Book Review: Rock & Roll Books
Reviewed by Ed Ward, Fri., Dec. 6, 2013
I'll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March Up Freedom's Highwayby Greg Kot
Scribner, 320 pp., $26
Mavis Staples, 74, doesn't have a story without the Staple Singers, the family group her father Roebuck formed to escape Chicago's slaughterhouses and steel mills, while the Seventies hitmakers don't have a legacy without the context of postwar gospel. Greg Kot manages to get it all down neatly, focusing on the young woman with the baritone voice who, with Pops Staples' reverb-y guitar, trademarks this amazing act. It's all here: Roebuck, one of 14 children (yes, he had a brother named Sears), discovering the guitar on Mississippi's Dockery plantation and hanging out with blues star Charley Patton, then moving to Chicago to get work, sending for his wife Oceola and the kids, building a modest family band into a gospel powerhouse that became a folk act (Mavis' early romance with Bob Dylan gets ink here), and, finally, purveyors of "message music" soul. Pops guarded his daughters Mavis, Cleotha, and Yvonne like china dolls, so there's nothing too juicy here, but the glimpse we get into the world of gospel is unparalleled, and a look at Stax Records jigsaws neatly with Robert Gordon's label bio.