Tag Archives: Pops Staples

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.


Filed under February 2011, Sounds

Do your thing at the polls

As a 30-year veteran of the Mainstream Media, I am obliged — no, required — to preserve the illusion of objectivity when it comes to matters of public interest.

That renders me a bit of a second-class citizen at any time, but particularly at election time. Unlike many of my fellow music bloggers, I am not free to tell you who I have supported during this long presidential campaign, not that it would factor in your decision.

Regardless, please go vote on Tuesday … unless you’ve already done so, as I have.

Hear, then, the voice of Roebuck “Pops” Staples.

Somebody out there got to listen
Somebody out there got to know what I’m talkin’ ’bout
Raise your hands, raise your hands if you’re with me
Give us hope in a hopeless world

You’ve got to listen to the voice inside
About peace and love; don’t compromise
Realize that time is passing by

There are mountains to climb
Can’t be standing still


“Hope In A Hopeless World,” Pops Staples, from “Father Father,” 1994. Out of print, but mp3s available from Amazon.


Indeed, do your thing.

“Do Your Thing,” Kashmere Stage Band, from “Texas Thunder Soul: 1968-74,” 2006. The funkiest high school band you ever heard. It blew out of Houston, Texas, during the Nixon administration.

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Filed under November 2008, Sounds

Elvis has parked his bike

Every community has at least one. Someone you don’t necessarily know well, but someone you see often enough in public that you become familiar with them.

Our community had Elvis.

We knew him only as Elvis, the guy who rode his bike all over town, collecting aluminum cans. We saw Elvis most often at the park, where he’d ride up the path through the woods and pull up behind the bleachers, checking the lone trash barrel next to the softball diamond.

Elvis’ bike was something to behold. It was overloaded with baskets and bags for his cans. It had Packers stickers. It had his name on it, as if anyone needed that to tell whose bike it was.

Already fiftysomething when I came to know him, Elvis was a skinny, slightly stooped guy with glasses, a scraggly beard and wild, thinning hair underneath his ever-present baseball cap. Not real social, though.

He’d determinedly dig through the barrel, looking for cans. If he wasn’t around, the softball players would just set them out for him next to the barrel, knowing Elvis would be along.

One night this summer, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen Elvis at the ballpark this year. Now I know why.

Elvis died Monday. He was 68. He’d been in hospice care.

You couldn’t call Elvis a character. Nor would you want to. He seemingly had some kind of disability. What, we didn’t know. Wasn’t our business.

That was all I knew about Elvis until I read his obit on Wednesday. Now I know Elvis worked at the Park Department. He loved the outdoors. He enjoyed playing rummy. He enjoyed working with kids in sports. He liked the Packers. He liked watching football.

Elvis was just a nickname. I learned that from reading the obit, too. Elvis was born James. Apparently no one called him James, or Jim. Just Elvis. Why, I don’t know.

This also was in the obit:

“Elvis could be seen on his daily route on his bike. He will be sadly missed.”

That, I did know, and do know.

So, Elvis, these tunes are for you, to send you on your journey.


“Follow That Dream,” Elvis Presley, from “Elvis in Hollywood,” a 1976 compilation licensed by RCA Records to Brookville Records, and sold on TV, near as I can tell. It’s out of print. The tune is from the 1962 Elvis film of the same name.


“Glory Glory,” Pops Staples, from “Father Father,” 1994. Written by Pops, it’s a gospel tune drenched in Memphis R&B.


“Amen,” the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, from “Marching Down Bourbon Street,” 1997.


Filed under October 2007, Sounds

Do you know your Pops?

My introduction to the various members of the Staples family has come in fits and starts, to say the least.

Of course, I first came to know the Staple Singers from their early hits — “Respect Yourself,” from 1971, and “I’ll Take You There,” from 1972. On AM, then FM, if you will.

Yet it was 20 years later before I came to know Pops Staples, the family patriarch. Judging from the hole punched through the CD booklet, I must have brought home an unwanted review copy sent to the paper.

Only recently have I come to learn more about Mavis Staples’ solo career. If you’re a regular visitor, you know her current album of new and vintage freedom songs, “We’ll Never Turn Back,” is among the year’s best.

Today, though, we come in praise of Roebuck “Pops” Staples, who was in his late 70s when he launched a solo career in the early ’90s. A native of Mississippi, he’d been blending blues and gospel since the ’30s. He was a key voice in the civil rights movement, writing and performing freedom songs from the ’50s on.

Pops Staples put out his first solo record, “Peace To The Neighborhood,” in 1992. He followed it with “Father, Father” in 1994. Both are terrific performances, much in the same vein as Mavis’ new album.

Both of Pops’ albums are a mix of originals and carefully chosen covers, with plenty of high-powered guests: Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and, of course, Pops’ daughters, Mavis, Yvonne and Cleotha — the Staple Singers.

So here’s one from each album, originals written by Pops, with the Staple Singers on background vocals. Pops produced the first one. Mavis co-produced the second one.


“This May Be The Last Time,” Pops Staples, from “Peace To The Neighborhood,” 1992.


“Father, Father,” Pops Staples, from “Father, Father,” 1994.

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Filed under June 2007, Sounds