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I’ll Take You There – Celebrating 75 Years Of Mavis Staples

on November 20, 2014 No comments
Josh Terry

“It feels so good to be 16,” joked Mavis Staples towards the end of her star-studded tribute show, “I’ll Take You There – Celebrating 75 Years Of Mavis Staples.” Though she was kidding, even as a septuagenarian the iconic soul singer has the vivacity and the positivity of someone a third of her age. Being one of the most enduring figures in American music, it’s spectacular how Staples has still got it.

Born in 1939 to a musical family in Chicago, she began performing with her family band the Staple Singers when she was 11, learning soul and gospel classics like “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” along with original songs. Over time, the band became a favorite of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and would become a prominent force in the Civil Rights Movement. Songs like “Freedom Highway” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” became classic anthems for equality and justice, stoking the movement with an unstoppable urge for progress.

Staples would then go on to be a solo artist, working with legends like Curtis Mayfield in the ’70s and Prince in the ’80s. In the process, she released 14 solo albums, with her most recent offerings being 2013’s One True Vine and 2010’s You Are Not Alone, both produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. While her studio output speaks for itself, her passionate performances and unshakeable alto have made her one of best live performers in a century.

Hosted at the Auditorium Theatre, a historic venue celebrating its 125th anniversary, the event was curated by Don Was and Keith Wortman. Together, the duo have put on marquee tribute shows for acts like Gregg Allman, Dr. John, Johnny Cash, and Levon Helm. Backed by a 13-piece band led by Was, the lineup included Jeff and Spencer Tweedy, Arcade Fire‘s Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, Glen Hansard, Otis Clay, Patty Griffin, Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Ryan Bingham, Eric Church, Taj Mahal, Michael McDonald, Buddy Miller, Aaron Neville, Widespread Panic, Grace Potter, Emmylou Harris, Joan Osborne, and Keb’ ‘Mo. All of the performers involved are personal friends and collaborators of Staples and. judging by each loving rendition, major fans too.

Singer/songwriter Joan Osborne kicked off the night strong with a rousing take on Staples’ 2001 Only For The Lonely cut “You’re Driving Me (To The Arms of a Stranger)”. From there, Keb’ ‘Mo offered some blues with a Staple singers cover “Heavy Makes You Happy” while Otis Clay paid tribute to Staples’ father, Pops with the Staple Singers’ “I Ain’t Raisin No Sand”. His homage to the late patriarch was perhaps one of the most charming moments when he talked about the famed Christmas dinners at the Staples household saying, “We should all have a Grandpa as funky as Pops.” Later, Glen Hansard performed a powerful rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”, a song title he borrowed for a cut on The Frames’ last album, The Cost. Following stunning vocal performances from Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris, and a surprisingly great outing from Michael McDonald on “Freedom Highway” despite the puzzling song choice, Staples finally showed up with soul legend Aaron Neville to sing “Respect Yourself”. Even with all the years under their belts, both singers’ voices have changed but not deteriorated.


Mavis Staples and Bonnie Raitt – Turn Me Around

After a 15-minute intermission, Widespread Panic turbocharged the night’s momentum with their “Hope In A Hopeless World”, which Staples had sung with them previously, and the crowd-pleaser “For What It’s Worth”, a prominent song the Staple Singers covered in the ’60s. Whereas the first half focused more on solo performances, the second was highly collaborative. Bob Dylan, who once allegedly proposed to Staples, was represented by a cover of “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” by Patty Griffin, Ryan Bingham, Grace Potter, and Emmylou Harris. The highlight of the night, however, came when Staples performed the first song she ever learned, the traditional “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” with Raitt, Mavis, Neville, Gregg Allman, and Taj Mahal, especially when the crowd sang, danced along, and gave a standing ovation before the number was even finish.


Another rocking, and seemingly left field moment came when Staples, alongside Butler and Chassagne covered Talking Heads’ “Slippery People”. However, as random as the rendition appears to be, David Byrne wrote the funky and soulful single with the Staple Singers in mind, and in 1984, the family band added the track to their ongoing rotation of great covers. Finally, Jeff and Spencer Tweedy, who Staples lovingly referred to as “my producer and my Grandson,” played “You Are Not Alone”. The song, much more mellow and simple than the other numbers, was perhaps the best display of Staples’ still strong pipes.

