The Godmothers of Pop: Candi Staton interview
David Burke chats to Candi Staton as she plans to release her 30th album, Unstoppable, which proves to be a fitting title…
Candi Staton is set to release Unstoppable, her 30th album of a 50-year solo career, and hoping to score yet another hit to add to her impressive tally. The Southern belle first appeared in the US charts in 1969, with her pop makeover of Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man following in 1970. She enjoyed her biggest hit in 1976 during the disco era, with Young Hearts Run Free. In the new millennium, Staton has collaborated with Groove Armada on 2007’s Love Sweet Sound, been remixed by DJs Frankie Knuckles and Jean Tonique, and had her 1986 single You’ve Got The Love covered by both Joss Stone and Florence + The Machine in 2009.
Your new album, Unstoppable, marks 50 years in music. What have been the highlights?
I was able to be around the greatest of the greats. I learned to love them and be friends to everyone. When I was on the Chitlin’ Circuit, which was very hectic, we still had our good days – even though we had to go 300 or 400 miles to get to the next show, and sometimes we didn’t get paid after we got there. But then disco came in and we were able to take my band in my purse!
Does your Christian faith shape your world views?
It’s the foundation of my life. Knowing that I’m not alone, regardless of what I do or what I go through, I’m always protected by God. He’s very prevalent in my life. I remember in the 70s, I started drinking heavily and put God on the back burner. I trusted in my own strength, relied on alcohol and it didn’t get me anywhere. I was going round in circles until 1982, when I gave my heart back to the Lord and things started to move forward. That’s why I love Europe and the UK so much, because when I was kicked to the kerb, you guys helped me so much. You supported me, you came out to see me, you played my record – you did things that other people weren’t doing. I feel at home here.
One early hit was a cover of Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man. Do you still agree with the sentiment of that song?
Oh, yeah. I’m not a female chauvinist! A man has a place in your life, if you find the right one. My problem was I was always picking the wrong ones – or they picked me. It wasn’t about me, though, it was about my image. They picked me because they wanted to be in the limelight. That will never make a marriage. When they found out that you wake up in the morning with pin curls in your hair and rollers all over the place, they find out your real ways, they find out what you really are and then they don’t like you much anymore, because it’s not what they thought it would be. So they start to mistreat you and disrespect you.
Your biggest hit is Young Hearts Run Free, which was written especially for you. How did that come about?
It was written based on my life. I was in a very difficult relationship – the most dangerous relationship I had. I met this guy in Oakland, California, a promoter who latched onto me. He came over very nice but he ended up very bad… I was so scared. I didn’t want to stay, but I was afraid to leave. I had to find a way out. When I heard the music, I knew it was going to be a hit. I did a show in North Carolina that night and I told my fans: “I’ve just made a hit record.”
Has disco been unfairly maligned?
It was happy music. Whoever burnt all those disco records should be ashamed of themselves. That’s true jealousy. It was just prejudice. And they stopped us, but they really didn’t, because disco went to house music.
Did you ever indulge in any of that Studio 42-style decadence?
They wouldn’t let me in the basement [of Studio 54]! I wanted to go. I was at the step and they said: “You’re not coming down here. No! Go back, Candi – it’s not for you!” I’m so glad they did that.
There’s a spiky element to Unstoppable on Revolution Of Change and Stand Up, along with Patti Smith’s People Have The Power and Nick Lowe’s (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding. Is this a response to living in Trump’s America?
No, the whole world is topsy turvy. I’ve lived a long time, but I’ve never seen it like this before… it’s a weird time. I just thought, like Mavis Staples and The Staple Singers did with Martin Luther King in the 60s, when they made Respect Yourself and all of those kind of political songs… this is what we thought we would do – that we would speak to the times. We need to go back to loving each other.
Candi Staton’s Unstoppable is released by Beracah/Thirty Tigers and is out now.