Tag Archives: Mavis Staples

Meanwhile, back at the blog …

Earlier this year, we shared an appreciation of four music greats who are still with us: Chuck Berry, Little RichardJerry Lee Lewis and Tina Turner. They’re my four. Yours may be different.

Yet that train keeps bearing down on us, taking Scotty Moore, Mack Rice, Bernie Worrell, Ralph Stanley, Wayne Jackson and Chips Moman this month alone. Since we last gathered here, Guy Clark, Candye Kane, Billy Paul, Lonnie Mack and Prince also have left the building.

In a year in which we have lost so many music legends, it seems wise to not stop at four. It also seems wise to not wait too long.

So here are four more music greats who are still with us, all of them still going strong. This is by no means the B team, or the second tier, or anything like that. Just four more worth appreciating here and now.

Mavis Staples, 76. The beloved gospel/soul/R&B singer released a wonderful new record, “Livin’ On A High Note,” in February. That same month, “Mavis,” a documentary profile, premiered on HBO. She’s playing gigs across North America through November, then will receive Kennedy Center Honors in December.

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“Revolution,” Mavis Staples, from “Hot Wacks,” 2013, a compilation of artists on the Anti- label. A distinctive cover of the Beatles song from one who’s long sung about revolution.

Tom Jones, 76. Sir Tom is performing gigs across Europe this summer in support of “Long Lost Suitcase,” a roots record released last October as the final part of a trilogy that also includes “Praise & Blame” and “Spirit In The Room,” which came out in 2010 and 2012, respectively. “Long Lost Suitcase” also is the companion piece to his memoirs, “Over The Top And Back.” It’s been a tough year, though. His wife of 59 years, Linda, died in April.

tom jones this is tj lp

“Dance of Love,” Tom Jones, from “This is Tom Jones,” 1969. It’s a tune written and done first by Charlie Rich in 1965 on the Smash label.

Dennis Coffey, 75. This Funk Brother is still playing some mean rock and jazz guitar “in the D.” He tweets out his shows at @DennisCoffeyDET, announcing on relatively short notice that he’ll be at the Northern Lights Lounge — his most frequent Detroit gig — or at Motor City Wine, or at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe. His blog is recommended reading. Coffey shares lots of good stories there. Likewise his discography for record collectors. His last record, the solid, self-titled “Dennis Coffey,” came out on Strut Records in 2011. It’s worth checking out.

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“Never Can Say Goodbye,” Dennis Coffey, from “Goin’ For Myself,” 1972. A cover of the Jackson 5 tune on which Coffey demonstrates a little bit of soul, a little bit of funk and a bit more jazz.

Gladys Knight, 72. Another of the great ladies of soul, she’s playing gigs in Europe and the United States through October. A solo act for almost 30 years now, she hasn’t had the late-career success of her peers. Widely known today for lush ballads and inspirational songs, Gladys Knight belongs here because of her energetic performances with the Pips in the late ’60s and earliest ’70s on Motown’s Soul label. She really did get down to the real nitty gritty, kids.

gladys knight pips nitty gritty lp

“(I Know) I’m Losing You,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, from “Nitty Gritty,” 1969. When I heard this cut on Sirius XM not too long ago, I was reminded that this is one of my favorite LPs. And, yeah, that’s Dennis Coffey playing guitar on the “Nitty Gritty” single and his wah-wah, fuzz-toned lick about 11 seconds into the intro of “Friendship Train.”

 

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Filed under June 2016, Sounds

This land was his land

What a time we have lived in.

That realization comes more often as those of us of a certain age get older. When we were kids in the ’60s, there were four TV channels.

On those four channels, there was a thing called the variety show. You could hear some comedic and dramatic monologues, see some skits and production numbers, and hear Broadway songs, pop standards, pop hits and — after a while, grudgingly, it often seemed — rock music.

Folk music was part of that rich cultural stew, too. That’s where I must have heard Pete Seeger and his songs.

In a lifetime of listening to music, his songs are part of the foundation of everything I know. They’re some of the first songs I ever came to know as a grade-school kid in the ’60s. “This Land Is Your Land” was the most memorable. But I also came to know “If I Had A Hammer,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “Goodnight Irene,” “Rock Island Line” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

But as I grew up and my tastes changed, folk music just wasn’t my bag. John Prine and Steve Goodman were as close I got to folk. Pete Seeger was, and is, no less great, but I’ve long known more of his songs done as covers than as his originals. I don’t have any Pete Seeger records.

Peter Paul Mary Moving LP

“This Land Is Your Land,” Peter, Paul and Mary, from “Moving,” 1963. Also available digitally.

