The Staple Singers – Come Go With Me, The Stax Collection – Stax/ Craft Recordings CR00364 – 7 CD – 1968-1974 – ****
The Staple Singers have been a gospel group that has stayed loyal to their roots in the church, yet have crossed over to broaden their appeal to mainstream acceptance in the soul, R & B, and folk music genres. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Led by the iconic, Mavis Staples (who is still going strong well into her 80s as a solo act), the Staples family was made up of their father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and daughters, Cleotha, Yvonne, and Mavis. Early in their career, their brother, Purvis, was a member as well.
Craft Recordings, a boutique label, part of the Concord Music Group, has recently released Come Go WithMe, a deluxe seven CD package, or seven 180 gm audiophile LP box set. Made up of their prime career output for Stax Records during 1968-1974, these masterful sets include a bonus disc/ LP with rarities, live recordings, and material from the 1972 Wattstax Music Festival.
The Staples history goes back to Mississippi, where Pops was born on a plantation. He raised his four children on church hymns and after he moved his family to Chicago in the 1930s, the family began to branch out a bit into secular music. The combination of Mavis’ husky gospel driven voice, backed in harmony by her siblings, alongside their father’s gentle vibrato and guitar, was a winning combination.
Their recordings for Chicago labels, United Records, and Vee-Jay, were well received but did not cause a sensation. A September, 1956, recording of “The Uncloudy Day” did well on the gospel charts. They were with Riverside Records, and Epic before signing with Stax in 1968. Stax, based in Memphis, had a reputation of having its artists break out nationally. Their roster included Carla Thomas, Booker T & the MG’s, and Otis Redding. However, 1968, was a brutal year for the label as Otis Redding had died the previous year in a plane crash, and they lost their distribution agreement with Atlantic Records, which put the label’s future in doubt. The signing of The Staples was a move in the right direction.
The label’s executive VP, Al Bell, had a vision that The Staples mix of folk/gospel protest songs would have crossover appeal to a much wider audience. Their six year tenure with Stax began slowly with Steve Cropper (from the MGs) producing their first two albums, before Al Bell stepped in to produce the remaining four issues for the label.
Their first album, Soul Folk in Action, utilized fellow MG’s, bassist, Duck Dunn, and drummer, Al Jackson, Jr., plus The Memphis Horns. It mixed protest folk with pop and gospel. They were off to a good start with “The Weight” (which later took off when they performed it with The Band during The Last Waltz concert), as well as a rendition of Redding’s “(Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay” and “Long Walk to D.C,” which became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement with Martin Luther King, Jr.
Their second album, We’ll Get Over, had more limited success, but featured “Games People Play,” with Pops on vocals, and “When Do I Get Paid?,” another venture into the social justice realm. Less successful was Sly Stone’s “Everyday People” and a Japanese folk song, “Solon Bushi.”
With Al Bell taking charge, their self titled third album was when their breakout truly began. Bell added The Bar-Kays horns, and fleshed out the arrangements. The added funk enhanced their vocals. “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha Na Boom Boom),” with Mavis and Pops sharing vocals, and Mavis’ stunning “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry” are highlights.
Their third Stax album, Be Altitude/Respect Yourself, was aided by the label’s brilliant rhythm section, Eddie Hinton (lead guitar), Jimmy Johnson (rhythm guitar), David Hood (bass), Barry Beckett (keyboards), and Roger Hawkins (drums). Both “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” became monster hits. The latter with its addictive drum lines, and guitar choruses, define the vision that Stax brought to the vocal magic that The Staples provide.
The next album, Be What You Are, attempted to keep their winning streak moving forward, and was mostly successful. “If You’re Ready, Go with Me” channeled “I’ll Take You There.” and the title track helped replicate the vibe of “Respect Yourself” with the power of The Staples harmonies helped by soulful horns and funky guitar. However, added strings and horns hampered the harmonies of “Love Comes in All Colors.”
The last Stax album for The Staples was City in the Sky. in 1974. It includes “Washington, We’re Watching You,” which seems quite incongruous today. “Back Road Into Town” will bring comparisons to Clarence Carter’s “Patches.” The Staples recorded for several other labels during the 70s and 80s, but were never able to match the acclaim that their output for Stax Records brought.
Mavis Staples’ career continued on to greener pastures as evidenced by all the artists including Bob Dylan and Jeff Tweedy, who have clamored to work with her. Her voice and social activism remains as strong as ever today. This Staple Singers box set, in remastered sound, includes a 43 page booklet with archival photos, and brilliant liner notes from Langston Colin Wilkins and Levon Williams. Wilkins is an ethnomusicologist, while Williams is a museum curator, who worked for the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and the National Museum of African American Music.
I recommend this box set as a must have for fans of The Staple Singers, available on Vinyl or as CDs.
Soul Folk in Action (1968)
We’ll Get Over(1969)
The Staples Singers (1971)
Be Altitude/Respect Yourself (1972)
Be What You Are (1973)
City In the Sky (1974)
Singles , Live & More (1972)
More information available at Craft Recordings website: