Roebuck 'Pops' Staples, one of the unlikeliest looking leaders of youth, tells John Abbey about his beliefs in a brighter tomorrow for all men.
IN THIS day of increasingly dubious standards, it is indeed comforting to note that the Staple Singers family still stays on top of the pack. It is even more satisfying because here is a group of people who are worthy leaders, people who will not abuse the 'power' that they find in their hands.
Whereas a lot of so-called stars do abuse their responsibility to their fellow beings, Roebuck 'Pops' Staples and his three singing daughters, Mavis, Yvonne and Cleo, have always used their voices to sing of peace, happiness and understanding and in the grey haired Pops Staples, they have one of the unlikeliest looking leaders of youth.
Their music is of peace and whilst they frequently add devastating rhythms for effect, the message is always loud and clear. To use an overworked phrase, the Staple Singers have become cult heroes.
"And it's an awfully good feeling,'' Pops proudly admits, "because the kids seem to really love and appreciate what we are doing. Young folks today want to hear the truth and they want to hear lyrics and messages in thir songs. Sure they enjoy the music, too, but we know they want to hear what we have to say — and I like it that way!
"We've always told it like it is, with no airs and graces. I guess you could call our music a fusion of Rock and Gospel — yeah, a kind of Rock-Gospel. Look at it this way — we're singing the truth and about the truth. And Gospel is a music of the truth. It's all about human togetherness. And that's what Staples music is all about."
At the present time, the Staples' "City In The Sky" album is steadily making its way to the top in both America and Britain but certain reviewers have been less than kind to the album and even we at B&S felt it fell short of their very best.
"I'd have to confess that I feel "Be Altitude" is our best album so far," Pops concedes. "But I feel that "City In The Sky" is a super album in its own way. We've already got our next album away and in the can but I would have to admit an urge or desire to get more back into the roots that we came up through.
"You could say that I'd like to see it all get back to simple roots and less of the strings and brass that have crept in more and more."
However, the album was built around one of the family's biggest singles so far, the chart-topping "City In The Sky". And the next single will almost certainly be pulled from the LP. The two co-favourites right now are "My Main Man" and "Blood Pressure" but the final decision may not be for a week or two yet.
Having achieved so much in his life — although admittedly most of the conquests have only been in the more recent years — I was interested to find out if Pops still has any ambitions, either on a musical or humane level. "Not really," he hesitated, "but I'd just like to reach out as far as we possibly can.
"Our whole aim really is to get our message over and as long as we are succeeding, then we can feel satisfied. We've had numerous offers to get into movies and record producing but we all feel that that could detract from our main line of attack.
"So far, we haven't actually refused, just delayed answering in most cases. But if ever I make that kind of step, I want to be sure it is the right move. And it would have to be to my liking. For instance, we were asked to sing the leading song from a movie that has been very successful — but I turned that one down because I didn't feel that the movie's image was in keeping with ours. We represent something and I have to be — and want to be — consistent in my thinking. Therefore, anything we do has to really fit into our image because otherwise we are abusing faith that is put in us, you understand?
"It has to be constructive. That's why we could never do anything like a "Superfly" because it contravenes our image as people. But it's all so easy to get into that way of life and I believe that TV has played a big part in turning kid's heads the wrong way. They can see how easy it is to succeed with a bank robbery or something from a TV show.
"And there is a certain image that the bad guys have on TV that is quite appealing to certain types of kids — especially underprivileged kids who see perhaps an easy way out of their situation. They see the big cars that the pimps sport and they like the look of it. But me! I've always been an honest guy, all through my life.
"I've always earned an honest living and it will always stay that way. I like the comforts that money can buy, sure — but there are certain limits that I will not go beyond in the search of money.
"For nearly all of my life, I've lived without any vast sums of money so I do know what I am saying and I'm not talking from an ivory tower. No, my belief is that if you do right, the Lord will take care of you and it has proven that way for me so far."
I asked Pops if he finds people ever criticising him for his honest approach to life. "I always answer the same way," Pops logically and slowly points out, "and that is that if we had peace, love and understanding in this world, we wouldn't need to have to search for easy money. And I know I'm doing my bit towards it — that's what we are fighting out there for.
"Like now, for example, there are a whole bunch of groups who are trying to move in our style of music. They see the big money that we are supposed to be earning and they like the look of it. But we're there and we haven't sold out along the way — for money! And you have to retain that feeling to succeed.
Then, on the other hand, take groups like the O'Jays or Stylistics — they sing message songs but they sing them in their own way. Humanity is listening and we have a tremendous responsibility to humanity as entertainers. We know we are listened to by millions of people and we recognise this."
Does Pops feel confident of the future, then, with all of this abuse building up around us. "Oh, yeah, sure!" he smiled. "I've never been a negative thinking person and I've got this far. Maybe it will have to get worse still before it gets better but I can see signs every day that people are taking notice of what is happening around them.
"For us, it is a feeling of pride that we can help towards building a true togetherness for tomorrow. We know it is beneficial to the whole universe. The old style Rock singers didn't accept this particular responsibility and they misused their authority — but today's young people have their ears open and eyes looking — and that makes me feel confident."
All of which is distinctly comforting for our future because if Pops can sincerely foresee a brighter tomorrow for all men (and women, of course!) then it should encourage us all to take faith.