Mavis Staples is universally acknowledged as a bona fide musical legend, ever since riding the original wave of rhythm and blues, soul and gospel which emanated out of the USA in the 50’s and 60’s.
Originally earning recognition in revered family gospel outfit The Staple Singers, whose worldwide hits included ‘Respect Yourself’ and ‘I’ll Take You There’, she also forged a long and distinguished solo career, which saw her inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1999 and the Blues Hall Of Fame in 2017. An enduring component of her ongoing relevance is her willingness to embrace the music of the here and now, collaborating with some of rocks biggest names, including Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco.
In the lead up to her upcoming run of Australian club shows, including a Brisbane date at The Triffid on 4 March, we were honoured that Mavis was able to take time out from her schedule to chat with us about her upcoming tour, the uniting power of music, dream collaborations – and skate boarding! Take it away Mavis…
You’ve been out to Australia a few times now and there’s clearly a strong mutual love between yourself and our country. What is it about Australia that keeps bringing you back?
Well the last time I came over I thought might be my last because the flight is just so tough on an old gal like me. But then they told me the Australians called again, I just couldn’t say no. It’s a feeling of gratitude, just being grateful that folks still want to come see us after all these years. I’ve been blessed and I still feel blessed, so I just told them, “Let’s go back Down Under one more time.”
Can you tell us about your backing band that you’ll performing these upcoming Australian shows with?
This time through I’ll have my “Pops, Jr.” Rick Holmstrom on guitar as well as “Deacon” Donny Gerrard on backing vocals, but I have some new band members in Steve Mugalian on drums, Greg Boaz on bass and Saundra Williams on backing vocals. Saundra sang with Sharon Jones so she will be familiar to fans Down Under.
Your support act for your upcoming tour is our own Indigenous talent, Emily Wurramara. Do you know much about her?
I haven’t seen her perform live yet, but I have heard her music. They sent it through for me to listen to, and I just liked it so much. It put me in the mind of Mississippi, which is amazing seeing that she is from Australia. I’m looking forward to hearing her sing.
You’ve been an advocate for the civil rights movement and social activism throughout your life. What’s your take on where things are heading and do you believe that music and a united voice can still be active in pushing for greater social justice in this turbulent day and age?
I’ve been of a mind that music with a message can make the world a better place my whole life, and I am just keeping on now. And for Pops. My family, the Staple Singers, we were singing songs of hope and love and I’m still doing it. I was there in the 60’s and I’m still here. I’ve seen it all as far as struggle is concerned, and I’m still here. The Lord has kept me here, I think he’s kept me here for a reason. Music will bring us together, it brings hope and love into this world. I can feel some people fighting against me, but they can try to block my path all they want – I’m not going anywhere. I am still on that highway.
You’ve collaborated with some amazing fellow artists across your musical journey. Is there anyone that you’d particularly like to work or perform with that you’ve yet to do so?
I have been trying to get with Chance, but it never seems to work out. He’s really busy and he does so much good in Chicago and all over. But I have been so lucky, just in the last year I have gotten to sing with Brandi Carlile at Madison Square Garden and David Byrne at the Apollo. And Dolly Parton! And before that it was Hozier on the Ellen show. It’s just one after the other and I am just having the best old time.
I was reading that you were keen to try out skateboarding when you turned 80! Have you managed to give it a try yet?
Yes, Ben Harper gave me lessons and they even got a picture of me trying it out. He wouldn’t let me take his skateboard so I said I would get my own – but then my record label sent me one! That tickled me. But I’m working so much I haven’t got to use it yet…
Be sure to catch a living legend in the flesh when the incomparable Mavis Staples raises the roof at The Triffid on 4 March, presented by Bluesfest Touring.
IMAGE (c) Myriam Santos