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Originally Published December 29, 2000
Praising the Life of Pop Staples
Roebuck “Pop” Staples has gone to the heaven that he has sung about for so many years. The patriarch of the Staple Singers gospel group passed away in his sleep on the morning of December 19th. He had just suffered a concussion from a fall in his home.
Pop Staples was born on December 2nd, 1915 in Winona, Mississippi. Even though he is known for his gospel music, his roots are in the Blues. He was a good friend of Charley Patton, who is generally regarded as the “Father of the Delta Blues.” He also played with the great Son House and the legendary Robert Johnson. There are only a few Bluesmen still living that knew Johnson personally. The only ones that I know of are David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Henry Townsend, and Robert Jr. Lockwood. (Johnson was a boyfriend of Lockwood’s mother.)
While Pop Staples was here, he made his mark on this world. He had become an accomplished Blues guitarist, but was increasingly drawn to the church and gospel music. In 1937, he joined the Golden Trumpets, and after moving to Chicago, he became part of the Trumpet Jubilees. A decade later, he was singing with his son, Pervis, and daughters, Cleotha and Mavis. They became the Staple Singers, and released an album in 1959 called Uncloudy Day on the Vee Jay label. Pop and Mavis shared lead vocals with Pop’s reverb-drenched guitar work providing a soulful underpinning.
They soon were important figures in the ’60s folk music movement, but when they signed on to Memphis/ Stax label in ’68, their sound evolved into more of a socially conscious style with distinct messages for the modern world. Their Memphis work was produced by the great Steve Cropper, and they were backed by Cropper’s band, Booker T. & the MG’s.
In 1970, Al Bell took over the production duties, and they started to record in the now-famous Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama. Their sound started to become even more modern and funky. They had a total of 12 songs hit the charts while with Stax, including “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There,” which made it all the way to ##1 on the pop charts in ’72.
They later signed with Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label, hitting big with “Let’s Do It Again” in ’75.
In addition to his prodigious output with the Staple Singers, Pop released a couple nice solo albums, combining his joyful gospel sound with some swampy Blues. He got some significant help from Ry Cooder, Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. The first album was 1992′s Peace To The Neighborhood, and the Grammy Award winning Father Father, from ’94.
Pop also appeared in several movies, including the hit, Wag The Dog.
Roebuck “Pop” Staples will be missed, but his music and legacy will live on through his recordings and his musical family.
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