I'm Not Getting Into Religion...

Unless you count Mavis Staples as religion.

I grew up in a very religious family, and I played by the rules...for the most part, at least. Listen, it was ONCE in CCD, in the 1st grade , I was caught cheating on a test...we all got over it...why cant YOU!?

The reason I won't get INTO religion is because there's too much room to say the wrong thing and insult people and their beliefs. All I will say as fact on my part is that listening to The Staple Singers has always brought me closest to the feeling of Church on Sunday Morning. But not boring "I can't wait for this to be over so I can do ANYTHING else" Church. I mean happy, goose-bumps church.  Mavis Staples gave me goose-bumps.

The fact that her new record is coming out (i'll get into that in a few paragraphs) and my never ending search for Staple Singers vinyl finally came to an end, is pure coincidence...or is it? I found a guy with the best collection of vinyl i've seen in a long time near Union Square last week. I picked up the Paul Butterfield Blues Band debut which not only has a kick ass cover, but features Mike Bloomfield on lead guitar, (I can't get into who he is now, but it's a Dylan connection, and if you know "Blonde on Blonde" then you know his work) a Columbia records Jazz sampler (i love finding records that weren't originally meant for sale) & most important The Staple Singers. It's kind of a retrospective, which I'm fine with, and it was $2 because of some minor scratches, but it still plays fairly well (The cover is pictured to the right.)

As usual, I digress....back on track now:

I was a late bloomer to appreciating music, aside from growing up on Doo Wop & Oldies courtesy of my mom & CBS-FM...The hits REALLY DID KEEP ON COMING!!!...but my late in the game appreciation came mostly because I was learning guitar in my very late teens. So I had a LOT of learning to do as far as music history, and I think I taught myself pretty well throughout college. One extremely helpful tool during this period was a documentary on American Roots Music. PBS had run it, but I bought the DVD (or someone bought it for me) and this thing blew the doors open for me.

In this documentary, there's a segment on The Staples and they show black and white footage from what I can only assume was early to mid 60's and what you hear first is "Pops" Roebuck's Fender played clean with heavy tremolo, "Sit Down Servant" was the song and as most of these songs went, he would establish the first line in his unique, smooth as silk voice, "Whoaaa, Sit Down" followed by the unreal Mavis vocal. The rest of the group was rounded out with Pervis, Cleotha & Yvonne, all 4 by the way, were "Pops" children...hence the fitting nickname. I remember specifically from the video, 1st that Mavis was standing up front, 2nd Pops had a pretty rad guitar & 3rd I thought Mavis was beautiful. (Side note: early 60's Mavis Staples is definitely in my top 3 "if I was alive back then" crushes.) Pairing this with the music, I was in awe. It was nothing more than Harmony, hand claps/light percussion & that amazing guitar sound. I can't find the video online, so here's the recorded version...just as good: GOOSEBUMPS.


I won't get into the rest of the documentary here, but lets just say it was an essential part of my history as a guitar player and student of great music. BUY IT.

Years later, via documentaries, books & internet (as mentioned below) we learned that there was a romance with Mavis & who?!..yea, BOB DYLAN! I remember loving this when I first heard and in an internet search to verify if this actually happened or if it was just something I dreamt up,  I stumbled on an interview with Mavis this past July in the Detroit Free Press about her new record. I found it on a fellow blogger's site...Jacobpedia.

Here's the question that takes the cake, because we hear about it from Mavis herself, and it's about as great an answer as you could ask...what a story:

Q: So what about this marriage proposal from Bob Dylan?

A: (Laughing) That doggone Internet, they in everybody’s business. Me and Bobby met when we were teenagers and we were together a lot when the Staple Singers were doing folk festivals. When we weren’t together, we would write each other letters and talk on the phone.

One day after Bobby and I had just met, my father and I were standing in line to get lunch, and from way in the back of the line, Bobby yelled, “Pops, I want to marry Mavis.” And Pops yelled back, “Don’t tell me, tell Mavis.”

We went on into our 20s, and it was my fault that it stopped. I was so young I thought Dr. King might not like that, me marrying a white man. Later on, Pops told me that was foolish. He said, “Haven’t you been listening to what that Dylan kid is saying — ‘How many roads must a man walk down …’ Don’t you see all the white people marching with us?”

I often wonder if we’d gotten together and had some kids … they’d be some poetry-writing, singing kids, wouldn’t they?

The Staple Singers had major commercial success in the late 60's & early 70's with a few soul hits, one of which you'll hear when you watch below and say "NO SHIT! That's them?!"  Yes, shit. that's them.


In 2007, Mavis put out a record with Ry Cooder called "We'll Never Turn Back," and although it was good, it wasn't great in my opinion. I really wanted to hear that gospel/blues groove that The Staple Singers brought to the table and well, dadgummit! Jeff Tweedy, you ol' dog you. You've gone and made it happen.  Her new record, "You Are Not Alone" was produced by the Wilco mastermind (with the beautiful title track penned by Tweedy as well) and it's available this coming Tuesday, Sept. 14th.  As always, NPR comes in clutch with the "First Listen" so you can stream it now right here. I haven't been able to stop listening. The guitar sound on every track has a hint of  "Pops" but with a little added grit. "Creep Along Moses" will make you practically shout & dance on the subway and cones complete with a ripping guitar solo,  the straight forward rhythm on "Downward Road" is pretty bad-ass, and "I Belong To The Band - Hallelujah" pays nice tribute to the song I mentioned earlier "Sit Down Servant." Mind you, this is just 3 of a record full. Check out these acoustic versions of  the title track & a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Wrote A Song For Everyone" with Jeff Tweedy...



So I guess in closing Ill say, if you ever see me perform, you can bet about 33% to 55% of my guitar playing is thanks to "Pops." And I should take this moment to say thank you, Mavis, on behalf of my parents, for saving my soul?

Oh HEY!...Come see me at Rockwood Music Hall Sunday, Oct.3rd 8pm (I swear it's a coincidence that it's a Sunday, but lets roll with it?) The venue & sound system are amazing, so come by and check it out!

Thanks for reading, see you soon.