Saturday, April 30, 2011

Add the Voice!

Yesterday we heard Steve Cropper and considered his Volt-album »With A Little Help From My Friends« from June 1969. Right at the same time, in the same month, another LP was released, Volt LP # VOS-6007, and Steve Cropper had his hand in this, too, this time as arranger and producer ... and as session musician of course, a fact I was about to omit because it's so evident in his case.

The album is simply called »Mavis Staples«. It simply shows the singer's face on the cover. It simply contains her singing. And what a voice it is! A deep, contralto marvel of a voice.

Mavis Staples was, as is probably well-known to everybody, a member of the Staple Singers, a gospel-folk-family-formation from Chicago, and this was her first solo effort. 1969 was her year: First, several duets were released which Mavis had recorded with Eddie Floyd and William Bell. These songs were released in spring 1969 as singles and little later on the LP »Boy Meets Girl«. Then, there was her first solo LP.

BILLBOARD, August 16, 1969 (detail)
During the second half of '69, Mavis soon became famous as a solo artist: In August, she performed at the »Soul Show«-concert at the side of Mahalia Jackson (see the photo; towards the left you can see Mavis's guitar-pickin' father »Pops« Roebuck). In November, she shared the stage of Harlem's Apollo Theatre with Miriam Makeba whom she admired greatly. A single was released in August '69 containing two songs of her new album, but it went nowhere. Apart from these songs, the album contains a number of cover versions (»Son Of A Preacher Man«, »A House Is Not A Home«, »You Send Me«), and among these also two tunes by Otis Redding: »Security« and »Good To Me«. You can listen to them below.

As said above, Steve Cropper produced Mavis's album. He left it to Mavis to chose the songs (»Most of those songs on that album are songs that I loved, from hearing them on the radio. ... I chose Son Of A Preacher Man because I was in love with a real son of a preacher man. Guess who it was? Cecil Franklin, Aretha Franklin's brother!«). But it was Cropper who suggested that she recorded some of Redding's tunes, and so Mavis opted for »Security« and »Good To Me«. About the recording of »Good To Me«, Mavis was to say later:
»I was kind of shaky, because back then, the family was still singing Gospel songs. I didn't know how the public was going to accept the fact that I was singing these secular songs. Doing that was a no-no. I didn't feel it in my heart that it was a no-no, so that's why I went on and did it, but Steve Cropper had to hold my hand on a lot of those songs, especially on Good To Me. I said to him "Ohh, this song could really be taken like you're having sex or something". Steve said "No, Mavis, think about it like the guy is just good to you. He comes home, he helps you at home and all that". We had conversations about a lot of that stuff.«
To my mind, the two Redding songs belong to the best pieces on the LP. Mainly, because the raucous and smoky, yet at the same time smooth and heartwarming voice of Mavis comes wonderfully to the fore here. You can hear that in the faster song, »Security«, but it is especially obvious in the slower »Good To Me«. And thus the very beginning of »Good To Me« not only fits the lover she addresses in the song, but could be said by everyone listening to Mavis singing: »I don't know what you got, baby, but sho' is good to me« ...

Mavis Staples: »Security« / »Good To Me« from the Volt LP # 6007 (1969):

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The Gibson Interview: Mavis Staples Talks About Staple Singers Legacy (Russell Hall, January 14, 2009). Oh well, on the Rolling Stone list of »The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time« Mavis Staples has reached rank 56 ... and I certainly agree with her being among the 100 best singers of all time, although the list in itself seems ridiculous to me, to put it mildly. After all, we find there the likes of Bob Dylan and John Lennon among the Top Ten, lifelong torturers of their poor-timbred vocal chords ... which indicates that the list cannot be based on the respective singers' vocal talent, really. To conclude, here is a nice picture, taken from JET of October 9, 1969, p. 36:

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