Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Candi Staton

Of course not quite of all the best music came out on Stax and Motown….that would be a ridiculous notion. The rest came out on FAME and was recorded at Muscle Shoals. Sweeping generalisations aside, Candi Staton’s 6 year association with the label produced some of the definitive Southern soul recordings. That gospel and country influence, the multi racial band and the clarity and sweetness of the vocals playing (away) against the songs about cheatin’, lyin and slippin’ around. After all Country songs weren’t just about death, divorce and drinking.

Candi Staton's life story reads like a manual of how to be a definitive female soul singer. Born in Alabama, picking cotton, alcoholic dad, Gospel back ground, first solo in church at 5, touring with the Jewel Gospel Trio from the age of 12 until she was 17 when she started a relationship with Lou Rawls. When that ended she then married the first of her no good husbands, but after leaving him she tried to resestablish her career. She met and married Clarence Carter who was on FAME. Clarence Carter was never shy of a gimmick. Not only was he a blind blues singer but he also had a back up gimmick. A fruity filthy chuckle and a habit of breaking away from a song to stress the importance of “Making luuurve.” He introduced her to FAME owner Rick Hall and a similar deal to his own, whereby the FAME recordings were licensed to a major. In Staton's case Capitol

FAME drew from were incredibly talented pool of musicians and song writers. Original Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist Tommy Cogbill played on Dusty in Memphis and on the Elvis Memphis sessions and his replacement David Hood (his son Patterson plays in the Drive By Truckers) knew a couple of good notes as well. Her early material included songs written by FAME house writer George Jackson and Clarence Carter. Just like County, Southern Soul likes to take a title, add some brackets and a bit of a twist. You’ve got to play with the words and add some humour to the heartbreak, so you get titles like I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Mans Fool), Mr And Mrs Untrue, Another Man’s Woman Another Woman’s Man.

One of my favourite Candi Staton songs from that era is Evidence.

“Lipstick on your collar the smell of perfume that I never use,
Hotel matches in your pocket boy and a strange door key too”

The backing track is a miracle of hi fidelity infidelity. It’s got all my favourite sounds in. The contrast between the stinging guitar, the pad of the electric piano and the accusatory horns. The call and response vocals take their lead from the vocal interplay of Aretha Franklin and The Sweet Inspirations. And you don’t get better than that

Candi Staton also tackled C and W standards such as Stand By our Man and did a fine version of In The Ghetto. However, by 1974 the southern sound had fallen from favour, The Stax label was collapsing. Records sounded lusher. It was both the time and the sound of Philadelphia and the beginnings of disco

She moved to Warners. She’d been racking up the domestic misery, after splitting up from Clarence Carter and marrying husband number 3. Songwriter David Crawford wrote Young hearts Run Free based on the horror stories she’d told him, “I was in a very abusive relationship at that time He was a promoter, but I didn’t know he had a dark side. Before he met me, he was a big con artist. He threatened my life many times and did a lot of dirty things to me. I began to tell David about these things, and he wrote Young Hearts Run Free based on that. It was like my life-story in a song…”

After the disco era records like Young Hearts, Victim and Nights on Broadway she settled down to some serious drinking and husband number 4. “Your real role model is not an artist or an entertainer, it's your parents. And what you see them do, usually it comes down through the generations. I saw how my father would drink and abuse my mother and they would fight all the time. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew it wasn't right, but you pick those same kind of men. I've married the same man over and over again. He just looked different and wore different clothes."

Eventually she quit both drinking and secular music, released a string of gospel records through the 80’s and 90’s and became a televangelist hosted the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) weekly series "Say Yes" from 1986 to 2004.

Her secular career received a bit of an unlikely kick in the 90’s after The Source sampled her Gospel track for “You’ve Got The Love”. She did put out a non gospel album in 1999 called Outside In

But if it was the church that took her out of secular music it also gave her a way back in. “ My pastor sat me down in the 90s. He said ‘I need to talk to you. Candi, those songs that you did in the 70s and in the 80s, they’re not bad songs. They’re good songs. Some of them you couldn’t sing because of the way you live now. Young Hearts Run Free wasn’t bad; Stand by Your Man – those songs are classics. Those songs were blessed. They raised your children, they bought you home. Rethink it. You could go out and bless people again with those songs’. It took me about five years to think about it. Eventually, when the compilation came out, that’s when I began to really think seriously about doing them again. Now I have a new gospel and new secular albums coming out.”

Honest Jon’s re issued her Fame recordings in 1994 and are also behind her secular albums His Hands from 1996 and the forthcoming album Who’s Hurting Now?

What has helped Staton this time round is that the people involved have tried to recapture the essence of what made those early records sound so good but also to allow Staton to feel comfortable with the material. She’s said that she wants to stay away from the cheatin’ songs but there’s still a wealth of heartbreak out there. "There will be some religious folk that will come against me, and even maybe some DJs. They'll be disappointed maybe that I'm singing love songs. But I call them life songs. Just because you go to church you're not alienated from life."

Mark Nevers from Lambchop produced and recorded her latest albums at his house in Nashville with a band including, Candi's son Marcus Williams on drums, daughter Cassandra Hightower on backing vocals and Barry Beckett from the original Muscle Shoals houseband on the Hammond organ.

There’s material from Dan Penn, Bonnie Rait and Mercy Now by Mary Gauthier (while we’re on the subject of Gauthier seek out I Drink. It’s not a tribute to Staton’s thirsty years but it is as harrowing a depiction of wet the bed/forget to collect the kids from school alcoholism as you are ever likely to need)

The title track His Hands is written by Will Oldham, known to his mother as Bonnie Prince Billy. A man who knows his Country and his Western and can do clever songwriting that can charm or scare. (Johnny Cash covered I See A Darkness. Strangely enough I’m not aware of anyone covering the song he did as Palace Music on the Arise Therefore album….You Have Cum In Your Hair And Your Dick Is Hanging Out)

Young Hearts Run Free hid it’s tale of domestic abuse under a soaring escapist tune and the chorus of of “Say I wanna leave a thousand times a day”, but Oldham’s song His Hands does it in a 3 act play over 6 harrowing minutes, as the hands change from The Lover, to the Wife beater to God. Musically it’s got a bit of nod to King Heroin by James Brown. On her website Staton describes it as “As a kind of a gospel song and it's kind of not. It ends up pointing you to the Redeemer, but it starts out telling you about a normal, natural man and what he would do to you in an abusive situation. I enjoyed singing that because it's so much like my life. I've lived through every line of that song."

His Hands is on Youtube and it’ll scare you to death


There are songs from the new album (released next month) at http://www.myspace.com/candistaton

She plays Birmingham Town Hall on 21st February. And I can't wait.