Out of the 23-song set, each rendition and guest vocalist were at least pleasant, all varying from good to great. However, the only major complaint comes from the fact that between each song there was about a two-minute break to change up the set by placing mics, and adjusting camera placements as the performance was being filmed and recorded for a future CD/DVD release. These nagging breaks slowed the momentum of the night more than any lackluster performance—a slight bummer for those in attendance that slowly wears off after realizing the inevitability of a release.

For the encore, the final song was The Band’s “The Weight”, which the Staple Singers famously performed with the legendary rock group during The Last Waltz. The rendition last night saw every guest performer joining Staples onstage, trading verses and harmonies. With a song as essential as “The Weight” and with acts as talented as this, it was a surreal and cathartic moment. In a way, the track was passed down to Staples in the longstanding folk tradition. Since it’s become such an inseparable part of her career trajectory, the song is hers now. After all, Levon Helm himself did admit that the track’s original version was “too lily-white and missing something crucial.”

Following the incredible encore, the crowd started singing “Happy Birthday” to the 75-year-old icon. The gesture of goodwill caused Staples to break down into joyful tears, a profound moment to end the night. While it wasn’t exactly a seamless event, it was a near perfect birthday party for one of American music’s most charming and essential players. Backstage before the show, Staples quipped, “We’ll do another one in five years when I turn 80.” After that night out, we all hope it’s not a joke.


Full Ensemble – The Weight


Bonnie Raitt & Michael McDonald On Mavis Staples Support of Civil Rights


Mavis Staples I’ll Take You There Official Theatrical Trailer

Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images

Joan Osborne – “You’re Driving Me (To The Arms of a Stranger)” (Mavis Staples Cover)
Keb’ ‘Mo – “Heavy Makes You Happy” (Staple Singers Cover)
Otis Clay – “I Ain’t Raisin No Sand” (Staple Singers Cover)
Buddy Miller — “Woke Up This Morning With Mind On Jesus” (Traditional)
Patty Griffin – “Waiting For My Child To Come Home”
Emmylou Harris – “Far Celestial Shore” (Mavis Staples Cover)
Michael McDonald – “Freedom Highway” (Staple Singers Cover)
Glen Hansard – “People Get Ready” (Curtis Mayfield Cover)
Aaron Neville and Mavis Staples — “Respect Yourself”
Widespread Panic – “Hope In A Hopeless World”
Widespread Panic – “For What It’s Worth” (Stephen Stills Cover)
Ryan Bingham – “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” (Staple Singers Cover)
Grace Potter – “Grandma’s Hands” (Bill Withers Cover)
Patty Griffin, Ryan Bingham, Grace Potter, and Emmylou Harris – “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” (Bob Dylan Cover)
Eric Church – “Eyes On The Prize” (Traditional)
Taj Mahal – “Wade In The Water” (Traditional)
Gregg Allman – “Have A Little Faith” (Mavis Staples Cover)
Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, and the Mavis Staples Band – “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” (Traditional)
Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Aaron Neville, Gregg Allman, and Taj Mahal – “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” (Traditional)
Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, and Mavis Staples – “Slippery People” (Talking Heads Cover)
Jeff Tweedy, Spencer Tweedy, Mavis Staples, and the Mavis Staples Band – “You are Not Alone”
Mavis Staples and the Mavis Staples Band – “I’ll Take You There”
Everyone – “The Weight”
Happy Birthday


Source: © Copyright Consequence
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Classic Tracks: Bonnie Raitt’s “Thing Called Love”

on April 1, 2011 No comments

By Blair Jackson

When I call engineer extraordinaire Ed Cherney about the recording of Bonnie Raitt’s commercial breakthrough, “Thing Called Love,” the first thing he says is, “Isn’t that a little recent for a ‘Classic Track’?”

“Dude,” I said, “it was recorded 22 years ago!” He got a laugh out of that; it does seem like it was just yesterday in some ways. But it was cut in 1989 and was a keystone of her album Nick of Time, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1990 and sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Bonnie Raitt and Ed Cherney discussing the album’s direction with producer Don Was (far-right) © Mr. Bonzai

Raitt’s success was a long time coming. The daughter of Broadway singer John Raitt, Bonnie Raitt started playing guitar at an early age, but didn’t turn serious about music until she was living in Cambridge, Mass., and going to Radcliffe College (Harvard’s all-girl “sister” school) in the late ’60s. It was in Boston that she met and befriended Dick Waterman, who had been deeply involved in the early ’60s Cambridge folk scene and “blues revival,” putting on shows by recently rediscovered bluesmen like Bukka White and Mississippi John Hurt, personally “finding” the long-retired Delta singer Son House (in Rochester, N.Y., of all places) and later starting a booking agency that handled those three and such greats as Skip James, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Big Boy Crudup. Raitt immersed herself in the blues, learning what she could from these living legends, and soon was opening for them on occasion. With a powerful voice that could be gritty one second, delicate the next, and serious guitar chops (especially on slide), the beautiful redhead was a striking and different artist, interpreting traditional blues and folk in her own way.

She dropped out of college to devote herself to music full-time, and by 1970 had been signed by Warner Bros. Records. Her self-titled debut came out in 1971 and was a critical success, if not a commercial triumph. It, and her next album, Give It Up, established a formula of sorts, offering a mixture of blues by the likes of Robert Johnson, Fred McDowell and Sippie Wallace; tunes by up-and-coming songwriters such as Jackson Browne, Chris Smither and Eric Kaz; and a sprinkling of a couple of her own compositions in the mix. Later albums championed writers like John Prine (“Angel From Montgomery” was an FM favorite), J.D. Souther, Karla Bonoff and many others, and she earned a reputation as a truly dynamic and personable live performer, as well. From her earliest days, she was politically active, giving her time and energy to many causes. Her first minor hit was a bluesy reading of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” in 1977 (on Sweet Forgiveness), but she was unable to follow it up to Warner’s satisfaction, and in late 1983, Warner Bros. abruptly dropped her (along with several other “prestige” acts), even though she had recently completed an album at tremendous expense.

Raitt says this was a particularly low time for her and that both her health and personal life were in bad shape, but during the next couple of years, she managed to pull everything together, and she continued to tour successfully and play a number of major benefits. Raitt signed with Capitol Records in late 1988 and was soon in Ocean Way (L.A.) Studio 2 working with producer Don Was and engineer Cherney on Nick of Time. She had met Was—who was leader of the quirky but cool band Was (Not Was), and branched into production with albums by Carly Simon and The B-52s—when he produced a version of Raitt singing “Baby Mine” from the film Dumbo for the hip 1988 album of Disney film song remakes called Stay Awake. Nick of Time marked the first time Cherney worked with either of them, and it proved to be a turning point in his career.

Cherney had cut his teeth as an assistant engineer for Quincy Jones and Bruce Swedien (among others), but by the early ’80s was mostly recording and mixing jingles, which he says gave him invaluable experience working fast and in different music styles. He landed a Delco car-battery spot featuring music by Ry Cooder, which led to recording and mixing Cooder’s entire Get Rhythm album. Cherney followed that with a disc for Cooder’s buddy David Lindley, the superb Linda Ronstadt–produced Very Greasy. “I knew that Bonnie was going to be doing a record,” Cherney recalls. “I’d been a big fan of hers for a long time, and at that point, having done Cooder and Lindley, I was really into slide guitar and also listening to a lot of blues. So I lobbied everyone I knew that knew Bonnie and pleaded with them to tell her that I was the perfect guy for her.” Evidently, Cherney’s plot was successful because he soon got a call from Was and, after a lunch with him and Raitt, landed the gig. “We laughed the whole meeting and I just fell in love with both of them,” Cherney says.

This month’s “Classic Track,” “Thing Called Love,” was written by John Hiatt and originally appeared on one of his most popular album, the 1987 Bring the Family (which featured Cooder on guitar). Joining Raitt at Ocean Way for her version of the driving rocker was her regular touring band at the time: bassist Hutch Hutchinson, drummer Ricky Fataar and guitarist/harmony singer Johnny Lee Schell (augmented by Tony Braunagel on percussion). The Nick of Time album in general is more stripped down and economical than some of Raitt’s previous efforts, which frequently featured dozens of different players and singers, and “Thing Called Love” really feels like a small band just playing—which is what it is, Cherney says.

