Have A Little Faith
Gospel and soul legend Mavis Staples makes her Alligator debut with an inspired mixture of spiritual fervor, funky soul rhythms and rootsy acoustic instrumentation. "Underrated diva of the century"--ROLLING STONE
Produced by Jim Tullio & Mavis Staples
Engineered by Jim Tullio
Additional engineering by Doug McBride, Maurice Houston, Joshua Cutsinger, John Giblin, Chris Cameron, Foley McCreary, Chris Steinmetz & Randy Friel
Assisted by Lonnie 'DJ 007' Bonds & Noble 'Roscoe' Hibbs
Recorded at The Toolshed, Gravity Studios, Chicago Recording Company, Chi-Bone Studios, Smartalecmusic, Hornyold Road (England), Studio M & Scullville Studios
Mixed & mastered by Shelly Yakus & Michael Newman at Scullville Studios, Scullville, New Jersey. Assisted by Rachael Russell
Except for 'In Times Like These' mixed by Scott Steiner & Jim Tullio at Caliope Recorders Chicago
Photos by Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve
Design by Kevin Niemiec
Makeup by Amanda Byrd
Executive Producer: Mavis Staples
Mavis would like to thank Jesus; my family--Cleedi, Pervis, Yvonne & Fuzzy; Pastor Jerimiah A. Wright Jr.; my Trinity United Church Of Christ family; The Rosebud Agency--Mike Kappus, Saori (Baby Sistah) Kappus, Michael Morris, John Lochen, Tom Gold, Hank Sacks & staff; Diana Mae Louie; Attorney Arnim Johnson; Dr. Dionne Blackman; Robert Ware; Rudy Calvo; Dave Bartlett; Dr. John M. Sawiki; Gwendolyn, Peralta, Pervis-Roe, Paris & Reverly Staples; Nu-Nu; Dr. Stephen Towns; Richard Gibbs; Maurice Houston; Jon Shields; Dr. Albert Gunn; Bettye Williams; Bill Carpenter; The Dixie Hummingbirds; Len Fico; Ardis Johnson And Muntana Kippy
In memory of Pops, Moms & Cynthia Marie Staples
Dedicated to Cleotha 'Cleedi' Staples
This Is The Joy That I Have, The World Didn't Give It To Me --Mavis
Mavis Staples sits in her home that overlooks a sun-kissed Lake Michigan on Chicago's South Shore. She is talking about one of The Staple Singers' triumphant visits to South Africa. 'It blew me away,' Mavis says with a gleam in her eyes. 'In South Africa every other lady's name is Mavis! I didn't know any Mavis' over here. My aunt named me Mavis. Do you know what Mavis means in the dictionary?' Mavis smiles because the answer lives in her faithful heart.
'It's a songbird,' she says. 'It's a song thrush.'
It is a new morning for Mavis Staples.
Have A Little Faith is the first album of new Mavis Staples material since 1993's The Voice, recorded for Prince's Paisley Park label. Have A Little Faith updates the folk-Delta blues-gospel sound that has defined Mavis' and The Staple Singers' songbooks. Her inspiring contralto illuminates all the songs, a beacon of truth in dark times. Her new songs are framed by searing, contemporary arrangements, yet a traditional gospel spirit connects every element together.
Duke Ellington once told Roebuck 'Pops' Staples that his family sang gospel in a blues key. 'People expect 'get down' from me,' Mavis says. 'And that feeling is here. But these songs are so good. It's a new day. I've got to move on. I can't stay right there, so this is where I am music-wise.'
The Staple Singers were one of the most popular gospel acts in America before crossing over into folk-soul. The family's breakthrough record was Uncloudy Day, recorded in 1956 on Chicago's Vee-Jay Records. Mavis was born in Chicago and learned to sing when she was eight years old by listening to Pops' Mahalia Jackson gospel 78s, which were filed next to his Big Maybelle R&B recordings. By the time Mavis was 11, The Staple Singers were opening for Mahalia Jackson at the 44th Street Baptist Church in Chicago. Mavis had to stand on a chair when she sang because she was so small.
'I want to carry on what my father started when we were kids in 1950,' she says. 'He went to rehearsal with his gospel group and sometimes they wouldn't show up. Daddy got disgusted. He came home, went into the closet and got that little pawnshop guitar. He sat us all down on the floor in a circle and said, 'I'm going to sing with my children.' And we did that ever since.' That's why an updated version of the traditional Will The Circle Be Unbroken closes out Have A Little Faith. Mavis says, 'That was the first song our father taught us. I couldn't let the new CD go out without Will The Circle Be Unbroken.'
The circle grew profoundly in 1963, when The Staple Singers met Dr. Martin Luther King in Montgomery, Alabama. They discovered the faith to move into a political, populist arena. After meeting Dr. King, Pops told his family, 'If he can preach it, we can sing it.' Pops wrote Why (Am I Treated So Bad)? after seeing children in Little Rock denied entry onto a school bus. The folk-blues anthem became a favorite of Dr. King's. He handpicked The Staple Singers, who had a large Chicago following, to sing at many of his rallies. The Staple Singers appeared shoulder to shoulder with Dr. King in Chicago and throughout the South.
Signing with Memphis' Stax Records, The Staple Singers deployed what Mavis calls 'message songs' for their huge mid-1970s pop-soul hits such as Respect Yourself, Heavy Makes You Happy and I'll Take You There. The family was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999--a year before Pops died at the age of 85.
After Pops' death, Mavis planted the seeds of Have A Little Faith with Chicago musician-songwriter Jim Tullio, whose production credits include singer-songwriters Richie Havens and John Martyn as well as the latter-day edition of The Band. Have A Little Faith took another turn after September 11, 2001 when Tullio and LeRoy Marinell wrote In Times Like These in tribute to two friends who perished in the World Trade Center attacks. 'I liked that song and the melody reminded me of Staple Singers music,' Mavis says. Tullio became co-producer, writer and friend.
Further testimony to the universal admiration of Mavis Staples is the contribution of Robbie 'La Vida Loca' Rosa, who co-wrote the stirring gospel-folk track Step Into The Light with Tullio and Dave Resnik of Chicago's Sonia Dada. Richard Gibbs, the son of Chicago gospel legend Inez Andrews, plays piano on There's A Devil On The Loose and I Wanna Thank You.
Tullio recruited compatriots like LeRoy Marinell, who co-wrote Werewolves Of London and Excitable Boy with Warren Zevon. Tullio and Marinell wrote Pops Recipe, based on true facts about Pops, which were fed to them by Mavis. 'The words came together fast and Tullio got the music together,' Mavis says. 'These are the type of songs we sang down through the years--positive songs, informative songs that help people through their lives. People are burdened down today, but if you have faith you can do it. Don't take anything that makes you feel less than who you are.'
I've known Mavis for 20 years. No artist I've met lends her voice of empowerment to so many expressive musical corners. She's collaborated with Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos, Aretha Franklin, Dr. John, Tom Jones and Chicago's alt-country wiseacre Robbie Fulks, to name a few. 'I think that is what I was put here for,' Mavis says. 'To sing. The Lord gifted me with my voice. So I thank the Lord for my gift, because that's exactly what it is.' So sit back and listen to this songbird, a singular American treasure.
You too will be gifted.
-DAVE HOEKSTRA has been a Chicago Sun-Times music and feature writer since 1985. He is a contributor to The Chicago Reader and The Journal of Country Music. He co-wrote and co-produced the 2002 WTTW-Channel 11 Chicago Stories documentary The Staple Singers, which was nominated for an Emmy Award.