(4 / 5)
Three discs delivering 66-tracks from six albums, which is the first-ever retrospective of The Staple Singers years on the Epic label.
If you want to overdose on lush gospel and soulful folk-infused popular material, and hear the legendary vocal group evolving from a church group to a commercially successful bunch of chart hit makers, then this is for you.
Here they offer up songs by Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and original compositions by Pop Staples, including his song, “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)”.
The majority of the lead vocals across this triple CD set are from the great Mavis Staples, but her beloved Daddy, Roebuck “Pops” Staples sings lead on several tracks and plays some gorgeous blues soaked guitar too. Pervis Staples can be heard on three recitations with Bob Dylan’s “John Brown”.
Talking of Pops, what a lovely man. I had the honour and pleasure of meeting him and working with him three times in his lifetime. First time, was when he appeared as part of a festival in a fairly intimate London venue, that celebrated the roster of artists on a particular blues label that had not long been set up.
Pops was on that label and performed that night. I did the photos over those few days for that label, and for a magazine. After the punters had left the building one night, I was sat at a table with my colleague, camera gear on the table; taking a breather after a sweaty night of great, great music. Albert Collins was on the bill that night, too.
Pops wandered over to the spare seat at that table, and politely asked if we minded if he sat there and joined us. Er, let me think about that for a second…This is Pops Staples, asking permission to sit with me and my pal. Oh go on!
He did join us and we had a lovely chat about his career, and about the night’s proceedings, and other stuff I cannot recall right now. Didn’t take one “selfie” – pre-mobiles with cameras on them back then – and didn’t want to disturb this lovely, white-haired old gent while he was taking a rest.
Wind forward a few years, and I am shooting pix and reviewing for magazines at two different festivals, with a few years between them, too. At both events, I am backstage and Pops Staples is on the line-up, and both times he came over to me when he saw me, as he remembered our chat in this little club years earlier. A genuinely sweet and gentle man.
I have not as yet got to see or meet Mavis, and I am a huge admirer of her voice, but she has been scheduled to appear at a few festivals that I have been working at over the years, but she each time she has cancelled for some reason.
But this year she did appear at a UK festival I was due to cover, but I had to pull out at the last minute because of ill health. I was gutted. I do hope to see her sometime, somewhere before too long though…
In 1964, The Staple Singers signed with Epic after leaving Jazz/Blues/Folk label Riverside Records. In the next four years, they recorded six albums for the label, all of which are featured here. Three of these classic albums, “Pray On”, “For What It’s Worth” and “What The World Needs Now Is Love”, are making their CD debut.
Despite their newly-found commercial success when they eventually joined Stax, the group did not leave any of their gospel roots behind. Here, all of the non-gospel standards are still imbued with “hope” and “inspiration”, and stay true to their Christian music roots.
Mavis Staples is the only member of the family still active and regularly touring the world – appearing in the UK this summer, as I said earlier. Pervis is long since retired and Pops, Yvonne and Cleotha have all sadly passed away.
But their legacy most definitely lives on with some wonderful musical moments, and there are plenty here within this long overdue release of all their Epic years recordings in one fabulous box set.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’