It’s difficult not to like straight-talking soul survivor Candi Staton. She chatted to ANDREW ARTHUR about her 30th album, alcoholism, abusive marriages, and playing baseball with Sam Cooke
‘AM I unstoppable? You could call it that!” Candi Staton declares with a grin. The soul singer is keeping a low profile in a baseball cap and sunglasses, as we sit in a quiet corner of a hotel dining room.
Candi, 78, played an intimate show the previous evening to launch the 30th album of her career, Unstoppable.
She cites life in Donald Trump’s America and the injustices African Americans face as motivation to continue some five decades after she first reached the US charts.
“This album speaks to the now,” says the Alabama-born singer, with her soft, southern States accent.
“When Dr Martin Luther King was trying to change things in the Sixties, Mavis Staples came out with songs like Respect Yourself. It spoke to what was actually happening politically and racially. This album does the same thing.
“I’m encouraging people because there is so much bullying from the top. It’s amazing how people are cowering under it. Bills are passing, we don’t know what they’re doing in the dark. There is so much uncertainty now.
“I was born in the Forties. We had prejudice and all that kind of stuff. It’s not prejudice in the form of segregation now.
We’re having a lot of problems with racism. It’s just blatant.”
Candi began singing in a gospel group with her sisters as a teenager and toured with the likes of Mahalia Jackson and Sam Cooke.
“I was 14 when I met Sam. I never knew Sam was going to be who he was. We got to be friends. He wasn’t a big star, he was just the lead singer of a gospel group. He was one of us.
“We’d arrive early at the school auditorium where we’d be performing. One of us would have a ball. We’d get a plank, not a baseball bat, just some plank, and we’d play ball!”
Religion has been the foundation of Candi’s life. Her faith has guided her through many difficult periods, including a 10-year
battle with alcoholism.
At the start of her career, she found herself caught between touring and raising a family – and developed a taste for champagne at record company parties and became dependent on alcohol to perform. She vividly recollects the day she decided never to touch another drop.
“It was in August and it was hot. I was in Alabama. We were swimming. I was sat there on a big ol’ rock. I had a hangover. I started crying. I said, ‘This is not like me, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life’.
“I said, ‘This has gotta stop but I don’t know how’. It was as though I could hear my mother’s voice. She said, ‘You need to fast. Fasting breaks things’.
“So I sat there in the waves and said, ‘Lord, I wanna be as solid as this rock?’
“All of a sudden, I said I wasn’t drinking anymore, or eating until this is broken. That was in the Seventies. I’ve not had another drink since.”
Candi admits her faith was also tested during a string of abusive relationships and difficult divorces. The lyrics of her disco anthem, Young Hearts Run Free, were written while Candi was seeing what she calls one of her “bad guys”.
She remembers him holding her over a banister at a theatre she was playing at in Las Vegas with Ray Charles, and threatening to drop her.
Candi is happily married to her sixth husband now, a former US secret service agent who worked as a bodyguard for four presidents. They were introduced at a church where Candi was doing charity work supporting victims of domestic violence.
Candi’s career was rejuvenated in the Nineties, when a song she recorded for a diet commercial was remixed and released by London DJ, The Source. You Got The Love was a hit across Europe.
“It was on the shelf and I forgot it was even out there. When people told me it was in the top 10 here in Europe, I was floored. And then it clicked. ‘Oh that song I did in Chicago in ‘86 for that diet thing!’ When I heard it, I didn’t recognise it.”
I ask Candi whose reworking of the track she likes the best.
“Florence + the Machine did a good job. We did it at Glastonbury and she recorded it on her phone! I was going to do it like that on stage, but she beat me to it!”
Candi Staton’s new album Unstoppable is available now.
I’m encouraging people because there is so much bullying from the top. It’s amazing how people are cowering under it... There is so much uncertainty now... Candi Staton on how racism in Donald Trump’s America has inspired some of her new album Unstoppable, pictured right
Soul legend Sam Cooke Speaking out: Candi Staton