She was once known as the First Lady of Southern Soul for a string of gritty southern fried Top Ten R&B hits (I’m Just A Prisoner, Stand By Your Man, In The Ghetto) she cut at the hallowed FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL during the early ’70s and by the end of the decade she was hailed as a disco diva for her danceable chansons such as 1976’s #1 R&B smash “Young Hearts Run Free.” Then, for twenty years, Candi Staton exclusively sang gospel music before launching an Americana career with 2006’s critically acclaimed CD “His Hands” (Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy wrote the harrowing title track about domestic abuse). Now, the Alabama native is returning to her Muscle Shoals roots on the 27th album of her six-decade career, “Life Happens” (Beracah Records/Fame Records).
The new set also reunites Staton with Producer Rick Hall, who crafted her FAME recordings, for the first time in 40 years. A recent Grammy Trustee Lifetime Achievement Awardee, Hall (his resume includes Aretha’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” and Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman” among scores of other classic southern soul tracks) produced three tracks on the new CD. “I love Rick,” Staton says. “We know each other so well. Even though we hadn’t been in the studio together for years, we got in there and it was like no time had passed.”
The remainder of the album was produced by Staton’s son Marcus Williams (a drummer for the likes of Isaac Hayes and Peabo Bryson) or her UK band, PUSH. It was their task to pick up where Hall left off and complete the album with an authentic Muscle Shoals flavor.
Staton was born about ninety minutes from Muscle Shoals in the farming community of Hanceville, AL in the 1940s. Her hard-drinking father, Ursey Staton, worked the farm part of the year and in the coal mines the other half. Her mother, Rosa, kept her six children in church and id whatever she needed to do to keep her household in order. Staton sang her first church solo at the age of four and went pro at twelve when she joined the Jewel Gospel Trio. The group recorded for Nashboro Records and toured with Sam Cooke and Mahalia Jackson in the 1950s. After high school, she left music to get married and start a family. However, her brother had other ideas and dared her to go on stage at Birmingham’s 27/28 Club in 1968 when an impromptu take on Aretha’s “Do Right Woman” won her a gig opening for R&B star Clarence Carter.
Carter eventually got her a record deal with Rick Hall’s Fame Records label. Over the next five years, Hall, who had produced Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” and Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman”, and Staton churned out more than a dozen southern soul smashes such as their Grammy-nominated renditions of “Stand By Your Man” and “In the Ghetto.” Staton was crowned the First Lady of Southern Soul just as she was leaving Fame for Warner Bros. and tossed off her tiara to become a disco princess with smash club hits such as 1976’s million-seller “Young Hearts Run Free,” “Victim,” “Honest I Do,” “Nights on Broadway” and “When You Wake Up Tomorrow.”
By 1983, Staton had beaten an alcohol addiction, joined a church, and left pop music. She was a regular on Christian television programs such as “The PTL Club” and gained her own weekly TV program “New Direction” (later renamed “Say Yes”) on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) Network. For the next two decades, she recorded gospel music exclusively, including the Top Ten Grammy nominated Make Me An Instrument (1983) and Sing A Song (1986) Lps. Her gospel classics include “Love Lifted Me,” “Mama,” “The First Face I Want to See,” “Sin Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and the original 1986 R&B styled version of “You Got the Love.”
Meanwhile, rising stars are still sampling Staton’s back catalogue. A sample of that voice distinguishes the American Triple A #1 radio smash “Kandi” by British rock band, One EskimO. The tune adroitly fetches the hook of Staton’s 1971 hit “He Called Me Baby” to nail the delicious groove. “Kandi is beautiful” wrote a Los Angeles Times magazine scribe, “.catchy, ambient pop” wrote a Billboard magazine muse, and The Lefsetz Letter declared it: “A track so in the pocket that your body turned into Gumby, you were bending in places where angles were never created, you were infected with sound.” Christina Aguilera has sampled Staton’s 1972 gem “Best Thing You Ever Had,” blues princess Susan Tedeschi covered “Evidence,” Janiva Magness freshened up “I’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’)” and Drive By Truckers guitarist Jason Isbell and his band The 400 Unit have done a scorching rendition of her 1969 b-side, “Heart On A String.” Ireland’s latest pop star Laura Izibor has hailed Staton as one of her primary vocal influences.
Another Staton staple that has infected a generation is her dance classic “You Got the Love.” The a cappella of the 1986 track fell into the hands of DJ Eren (Eren Abdullah), a mixer at the Solaris club in London, who paired it with Jamie Principle’s instrumental “Your Love” track and created the percolating techno version that caught the ears of Jon Truelove, another club DJ. Truelove remixed the song and pushed it all the way to #4 on the British pop chart in 1991. The subsequent “Now Voyager” (1997) and “Shapeshifters New Voyager” (2006) mixes both hit the British Top Ten as well. The success of “You Got the Love” brought Staton back to the musical mainstream in the summer of 1999 with an inspirational British pop cd Outside In that produced three Top 40 UK pop singles and three #1 UK dance hits. Candi has since toured all over Europe and appeared on UK TV shows such as “Later with Jools” “VH-1 Europe” and “Top of the Pops.” In the last few years, two young British pop stars have paid homage to the song and Staton with their own unique renditions. Florence & the Machine’s re-titled “You’ve Got the Love” was a monster hit throughout Europe in 2011 while the lass Joss Stone has also done an old school funk take of it on her Colour Me Free CD.
Staton’s evergreen sound has musicians lining up to perform with her. Her 2008 collaboration “Love Sweet Sound” with British duo Groove Armada returned her to the Top Ten US Dance charts for the first time since 1980. Currently, she’s enjoying a huge international hit with various Top DJ remixes (Larse, Frankie Knuckles, Ashley Beedle and David Penn) of her inspirational tune “Hallelujah Anyway” that hit the pop and dance charts in Belgium, England, Germany and South Africa in 2012.
A surprise hit of 2004 was the Honest Jons Candi Staton CD of Staton’s Fame Records recordings. It reached the pop charts in England, France, the Netherlands, Japan, and Germany. There was an array of press ranging from the New York Times to the trendy rock magazine, Blender. In London, it received 5 star eulogies from the prestigious Guardian newspaper. Staton was praised in Paris’ Le Parisien and Elle magazine. Rollingstone named the CD one of the Ten best reissues of the year alongside Bob Dylan and Beatles collections. The jazz magazine, Downbeat, proclaimed the CD a masterpiece. Since then, Staton has released two critically acclaimed southern soul CDs His Hands (2006) and Who’s Hurting Now? (2009). The latter won the Academie du Jazz in Paris’s Best Soul CD of the year in January 2010. And now she’s back on the scene with a delicious slice of Americana that she calls “Life Happens.”