Monday, February 03, 2020

Mavis Staples, just another soldier in the army of love

Rick Holmstrom & Mavis Staples • photo MK McIntosh
On January 16th, Mary Kit and I got to see Mavis Staples and her band perform at the Edmonds Center for the Arts in Edmonds, Washington. At 80 years of age, she commanded the stage like the gospel, R&B, soul and rock 'n' roll road warrior that is Mavis Staples.

Mavis started singing with her family at eight years old, and when you times that singing experience by ten, one gets to witness a rich full-bodied voice with the heart warmth effect of a finely aged glass of bourbon.

Combined with Mavis' powerhouse voice is her hybrid rockin' soul band lead by Rick Holmstrom's mastery on Fender Telecaster guitar along with bassist Jeff Turmes, drummer Stephen Hodges, and backup singers Vicki Randle and Danny Gerrard. Lordy, this band will take you there!

Mavis' career as a lead singer starts when her father, Roebuck "Pops" Staples forms The Staple Singers as a gospel group in 1948, along with sister Cleotha and brother Pervis. In 1969, Pervis gets drafted into the army, and sister Yvonne joins the Staple Singers to give the group it's classic line up with Pops and Mavis trading lead vocals, and Cleotha and Yvonne as backup vocals. From there the group evolves and transcends gospel to crossover into contemporary R&B and Soul, not to mention their heavy activism in the civil rights movement in the 1960's.

The Staples Singers who previously had many hits on the gospel, soul and R&B charts broke through on the pop charts and hit #12 in 1971 on the Top 100 Billboard with Respect Yourself and in 1972, their smash #1 hit,  I'll Take You There. It is during this time that I began to love the Staples Singers and thought Pops Staples was possibly the coolest dad anyone could ever have. Pops born on a cotton plantation in Mississippi moved his family to Chicago in 1935 for a better life and worked in the stock yards, did construction work and the steel mills; all the while honing his unique Telecaster guitar skills and evolving The Staples Singers sound. Think of Pops as the creative force starting with his family performing at church services in the 1950's to arenas and stadiums across America in the 1970's. Along the way, Pops became good friends with Martin Luther King and Mavis herself became a lifelong champion for social justice.

What you have to love about Mavis performing today is her inherit faith and belief in people to do the right thing. Her music message of 'love and trust' still resonates in our current times as it did back in the day. Mavis is still on the Freedom Highway and as she says in song today, "We got work to do."

For my playlist this week, I mixed in some Staple Singer favorites along with Mavis's solo work mainly with Rick Holmstrom who I've now become a new big fan. You can see why Mavis and Rick just click together as Rick plays his own unique version of Pops style of Telecaster Rhythm and Blues with rocking country sensibilities. Together this pair and band create a very current Americana vibe that just must be seen live. Long live Pops, Mavis, and The Staple Singers!

Resources - 
Rick Holmstrom on Pops and Mavis Staples, Jason Verlinde, Fretboard Journal, 2011

Forgotten Heroes: Pop Staples, Michael Ross, Premier Guitar, June 23, 2015

Music Interview: Mavis’ Man — Guitarist Rick Holmstrom on Backing Mavis Staples With Taste and SpaceNoah Schaffer, the art fuse, January 29, 2014

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