Candi Staton has always had a knack for finding a place for herself in the music scene. She's been singing, touring, performing, since her high school days back in the 60's. She's sung country, gospel, R&B, disco, and lots of other stuff. But most importantly, she's one of the defining voices in soul music and has done as much or more than anyone else to sell the world on the magic of soul. Four decades into her career, her voice rings just as true and authentic as it ever has. And she says that every song on Life Happens is a story about her life, with all of its ups and downs, sorrows and joys. It's all in there and it will make you glad you've got soul.
I'm adding "I Ain't Easy To Love," "Close To You," "Never Even Had The Chance," "Go Baby Go," "My Heart's On Empty," and "Where I'm At."
Preview Life Happens by Candi Staton on Amazon.
Candi Staton was my guest on episode 191 of the Americana Music Show.
Life Happens by Candi Staton, from the one sheet:
It's been exactly forty years since Candi Staton and Billboard Magazine's 1971 Producer of the Year Rick Hall got together and made Muscle Shoals-strong Top Ten R&B chart southern soul hits such as the scorching "I'm Just A Prisoner" and the Grammy Award nominated classics "Stand By Your Man" and "In The Ghetto." In their years apart, Hall's FAME Records drifted from gritty R&B (Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Etta James) into a polished country music production house (Marie Osmond, Mac Davis, The Gatlin Brothers) while Staton enjoyed a career in disco (1976's "Young Hearts Run Free" was a #1 R&B and Top 20 Pop smash), gospel and then, thanks to three well-received Honest Jons LPs in the 2000s, earned a new Americana audience. The dynamic duo reunited a couple of years ago to begin work on Staton's new fourteen track CD "Life Happens" (Beracah/MRI/RED Distribution) that returns the Alabama native to her Muscle Shoals beginnings with the same autobiographical arc of tales of ecstasy and heart ache that became her bread and butter back in the pre-Watergate days of the 1970s.
The new set follows the courtship, commitment, collapse and close of a romance. Many of the songs directly mirror Staton's own relationship woes over the last decade. "That's why I named the record Life Happens because these songs are about things that just happen in life," she adds. London's Honest Jons Record Shop and EMI Records revived Staton's career in 2003 with a 26-track CD of her long out-of-print FAME recordings that won critical acclaim in media as varied as Rollingstone and French Vogue as a lost musical treasure. The songs were sampled by the likes of Christina Aguilera and One eskimO that turned "Kandi" into a #1 Triple A radio hit in 2010. A young generation of artists such as Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Susan Tedesci, Janiva Magness and Florence & The Machine then covered Staton's tunes. The media started calling Staton and Hall, who had not spoken in over a decade, for commentary on the rediscovery of their collaborations. It wasn't long before Hall suggested they make new Muscle Shoals magic.
"Rick [Hall] would call me all the time and say he thinks we have one more hit in us but I was reluctant just because I wasn't ready to go through the hustle and bustle," Staton concedes. "Rick is a perfectionist and he knows what he wants and he's not gonna stop until he gets it. I didn't know if I wanted to go through all that and I put him off for a year. He would periodically call me and finally he said, ' let's just set a date' and I said ok. It was the right timing because they were starting to shoot the Muscle Shoals documentary and I happened to be at the studio when they started filming." The critically-acclaimed film traces Hall's tragic early life and his fight to build FAME studios where legendary southern soul recordings such as Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman" and The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" were recorded.
The earthy "I Ain't Easy To Love" (featuring John Paul White of The Civil Wars and Jason Isbell) opens the set. It was written by country singer/songwriter James LeBlanc, a recovering drug addict, to his girlfriend, singer Angela Hacker. "My now ex- husband was dealing with drugs at the time I heard the song so that resonated with me," Staton confesses in deciding to record the bluesy rocker. Hall emerged from semi-retirement to produce it and three other songs. Two of the others, the bustling plea of "Commitment" and the soulful southern ballad, "Never Even Had A Chance," made the final track listing. "The other song we did together didn't fit the feel of this album," Staton says. "It's a really good song so we'll use it for another project."
With the exception of "Close To You" (produced by Staton's UK touring band, PUSH), the remainder of the collection was produced by Staton and her son, Marcus Williams, an ace drummer who has played for the likes of Isaac Hayes and Peabo Bryson. "Marcus produced several of my gospel albums that tended to be on the traditional side so the traditional flavor of this album wasn't a big leap for him," Staton says. "I told him to make a good Americana album, he had to think simple and just keep the arrangements basic and I think we did an excellent job."
Throughout her career, Staton has never recorded within the strict parameters of a single music genre. During her disco years, she'd slip a country track like Freddy Fender's "Before The Next Teardrop Falls" on what was largely perceived to be a disco album. Even now, she approaches the Americana genre through the lens of a country and contemporary blues fusion.
On the country side of things, "Even The Bad Times Are Good" and "Where Were You?" are traditional ballads (including steel guitar) while "Eternity" has a naked acoustic resonance. "Go Baby Go" is a deep soul track with twangy guitar and a haunting harmonica. Then, there's the bluesy side of Staton's personality. "Where I grew up we could hear two types of music on the radio," Staton recalls. "We heard Earnest Tubb and Hank Williams a certain time of day and then another time of day, we heard B.B. King, Ruth Brown and the blues artists. Then, on Sunday we heard gospel in church so my musical foundation is a mixture of all of that good stuff."
In spite of the James Brown-styled horns on "She's After Your Man," Staton crafted a song with a Malaco Records flavor that salaciously echoes Denise LaSalle or Shirley Brown. Staton fires off some fiery up-tempo blues tracks with "Treat Me Like A Secret," "Three Minutes To A Relapse" and "My Heart is On Empty." The set closes with the two most blistering blues tracks, the minor-note balladry of "Have You Seen The Children?" (a world-weary indictment on today's society and a passing reference to Trayvon Martin's murder) and "A Better World Coming" which boasts a hopeful message on par with The Impressions' "People Get Ready" or The Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There."
With the success of the "Muscle Shoals" documentary, it seems the perfect time for Staton to record this homage to her roots and on February 28th she'll be inducted into The Alabama Music Hall of Fame. "It feels wonderful to be inducted," she says. "I thought they'd wait until I was dead before they put me in there." In 2011, Staton performed one of her old FAME Records B-sides entitled "Heart on a String" at The Americana Awards held at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium to enthusiastic applause. "I felt right at home there," she recalls of the night where she shared the same stage as Allison Kraus, Robert Plant, The Civil Wars and Gregg Allman. "I think I always had some Americana in me but I didn't call it that. I love country music and one time I was opening for Ray Charles and every night I'd go into his dressing room and talk with him. One night he said, 'You know you're a female Ray Charles.' That's the greatest thing he could ever tell me because he's a mixture of blues, country and gospel. He said, 'You've got the same mix I have.' What they used to call disco is now called House music. Americana is just a new way of saying country and blues." Life Happens is Americana according to Candi Staton.