Gospel Legend Mavis Staples Comes 'Full Circle'

By NPR Staff

June 26, 2013

From small country churches to the stages of the civil rights movement to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mavis Staples' career has spanned more than 60 years.

The gospel legend has shown no interest in retirement. Her new album, One True Vine, is her second collaboration with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy.

"It's a totally different CD," Staples tells NPR's Neal Conan. "It's a return to my beginning. As far as I'm concerned, it's brought me full circle. I've gone from the strictly gospel to folk to country, and here I am right back at home where I began."

Staples began singing with her family band The Staple Singers when she was 13. She says her latest album reminds her of singing with her family, and that she always tries to sing at least one song written by her father, Roebuck "Pops" Staples, who died in 2000. One True Vine includes "I Like the Things About Me," a song in which her dad used to sing the lead.

Staples says it was a challenge to sing his part: "Pops, he was a singer's singer. I loved to hear my father sing. He just was so laid-back and cool. I always wished I could sing like Pops."

She says her father taught her to just sing from her heart and let it flow. "Just be Mavis," he used to say.

Staples still sings with her sister Yvonne. "When Pops passed," Staples says, "Yvonne tried to tell me to go on and sing, and she would take care of my business."

Staples says she got on the stage about three times, but something was missing.

"I didn't have any of the family on stage with me," she says. "I got off that stage and I said, 'Listen, Yvonne, you have to sing. I need to hear at least one Staples voice on that stage.' "

Yvonne still sings backup for her sister, along with two other singers.

Collaborating With Jeff Tweedy

Producer Jeff Tweedy wrote three songs for the album: "Every Step," "Jesus Wept" and the title track, "One True Vine." She says that on the songs Tweedy wrote, there were a couple of times when they lovingly clashed in opinions on style and delivery.

"He was lucky he was in the engineering room and I couldn't get to him to shake him," Staples says. "But I went on and did it his way, and I tell you I'm grateful. I learned something new."

Next, Staples says she hopes to make a country album, as well as a tribute to Bob Dylan: "I'm always trying to find new things to do," she says. "I don't know which way I'm going. My next CD might be country, might be Dylan, might be Mick Jagger. I don't know. I love a challenge."

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