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B-sides: Mavis Staples talks Prince, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan and President Obama

Mavis StaplesStaples has worked with a bard and a Prince -- and she's been imitated by a king. (Marvin Joseph/TWP)

By Chris Richards

There's one colossal figure that looms largest in the life of gospel icon Mavis Staples: Her late father and mentor Roebuck "Pops" Staples.

But there are other colossi, too. Over the course of her storied singing career, Staples has worked with Prince, Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan -- to name a few.

Click Track has gathered up some unused interview snippets from the Staples feature running in Sunday's Washington Post. After the jump, Staples recounts her experiences with each of the pop legends -- and shares her thoughts on the 44th President of the United States.

On her influence on Micheal Jackson and the origin of "shamone": My mother called me one day. She said, “Mavis, this little Michael Jackson done stole your word!” I said, "What?” She said, "Turn on channel two." And he was [on television, singing the song "Bad."]: “I’m bad, you know it, shamone, shamone.” See, I said "shamone" in “I'll Take You There.” It’s just a word I made up! Instead of saying "come on," I said "SHA-mone." You know, trying to be slick. And he picked up on it. And it made me feel so good. Some disc jockeys would ask me, "Mavis, has Michael paid you any money for 'shamone'?" I said, "No, he hasn’t paid me one red cent. But it’s alright."

On working with a very timid Prince: Prince was just the most beautiful little guy you’d ever want to meet. Everybody don't know that... He stayed shy with me for the longest [time], but he’d talk to my sister, Yvonne. I couldn't get him to talk to me! Yvonne said, "Mavis, I think it’s because he loves you so much. Girl, he is painfully shy." ... He was like a little kid. You know how kids shy away from you when they first meet you?

On Prince and religion: He wrote a song called "Blood is Thicker than Time." [Singing the hook:] "As sure as Moses' staff parted the water/ As sure as Cain had to pay for his crime/ As sure as no one wants to be broken hearted/ That's how sure I am that blood is thicker than time." ... Pops said, “What does this little old guy know about Cain and Abel?” I said, “Pops, the Bible is one of the kid’s favorite books!” ... We still talk every now and then. He’ll call. But he’s on a different journey now. He’s a Jehovah’s Witness. I’m a Baptist. But he seems to have needed me for something back then. He looked at me with love in his eyes. He admired me for the person that i was.

On touring with Prince: I was... opening for him at Wembley in London and he had given me this band. So these guys... One night I was starting and I said, "Hit it! ... Hit it! ... Hit it!" And nothing happened. They wouldn't hit. The next day [during soundcheck], Prince got all the way in the back of that huge venue and he had his little gold microphone shaped like a gun. He said, “Billy, what was on your mind last night? I heard Mavis say 'Hit it' and you didn’t. What were you thinking about? What was on your mind?” There was this one guy in the band, I called him 'Hollywood.' Prince said to him, "Just because Mavis calls you Hollywood, don't think you’re that.” ... Now I had never heard him talk like that... I felt like a queen!

On recording with Bob Dylan: He wore me out. One song I did with him -- he just didn't want to end the session. I’d say, "Bobby! The song is down. It’s perfect!" He’d say, "No Mavis. We have to do some more. We have to do it again." He had his band playing and we were in that studio until like 3 o'clock in the morning... And that song he and I did together ["Gotta Change My Way of Thinking"] was nominated for a Grammy, but I think Sting beat us out.

On when she first heard of Barack Obama: They tried to get me to do a campaign theme when he was running for Senate but we were busy. But the girls were telling me, "Mavis, you gotta see this guy."

On her experience during election night: I was at home by myself watching it on my TV. I didn’t go to Grant Park in Chicago. I must have cried a bucket of tears. I walked around the house. I talked to Pops, I talked to Dr. King. I was just so full. I was so happy! [It was] unbelievable that this was happening in my lifetime. This is what Dr. King was working for. This is what we were marching for! All of the abuse we took and now another one of Dr. King’s dreams has been realized. The struggle is still alive and we still have work to do, but for that to happen? I get full thinking about it.

On Obama's inauguration: I got kind of sad that I wasn't invited to [perform at] the inauguration. We sang with Kennedy. We were here with Carter and we were here with Clinton. We sang at all those inaugurations. But i didn't fault [Obama]. I was glad to see Aretha [Franklin] -- they had one old-school person. But then I looked at the kids that were there and I thought, "It’s their time, now. It’s their time. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. It’s alright." And I got over it.

By Chris Richards  |  September 3, 2010; 4:20 PM ET
Categories:  B-sides  | Tags: Bob Dylan, Mavis Staples, Michael Jackson, Prince  
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I like the Staples Singers music, but on Mavis comment about MJ stealing "shamone." Kinda lame to make these claims on a person who is no longer around to defend himself. Surely no one remembers her singing it. really.

Posted by: shell517nj | September 3, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

@shell517nj- Sorry, but that just isn't true. I remember it well during the 1970s. The word, which can be heard in the song, "I'll Take You There," was well known in African American Communities everywhere and particulary in Chicago. There are still enough of us around who remember Mavis, the Staple Singers and the 1970s.

Posted by: peace7001 | September 4, 2010 10:58 PM | Report abuse

Mavis is a legend in her own right. But she doesn't have any "rights" to claim on "shamone". Michael always attributed markings of his creativity to legends before him. ALWAYS. Not once did he ever "steal" and not give credit where due: Whether it was the moonwalk (where he repeatedly credited "these beautiful black kids in New York" who he learned it from) or a spin (go far back to the 1984 Grammy's at the height of his career and he specifically thanked "James Brown, Jackie Wilson..." and other luminaries -- most notably black artists, of whom he saw himself and Sammy Davis with PRIDE as being part of that continuum)... So, to Mavis and others who might not be taking the time to realize the facts, the fact is that Michael was a king in his own right, but a very humble man in touch with the "old school" pioneers before him. ... A second point/footnote that Mavis might not realize: Michael's trajectory between 1981 (Off The Wall album being the most successful album by a black artist) through 1984 (Thriller, the biggest selling album in history and across the globe) through his solo tours (Bad, Dangerous & HIStory) broke open doors that were previously closed to black artists, from Mavis to Prince. That Wembley show she refers to where she toured with Prince was circa 1992-93, BUT it was Michael who busted open Wembeley Stadium for all black artists by selling it out 7 times in 1988. That's 76,000 British children, teens, parents and grandfolks multiplied by 7: Point is that Michael having done that also cleared the way for "acceptance" of other talented black artists like Prince and legends like Mavis on an international level never seen before Michael. ... SO, Mavis: Even if it may be assumed that you, personally, coined the "word" "shamone," really now. Maybe you should channel your obvious spiritual strength and kind heart to show appreciation for Michael and realize that he probably did "PAY YOU" BACK MULTIPLEFOLD... If you truly believe you're actually being profiled today in a mainstream media outlet like this on your own laurels (and not because you are putting out a few arguably-unfair tidbits on a fallen King), "shamone" now: the shame is on you.

Posted by: sbsanta | September 5, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry but you Michael Jackson fans sure need to address some personal issues. For someone to write such a lengthy discourse on a short comment Mavis made about Michael using "shamone" is just WEIRD!! We old school folks know daggone well that's where he heard it first and her mention of it was a little story about her mom calling her, not an insult to Michael. Y'all just jump on any little thing. These are not what any of us who like Michael should be concerned about. There are other things that we need to defend in his honor. Just STOP!

Posted by: purplemuse | September 7, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

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