I was in Greensboro yesterday, and visited Scuppernong Books on South Elm Street downtown, where I picked up a copy of Greg Kot's excellent historical book about Mavis Staples and the Staples Singers.
After reading 40 pages about Pop Staples and his singing family, I was very impressed with these people, and what they did with their lives. I really identify with old Pop Staples, who got his young'uns started in music back in the 1950s, when I was a clueless white kid growing up in Jackson Mississippi.
Now everybody knows that Miss'ippi mud gave birth to the delta blues.
There ain't nothin' really wrong with the blues. I've spent many an hour myself singing the blues, crying the blues, being blue, and feelin' that ole E7 12-bar a-wailin' blues. Ev'body have the blues now and then, and some folks are born into the blues, spend their lives in the blues, and make powerful emotive music in the blues. But the blues is hard, and there are lifestyle choices connected to singin' them blues that can render a life that is just damned hard, too hard.
Ole Pop Staples learned his blues down in the delta where he was raised, and he played along with them wailin' boys, but when it came to Sunday morning, Pop took his wife and young'uns to church, cuz there come a time when you gotta rouse yoself outa that funky blues and do somethin' right.
So Pop Staples got his younguns started out right in the musical life, singing in church, praising God.
Few years later, when they moved up to South side of Chicago , and them Staples saw deeply into all what was going on there in that big hub city of America's stockyard-smellin' heartland, and they heard Mahalia and sang with her and all that, Pop's commitment to gospel music got stronger and stronger.
So he made sure his singing kids stayed on the gospel track, even though what they were doing sounded real bluesy, like his delta roots.
That man from the delta had a unique combination of blues and gospel runnin' through his veins, and he brought his children on board that train. There wasn't no one who would sing like Pop with his children; they were good at it. As we say in the Christian heartland, they had "the anointing."
In his book, Greg Kot mentions on page 34 that, nevertheless, their first record release was a flop. After that, a certain record company was
". . . looking for hits and encouraged the Staples to move in a rock'n'roll direction, according to Pops, but he would have none of it."
And Pops said:
". . .He wanted us to sing blues. He said Mavis could make a lot of money singing blues. I didn't want her singing blues."
Prodigy singing daughter Mavis agreed:
"I just enjoy singing spirituals."
Some time passed. Then the singing had to go on the back burner for awhile. Kot reports:
"When the Staples' contract expired in 1955, Pop returned to his job at the steel mill, in no hurry to jump back into the music business."
But that little disagreement with the music professionals turned out to be just a bump in the road for Pop and his soulful singing kids. Long story short, here's what happened later: