Candi Staton: The Four Phases Of Candi
By David Nathan
New York City, September 1979
"It's about time that people realized that we can do more than change diapers and wash up dishes!"
AMAZING as it may seem, there are those folk around who believe that Candi Staton's career commenced with "Young Hearts Run Free" and even some who swear that Candi's last Warners LP, "Victim" was also her first! Anyone who's been into black music for more than five years however, will know that the lovely Ms. Staton has been recording for close on eleven years and that she's enjoyed hit (and gold) records with such tunes as "Stand By Your Man" and "He Called Me Baby" and her first big hit, "I'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheart" — all before some of the younger members of Candi's audience today were born!
Almost a music business veteran, let's hasten to add that Candi is still a very young lady — she merely started in the business at an early age and there's no doubt that her experience has helped considerably in maintaining a long and successful career.
As Candi sees it, "There have been four main phases in my recording career. Number one, I was dominated entirely by my producers; number two, I spent watching and listening to what they were all about; number three I got pretty verbal because I began to know what I wanted on my records! and we're in number four now — I'm in command!" Indeed, Alabama-born Candi co-produced her latest Warner Brothers' album, "Chance" with the talented Jimmy Simpson (brother of Valerie) and the result has been her biggest hit to date, surpassing the album sales of her previous Warners albums which have yielded hits like "Young Hearts Run Free", "Honest I Do" and of course "Victim", although Candi notes that British audiences responded particularly well to her version of The Bee Gees' "Nights On Broadway". "I guess the European audiences seem to have kept up with me even more than American ones because they just seem to know about everything I've done!"
Candi finds it quite amusing that "people think I'm a brand new artist. I take great pains now to let people know that I'm no overnight success. It's funny because a kid came up to me one time when I was visiting a particular town and told me she'd bet her mother that I wasn't the same Candi Staton that her mother remembered from tunes like "Stand By Your Man"! Unfortunately, the young lady lost, because I told her most emphatically that I sure was the one!" But Candi is quick to realize that one of the keys to her career's longevity has been her ability "to relate to the music of the times and its changes. You see, so many artists, when they make it, stay right in that one bag, feeling that everything they do is just right. They don't make the adjustments and don't see that the public's tastes change; you've got to keep in touch."
Candi's certainly kept in tune but she's very quick to deny that she's taken on a disco slant. "When disco first came out, I was aware of it but we didn't go into the studio just to cut things for a disco audience. The fact that they dug some of the tunes was just great, but there was no intention on our part to make my records "disco". However, I would say we did make that conscious effort with tunes like "When You Wake Up Tomorrow" on the latest album. And don't get me wrong, I think disco is great. It definitely serves a purpose — it's like a form of therapy for people. In the disco, you can just be anyone you want to be — everybody's a star and everybody can participate in the music, which is great."
However, Candi predicts that "people are gonna want to get closer — they've been acrobatic all this time on the dance floor, now people need to feel some kind of love, so I think you'll find musically that people will be looking for some real good singing; some artistry; some real good songs. And don't worry, I'm already prepared for that!"
Indeed, Candi's already got time booked for the sessions for her next album which will be cut, as was "Chance" in New York, which is rapidly becoming a second home for Candi who still maintains residence in Alabama. "I'm sure I'll be starting to select songs for the next album real soon because we have to have it released by January of next year. But I can tell you, I'm real pleased to be able to have control of what I'm doing at last. It's taken a long time to get to this point and being a women hasn't helped at all! I've been with Warners five years now and I think they finally realized that I knew what I was doing. Mo Ostin, the company's chairman, felt that I was worth the risk in letting me produce myself although there was certainly quite a few hurdles to get over before we got to do it. Now of course, Mo is walking around real proud that he let me do it because it's worked out so well."
Candi's association with Jimmy Simpson stems from his re-mix on "Victim" which helped put that record into the upper reaches of the charts. "I had to convince George Schiffer — one of my managers — that Jimmy was the right guy and the result is what you hear on "Chance" which, I feel, is the best album I've done to date." Candi notes that it's significant that other ladies from the South such as Betty Wright are also getting far more involved in the production of their own albums. "It's time that people realized that we can do more than change diapers and wash up dishes! I think maybe that ladies from the South have always experienced certain things that came from inside; it's always been about feeling. So maybe people are beginning to see that we've had experience in the business, we know what we can do."
Indeed, Candi says that coming from "the old school of music is a big help and I've even applied some of those older ways of working to what I'm doing now. We cut some of the things you're hearing now 'live' — that is without such strict arrangements. To me, music's about feeling, not about mechanics. It's all about what's real."
And the reality is that Candi Staton and her music have arrived. Almost to show how surprised she is that it's happening; that recognition is finally hers, Candi recounts how she's now being stopped in the streets of Manhattan by autograph hunters, "and it's the first time in my career!" Not that we figure the lady minds — after all, good things always come to those who wait.