American Routes Shortcuts: Candi Staton
This week on American Routes Shortcuts, we hear from Candi Staton who has been working in music for over four decades. From her Christian upbringing to the Chitlin’ Circuit, from making records in Muscle Shoals to disco, her path hasn’t always been easy. One of her earliest memories was making a pillow out of a cotton sack and falling asleep as her father worked the field.
Candi Staton: I was born in a little bitty tiny city just north of Birmingham, Alabama, it’s called Hanceville, and it’s very rural. The way we grew up was so, you know, it was so real. We didn’t have a lot of distractions, it was just family. We had no outside influence at all, it was just church and my mom putting the dos and don’ts in us, and we would sit on the porch and read the Bible.
Nick Spitzer: You did do your time as a gospel singer. I know you had a little group, the Four Golden Echoes.
CS: We did that maybe a year or so and then my mom and dad separated. We went to Cleveland and that’s how we got with the Jewel Gospel Trio. What happened was Bishop Jewel had a band and we got up and sung one of the old favorites, you know, of the church, I can’t even remember what it was, but they joined in with the band, and I’m telling you we tore the place down that night. And before you know it, we were making records. We were on the show with Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls, with the Soul Stirrers, all the gospel groups, Mahalia Jackson, Staple Singers, and Aretha Franklin and her father. I could go on and on and on.
NS: Now some of these groups ultimately went secular, I mean they went from gospel to soul music.
CS: I was so afraid when Sam did it because we had been taught that you were going to hell if you sung that kind of music, and I was scared to death to sing it, but after reading the Bible and searching scripture for myself, I realized that it wasn’t, and you know it’s life music, it’s something we live everyday.
CS: And so my brother said, “I got a friend at the 27 28 Club down in Birmingham, you need to start singing the blues.” He took me down to the club, and I tore the place up! That’s how I met Clarence Carter.
NS: As your life progresses and you move on, by the mid-70s you have this huge disco hit, “Young Hearts Run Free.” How do you end up making a disco record?
CS: I got tired of the Chitlin’ Circuit, the Chitlin’ Circuit was killing me! So I was on Fame and Warner Brothers was distributing, so I got with Warner Brothers directly and David Crawford had been coming to the office every day, looking for an artist. He heard that I was looking for a producer so he went there and he asked them could he produce me. At this time I was in another very crazy relationship, and I would tell him what I was going through, and I didn’t know he was writing the music. He wrote concerning my life on “Young Hearts Run Free.” That’s why it was so personal to me.
NS: Candi Staton I want to thank you for sharing your life and your art with me here on American Routes.
CS: Thanks for having me.
To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.