Monday, December 22, 2008

A Christmas Staple

They called him "pops", out of respect. But he was born Roebuck Staples near Winona, Mississippi on a plantation with 13 older brothers and sisters. When he was eight, his family moved to the more affluent Dockery Plantation where he was influenced by the great delta blues guitarists Charley Patton and Son House.

Roebuck Staples remembers it like this:
I was raised on the Will Dockery place from the time I was eight till I got to be 20 years old. Charley Patton stayed on what we called the Lower Dockery place, and we stayed on the Upper Dockery.

He was one of my great persons that inspired me to try to play guitar. He was really a great man.

At first I was too small to go hear him on a Saturday night. But on Saturday afternoons, everybody would go into town, and those fellows like Charley Patton, Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf would be playin' on the streets, standin' by the railroad tracks, people pitchin' 'em nickels and dimes, white and black people both.

The train came through town maybe once that afternoon, and when it was time, everybody would gather around, just to see that train pull up. They'd play around there, before and after the train came, and announce where they'd be that night, and that's where the crowd would go.

They'd have a plank nailed across the door to the kitchen, and be selling fish and chitlins, with dancin' in the front room, gamblin' in the side room, and maybe two or three gas or coal-oil lamps on the mantelpiece in front of the mirror, powerful lights.

It was different people's houses--no clubs or nothin'. And I finally grew up to play.
Like so many Delta bluesmen would do, Roebuck Staples left Mississippi for Chicago when he was 20. But Roebuck did not follow the blues path. He went the other direction, toward gospel.

Pops, with his children, Cleotha, Mavis, and Purvis became the Staple signers, recording for several Chicago record labels. One of their songs recorded in 1955 was "This May Be My Last Time," later recorded by the Rolling Stones.

The Staple Singers recorded an album of Christmas songs in 1962 called "The 25th Day of December". That's where they recorded "The Last Month of the Year".

The last month of the year has special significance in the Staples family. Pops was born in the last month of the year, on December 28th. He died in the last month of the year as well, December 19, eight years ago.

(Click to hear The Last Month of the Year)

(Click to hear This May Be My Last Time by the Staple Singers)

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