“It was live in the studio,” he says. “As I listen now, I remember we overdubbed Tony’s percussion. But I’m sure the vocal take was a combination of live and maybe a couple of overdubs from other passes at it. Bonnie liked to sing and play out in the room with the band. I think the first time we set up to cut, I put her in a booth and it just didn’t swing and she wanted to be out there. So that’s when I discovered [Shure] SM7s and [Electro-Voice] RE-20s on her vocal. The RE-20, in particular, was pretty clear-sounding and it resembled a large-diaphragm condenser microphone in a lot of ways, but it’s got incredible rear and side rejection so you could put her in the room with the band and not have to even put baffles around her, though I think I did probably put one up. But she could be with the musicians, and everyone could feed off each other, hear each other, see each other. And when you’re close to the drums, you feel the drums and I think you sing and play a different way, rather than being isolated in a booth somewhere.

“Johnny [Lee Schell] was out in the room, too, and I put some goboes around him because he was playing acoustic guitar. I probably used an [AKG] 452 on him; that’s really directional. He did his harmony vocal right after that and it was easy; he’d been singing with her forever, and that kind of harmony is part of his DNA so it was no problem. But a lot of Bonnie’s vocals on this record were for the most part live.”

For Fataar’s drums, “I had [AKG] C-12s overhead and probably a [Shure] 57 on the snare with a [Sennheiser] 441 underneath. At that time, I’d just gotten these B&K 4011 microphones and I’m sure I had that on the hi-hat. For toms I might have been using C-12As, and the kick drum was probably a [Neumann] FET 47 and a [Sennheiser] 421. I had [Neumann] M50s up in the room fairly wide, and I ended up not using much of them. But I do remember I had a [Neumann] 87 in omni about 10 feet in front of the drums, about six feet high, and I compressed [with a Fairchild] and EQ’d the heck out of that. That was what we used for drum ambience.” Hutch’s bass was recorded with a DI and a FET 47 on the amp, probably without any EQ or compression; Raitt’s slide, which she also played live on that track, had a 57 close on the amp and an AKG 414 “back off it a little.” Nick of Time was recorded analog on an Ampex ATR-124 machine through a 40-channel custom Neve RCA 8028 console, “one of only two built with Class-A discrete electronics.”

The album was mixed at the Record Plant in what was then called Studio 4 (now SSL 4) on a Neve VR. “A bunch of the songs on that record were pretty easy to mix, but I struggled with ‘Thing Called Love’ a bit,” Cherney reflects. “I think I went back to it probably three times. It needed to sound real and organic, but it also needed to stand up and kick you in the ass. Bonnie and Don were patient while I tore my hair out until I felt I had it nailed.” He used minimal effects: “Some slap on Bonnie and on Johnny Lee, and then a couple of the plates at Ocean Way. I probably used two EMT 140s—one short and bright, and one with a 2-second decay with probably 120 ms in front of it.”

The finished track simmers with a rawness and intensity that fits Raitt’s voice and slide guitar perfectly. Though not a smash hit in the sense of being a successful single, “Thing Called Love” was gobbled up by FM radio across the country (it reached Number 11 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks charts) and was an immensely popular video on the still-rising VH-1 network—having Dennis Quaid at his cutest in that video no doubt helped. Buoyed further by the success of Raitt’s moving, self-written ballad “Nick of Time,” the album quickly became the artist’s biggest seller by far and really went into the stratosphere when it won three Grammys (Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance Female and Best Rock Vocal Performance Female)—it hit Number One right after that. It was, Cherney says, “life-changing.”

Raitt, Was and Cherney would have even more success with the 1991 album Luck of the Draw (which contained the smash “Something to Talk About”) and enjoy a three-peat with Longing In Their Hearts, which hit Number One in 1994. Was and Cherney won individual production and engineering Grammys, respectively, for their work that year. The duo’s productive partnership also included albums with Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, Neil Diamond, Bob Seger and the Rolling Stones. Raitt has reduced her output in recent years and tours less frequently, but still can be counted on to make fine albums, put together a first-rate band and show up when a good cause needs a helping hand.

Source: © Copyright Mix Online But wait, there's more!