Jay Meehan: Mavis Staples will bring a much-needed dose of joy to Park City
“Music is such a joy. Just an absolute joy.”
~ Mavis Staples
Right off the bat I recognized the group name from a chunk of vinyl that for whatever reason had survived countless whittling-downs of the record collection without getting played much, if at all, around the house.
Somehow, probably through readings involving the “civil rights movement” and what became known as the “ ‘60s folk scare,” their name, “The Staple Singers,” had acquired a “cachet,” a historic presence, as it were. And that was enough for them to continually “make the cut.”
Of course, once I got my first high-production-value look at the group performing with “The Band” in the latter’s swan-song film “The Last Waltz,” I began paying more attention to their lead vocalist, the youngest daughter of the family quartet, Mavis. Record label A&R reps of the time referred to it as a band’s “visual component.”
It would be later, once the platter itself arrived in its natural state spinning upon the turntable, that what also became evident was that not only did her lead vocal sound lower in register than most female voices of the day, but that it contained such natural musicality, power, and purpose. Mavis Staples was a musical presence that could be ignored at one’s own peril.
The family patriarch, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, had this ingratiating humility that made everyone want to hug him. No doubt honed during his youth on the Mississippi Delta’s famed Dockery Plantation, it also showed-up in his laid-back bass vocals and guitar riffs.
Pops, who learned delta-blues style guitar from the legendary Charlie Patton in between his 10-cent-a-day cotton-picking chores at Dockery, later moved to Chicago where Mavis was born.
It would be on the living room floor of their home in Chicago where Pops, after a falling out with another band, sat young Mavis, her older siblings, brother Pervis and sister Cleotha, in a circle, gave them each vocal parts, and viola, “The Staple Singers” were born.
During the 60s, once it had entered the folk legend that up-and-comer Bob Dylan had asked Mavis for her hand in marriage, others began to pay attention. Funny how that works.
Well, anyway, after a time Mavis went solo, began touring, and quickly achieved a cachet of her own. The Park City Institute has brought her to town multiple times, both as part of their “Big Stars, Bright Nights” summer productions at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Amphitheater and their “Main Stage” shows at the Eccles Center, where she will appear this upcoming Saturday evening, March 3.
Having caught her and her wonderful band two nights running down in Salt Lake somewhat recently opening for that same Dylan character that was mentioned a few paragraphs previous, I can hereby state that she remains a “must see” artist in her own right.
She will insinuate herself, her joy, and her soul into your life, count on that. Not only is jumping up from your seat and testifying allowed at her shows, the vibe in the hall will most certainly lend itself to it. At least, if history means anything, it’s always been difficult for your humble scribe to remain in a seated position when Mavis is holding court.
During her Salt Lake shows, which were obviously abbreviated due to her being the opening act, she mixed songs from The Staple Singers catalogue including “The Weight,” which they performed in “The Last Waltz,” with covers such as The Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth.”
She mostly showcased, however, songs from her recent studio albums, some of which were produced by the likes of Jeff Tweedy of “Wilco” and the legendary Ry Cooder. A beloved performer who shows little sign of quitting either the studio or the road, she continues to both recognize and share her gifts with the world.
If you’ve never experienced her “presence,” well this is your chance. Mavis Staples, multiple Grammy winner and member of both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Blues Hall of Fame is coming to our town for a show this Saturday night March 3 at the Eccles Center. And boy, could we use a dose of her joy right about now.