Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mavis! review

This afternoon I went to The Bloor Cinema in downtown Toronto to see the documentary Mavis!. If you have been reading the blog for awhile, you'll know that I am always looking for music docs. Mavis! is about legendary gospel singer Mavis Staples. But what it's really about is the history of The Staples Singers and Mavis' dad Roebuck "Pops" Staples. You might think Mavis should be retired but she still tours. I saw her at the 2010 Toronto Jazz Festival. Mavis! was directed, written and produced by Canadian Jessica Edwards. Jessica grew up in the music business in Toronto. Her parents Cliff and Ann Edwards led the 70s pop group The Bells and Jessica's film Stay Awhile is about her parents. So Mavis' story about family in the music business hits very close to home. The Staples Singers are probably best known for their 70s Stax hits like Respect Yourself. But Pops Staples first took his kids on the road in 1948. But by the early 60s, it was clear that Mavis was the star of the group. Bob Dylan told Pops that he wanted to marry Mavis. Of course they didn't take him seriously. They had most of their early success recording for the black owned VeeJay label. But they were also known for their close association with Dr. Martin Luther King and Pops wrote songs for Dr. King. After VeeJay closed in 1965, The Staples Singers floundered around until they struck gold with Stax Records and producers Al Bell and Steve Cropper. This is where they had their biggest success. Ironically clips are shown from the 1972 Wattstax concert as that concert led to the Stax bankruptcy. After Stax closed, The Staples Singers couldn't get another record deal but they continued to perform. Mavis recorded with Prince in the late 80s. But he was having problems with Warner Bros. so her albums weren't promoted. Just when it looked like Mavis was through, Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy wanted to record her and he got her a deal with Anti Records. She still records there and tours the festival circuit. We hear from several celebrities including Julian Bond, Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Sharon Jones, Bonnie Raitt and Marty Stuart. And though Mavis is best known for those 70s pop hits, she was singing gospel then and she's still singing gospel today. Those interested in The Staples Singers should check out Mavis!. And maybe you should go see her if she's coming your way. Here's the trailer for Mavis!.

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