My dad had this record, so we played it endlessly as kids. This song and “Puff,” one of the saddest songs I know, over and over.

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“Rock Island Line,” Johnny Cash, from “Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar,” 1957. Also available digitally.

My dad loved trains, so of course we loved this train song. It’s the first cut on Johnny Cash’s debut LP. (I bought this record in the late ’80s, and only recently realized it was his first LP.)

Sharon Jones DK Naturally LP

“This Land Is Your Land,” Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, from “Naturally,” 2005. Also available digitally.

Mavis Staples We'll Never Turn Back CD

“Eyes On The Prize” and “We Shall Not Be Moved,” Mavis Staples, from “We’ll Never Turn Back,” 2007. Also available digitally.

(I used to have “Goodnight Irene” on a Ry Cooder record, but it went out in one of the Great Record Purges.)

All these covers inspired by Pete Seeger, a national treasure whose work is timeless, whose influence endures.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under January 2014, Sounds

An 18th-century hymn done with soul

Did you know George Harrison wrote “My Sweet Lord” but that Billy Preston recorded it first in 1970?

Neither did I until I read Matthew Bolin’s fine piece, “The 10 Best Cover Songs (You Didn’t Know Were Covers)” over at Popdose earlier tonight.

Not to get all preachy on you, but as I listened, it seemed an appropriate selection for this weekend. It has a nice gospel vibe.

I’m far from knowledgeable about gospel music, and I’m not particularly reverent, but I do enjoy exploring the funk and soul aspects of gospel music.

However, the progressive but predominately white mainstream church we attend rarely explores gospel music, and when it does, it rolls out the same few songs on the same few occasions. Apparently we can dig gospel music only when Martin Luther King Jr. Day draws near. But that is another issue for another day.

Perhaps some day we’ll hear this. It’s been one of my favorites for years. It still delivers chills.

“Oh Happy Day,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord,” 1968. The LP is out of print, but the song is available digitally. This was recorded live in 1967 at Ephesian Church of God in Christ in Berkeley, California.

Dorothy Combs Morrison is the lead singer. She was in her early 20s at the time. The rest of the Edwin Hawkins Singers also were young, ranging from their late teens to mid-20s.

The LP originally was to be released only locally, but it got a worldwide release after “Oh Happy Day” became a smash on San Francisco radio in 1969.

Did you know “Oh Happy Day” is a reworking of an English hymn that dates to the 18th century? Neither did I. Here’s another version.

“Oh Happy Day,” Aretha Franklin with Mavis Staples, from “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” 1987. This LP also is out of print, but the song is available digitally. This was recorded live at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit in late July 1987.

(Curiously, my copy of this song is from “Joy To The World,” a 2006 CD that was marketed as a Christmas release. However, only half of its 10 cuts are Christmas songs. Go figure.)

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Filed under April 2012, Sounds

Witness to history

History is being made in Wisconsin this week.

No matter where you are, you’ve likely seen it on the news. Tens of thousands of protesters — public employees, teachers and union workers — have been filling the state Capitol in Madison and its grounds as they fight the Republican governor’s proposal to strip them of collective bargaining rights.

The story has taken one astonishing turn after another.

On Tuesday, it was simply that 13,000 people showed up to protest on a weekday. On Wednesday, the legislative hearing on the bill went until 3 in the morning. And the protesters kept coming. On Thursday, 14 Democratic senators fled the state to block a vote on the bill. On Friday, so many teachers were protesting that some districts canceled classes.

On Saturday, 60,000 people came to the Capitol Square, representing both sides of the debate. An estimated 500 police officers were on hand. Welcome to Madison. The protests were spirited and loud but peaceful all week, with only a handful of arrests for disorderly conduct. It stayed that way Saturday, when the governor’s opponents still far outnumbered the governor’s supporters.

We’ve not seen anything like this in Wisconsin since the Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It’s a story of such magnitude that the Green Bay Packers’ victory in Super Bowl XLV just two weeks ago — also a big story in Wisconsin — has been shoved far into the background, rendered almost an afterthought.

Here’s a look at the protests, set to the music of “14 Senators,” a song written Friday morning by Madison folk singer Ken Lonnquist and performed live on the radio less than an hour later.

And some timeless music perhaps appropriate for the moment.

“We The People,” Allen Toussaint, from Bell single 782, 1969. Available on “What Is Success: The Scepter and Bell Recordings,” a 2007 import CD.

“Eyes On The Prize,” Mavis Staples, from “We’ll Never Turn Back,” 2007.

“World In Motion,” Pops Staples with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, from “Peace to the Neigbhorhood,” 1992. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

“(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People,” the Chi-Lites, from “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People,” 1971. The LP is out of print but the song is available digitally.

“Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today),” the Temptations, from “Greatest Hits II,” 1970. The LP is out of print, but the song is available digitally.

“Fight The Power (Part 1 & 2),” the Isley Brothers, from “The Heat Is On,” 1975. The LP is out of print but the song is available digitally.

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Filed under February 2011, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 8

This has been quite a remarkable year for Mavis Staples.

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In April, she released “We’ll Never Turn Back,” an album full of freedom songs old and new, produced by Ry Cooder. It’s one of the best albums of the year (and will make a swell gift for someone on your list).

In September, some of her earliest work with the Staple Singers was re-released.

“The 25th Day of December,” is a 1962 Christmas gospel album simply and elegantly sung by the Staples family — Roebuck (Pops), Mavis, Yvonne and Pervis — and accompanied by Pops on guitar, Maceo Woods on the organ and Al Duncan on drums. It was recorded in two days in late July 1962 at Universal Studios in Chicago.

At the time, the Staple Singers still were a gospel and folk group. This album was the Staples’ fifth album since their debut in 1959, and just their second on Riverside Records, a jazz label. It wasn’t until 1967 that they turned to more commercial R&B and soul.

The first two of tonight’s three selections come from “The 25th Day of December.”

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“Go Tell It on the Mountain.” This is the traditional African-American spiritual, with an arrangement by Pops.

“There Was a Star.” This is an original, written by Pops and William Westbrook.

Both by the Staple Singers, from “The 25th Day of December,” 1962, re-released on CD, 2007.

Here’s still another traditional tune featuring Mavis Staples.

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“Born in Bethlehem,” the Blind Boys of Alabama with Mavis Staples, from “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” 2003.

This album pairs the Blind Boys, one of America’s great gospel treasures, with an eclectic mix of duet partners. Some work great, like this one, on which Jimmy Carter has the lead vocal. Others less so. It’s largely a matter of personal taste.

It’s certainly worth checking out, though. The Blind Boys’ other duet partners: Robert Randolph, George Clinton, Michael Franti, Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Chrissie Hynde, Richard Thompson, Aaron Neville, Shelby Lynne, Me’shell Ndegeocello and Les McCann.

We might circle back to this one. Until then, enjoy. More to come.

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Filed under Christmas music, November 2007, Sounds

In praise of Mavis (and liner notes)

Another interesting nugget from this month’s issue of Mojo magazine is this, from Ian Anderson. The leader of Jethro Tull was asked: “Vinyl, CD or mp3?”

“I prefer the convenience aspect of mp3s. Scratchy old vinyl? No. But I miss the album covers.”

Agreed on all counts, although vinyl has its charms.

I also like mp3s, obviously. Having bought albums via download, I’m glad to have the music, but I miss reading whatever the artist or archivist has to say about what I’ve bought. I miss knowing about the backup musicians. I miss knowing who wrote the songs. I miss the visuals.

Last week, I bought Mavis Staples’ great new album, “We’ll Never Turn Back.” I have 12 wonderful soul/R&B/gospel cuts.

That ought to be enough, but it isn’t. I miss those liner notes. Oh, sure, I can go to Mavis’ Web site, or to her label’s site and click around and get something close to liner notes. But it’s not really the same.

That said, the important thing here today is digging Mavis’ music.

“We’ll Never Turn Back” is a terrific collection of new and vintage civil rights songs, all passionately, soulfully done. It’s produced by Ry Cooder and features Cooder on guitar and mandolin, Mike Elizondo on bass and piano, Jim Keltner on drums, Joachim Cooder on percussion, the Freedom Singers and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It’s easily the best album of the year so far.

Here’s what Mavis had to say about it:

“With this record, I hope to get across the same feeling, the same spirit and the same message as we did with the Staple Singers — and to hopefully continue to make positive changes. We’ve got to keep pushing to make the world a better place. Things are better but we’re not where we need to be and we’ll never turn back.”

Lest you think it’s churchy or preachy, here’s what a friend — who happens to be a minister — had to say about it.

“This is a smokin’ album! Best blues album I’ve heard in a long time and Mavis really cooks.”

Agreed, but enough talk. Time to listen.

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“Eyes On The Prize,” Mavis Staples, from “We’ll Never Turn Back,” 2007. (With Ladysmith Black Mambazo on background vocals)

“Turn Me Around,” Mavis Staples, from “We’ll Never Turn Back,” 2007. (With the Freedom Singers — Rutha Harris, Charles Neblett and Bettie Mae Fikes — on background vocals.)

Go here for “On My Way,” another download from the album.

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Filed under May 2007, Sounds