafting succinct and catchy message songs. Even in a period that included seminal work from Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes and a host of others, The Staple Singers maintained their reputation as one of the most popular purveyors of social commentary in song. Other artists may have been better known, but there certainly was no other group that rivaled The Staple Singers as messengers of pride and empowerment. —Kalamu ya Salaam ‘Honest’ music The Staple Singers are what I like to think of as "honest" music. Meaning, you get what you see. They're not coming with tricks or angles or sleight of hand. They're serving straight-up gritty soul grooves with gospel-soaked vocals and maybe a touch of pop flavoring to allow the whole confection to go down smoothly. One thing I didn't realize was that Pops Staples is a songwriter. I'd assumed that all of the Staples' hits were either covers or products of in-house songwriters. Of course, all of this music is unimpeachable. It's classic soul music and honestly, you can't say a bad word about any of it. If these records don't make you feel good on this pre-Christmas Sunday morning, you might want to turn in your record collection and get a new hobby. This is the real deal. —Mtume ya Salaam
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