IT can't be coincidence that the minute the Staples return to Muscle Shoals, they come away with their best selling album since the last time they recorded in Alabama.
Since switching to Warner Brothers, the Staples have been a little quiet. They immediately hit Gold when they joined the company with the title theme from "Let's Do It Again, produced by Curtis Mayfield. But, apparently, the album wasn't as successful as I thought.
So, accepting the temporary lull in their recording exploits, Pops and his three daughters — Mavis, Cleo and Yvonne — decided the timing was right to return to Muscle Shoals. And they had the added advantage of having Jerry Wexler as their producer.
"It's put us right back in the pocket," Mavis explains. "The musicians down there make us sing our best."
"It's our most comfortable feeling," Pops picks up the story. "It's like going back to where we know we belong. We feel we had become a little too slick for our own good. And the result of going back is that we are having the biggest album of our career. It's even sold more than "Be Altitude" but things have changed since then.
"Working with Jerry has been a great experience for us, too. We chose the material together and that is always the strength of any album. Before this album, we have tried to experiment and we had been pulled into the wrong direction."
The two years inactivity that the Staples experience on the demise of Stax contributed a lot to the initial indecision that they endured with Warners.
"We had gotten into a rut and were willing to try anything just to get back out there," Yvonne smiles. And being with Warners was a new experience for us — after the family type atmosphere of Stax, especially. We found we couldn't get as close to them because they are so much bigger and they have acts that sell millions of records. At Stax, we were one of the really top acts."
"And we had grown up with Al Bell (Stax President) because when he first started out, he was in radio," Pops interjects. "But whenever I call Mo Austin (Warners' President), he always talks with me or gets back to me so I have a lot of respect for the company and for him as a man. And now that we are justifying ourselves with a hit single and an album, it makes us feel a lot more comfortable."
On joining Warners, the Staple Singers became the Staples and I seriously wonder if that has harmed their inbuilt following.
"It was the idea of the guy that was managing us at the time," Mavis points out. "He felt that we would find it easier to establish ourselves as entertainers and not just singers if we dropped that part of our name. We started to get into drama and choreography and movies and things like that. But I think that people still think of us as the Staple Singers, don't you?
"Our material direction changed at the same time but I feel that 'Unlock Your Mind' finds us reaching in the right direction again. They lyrics are there. It's such a positive song that it makes you feel positive just to hear it. And with songs like 'God Can' on the album, it shows that we have found our right direction again."
Positive thoughts are something that Mavis needed because on the morning of the day we interviewed the Staples, she had lost her wallet shopping in New York's prestigious Bonwit Teller store.
"I was really down about it," she could now smile. "But Yvonne kept my spirits high and, of course, everything in it could be replaced. But while we were still out, a guy called Daddy at the hotel and told him that he had found the wallet and returned it — with everything still in there. And all he wanted was two tickets for the concert (with Ray Charles). That made me feel real good."
Despite the lack of major successes over the last couple of years, the Staples are far from depressed — especially now that they are definitely on the road back to their rightful status — the T-O-P!
"We try not to ever look back," Pops pensively points out. "During the time we were between companies, things got really bad. Apart from the fact that we didn't have any records out, we lost a quarter million dollars in a real estate fraud investment we made. Everything seemed to happen at the one time but now that we are back on the charts, we can look forward again with some confidence.
"Our secret? Love, that's the secret. it gives you inner strength and will always see you through — no matter how bad you feel things are, love will see you through if you practice it properly.
"We have always relayed that message to our public — we practice what we preach. This time around, though, we know we'll appreciate it more. We know the pitfalls and we believe totally in what we are doing. We feel as if we belong to the people — we dedicated ourselves to them and if we are only singing for six people, we still put everything into it. If they are happy, we are happy."
The future for the Staples includes several solo projects — as well as a new collective album.
"We are supposed to start our next album in February, Mavis says. "It will be with Jerry Wexler and in Muscle Shoals again."
The first solo project involves Mavis. She had three solo shots on Stax but, in all honesty, none attained the kind of success that she really wanted.
"This is the best one, though," she quickly points out. "It was done in Muscle Shoals and with Jerry (Wexler) and Barry Beckett again. Really, Daddy, Yvonne and Cleo pushed me into it — but I'm glad they did! There are Country-Western songs, love songs — all kinds of songs in there.
"It's very different from a Staples album because I wanted to really stretch myself out and see what I was capable of. If it is successful, it will be good for the group as well as for me personally. I think it's going to be called "Just Mavis" — that's the working title, anyway. We did a couple of Paul Kelly tunes and you may remember Al Green's "Loving You" — we did that too."
Pops is the other projected soloist. But his album will be pure gospel and straight roots music. "Straight, conemporary gospel," he assets. "And I'll play guitar just like I used to in Mississippi. If I miss a note I'll leave it so it really is the real thing. I won't overproduce it — even down to having no horns or strings or anything like that all all."
Another future project involves the possibility of the Staples scoring a movie. "But somebody else will produce it because we are singers and not producers," Pops stresses. "Some people can do both but if you can't, it's best to accept the fact. Maybe when we stop being singers, we may be able to get into tht side of it ll."
A recent project that the Staples have completed was a duet with Country singer, George Jones, on the Staples evergreen hit, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken".
"He called us because he had heard our version of the song and Mavis and I ended up going to Nashville to record with him, "Pops says. "It was a great experience — and I played guitar on it, too, by the way."
All of which brings us pretty much up-to-date on the Staples. Though it always sounds corny, I would like to close by saying how happy I feel that one of the nicest families in the world are again getting their just deserts. Maybe love does conquer all — it certainly gives you faith.