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  Learn more about "Life Happens"


Life Happens CD Cover

It's been exactly forty years since Candi Staton and Billboard Magazine's 1971 Producer of the Year Rick Hall got together and made Muscle Shoals-strong Top Ten R&B chart southern soul hits such as the scorching "I'm Just A Prisoner" and the Grammy Award nominated classics "Stand By Your Man" and "In The Ghetto." In their years apart, Hall's FAME Records drifted from gritty R&B (Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Etta James) into a polished country music production house (Marie Osmond, Mac Davis, The Gatlin Brothers) while Staton enjoyed a career in disco (1976's "Young Hearts Run Free" was a #1 R&B and Top 20 Pop smash), gospel and then, thanks to three well-received Honest Jons LPs in the 2000s, earned a new Americana audience. The dynamic duo reunited a couple of years ago to begin work on Staton's new fourteen track CD "Life Happens" (Beracah/MRI/RED Distribution) that returns the Alabama native to her Muscle Shoals beginnings with the same autobiographical arc of tales of ecstasy and heart ache that became her bread and butter back in the pre-Watergate days of the 1970s.

The new set follows the courtship, commitment, collapse and close of a romance. Many of the songs directly mirror Staton's own relationship woes over the last decade. "That's why I named the record Life Happens because these songs are about things that just happen in life," she adds. London's Honest Jons Record Shop and EMI Records revived Staton's career in 2003 with a 26-track CD of her long out-of-print FAME recordings that won critical acclaim in media as varied as Rollingstone and French Vogue as a lost musical treasure. The songs were sampled by the likes of Christina Aguilera and One eskimO that turned "Kandi" into a #1 Triple A radio hit in 2010. A young generation of artists such as Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Susan Tedesci, Janiva Magness and Florence & The Machine then covered Staton's tunes. The media started calling Staton and Hall, who had not spoken in over a decade, for commentary on the rediscovery of their collaborations. It wasn't long before Hall suggested they make new Muscle Shoals magic.

"Rick [Hall] would call me all the time and say he thinks we have one more hit in us but I was reluctant just because I wasn't ready to go through the hustle and bustle," Staton concedes. "Rick is a perfectionist and he knows what he wants and he's not gonna stop until he gets it. I didn't know if I wanted to go through all that and I put him off for a year. He would periodically call me and finally he said, ' let's just set a date' and I said ok. It was the right timing because they were starting to shoot the Muscle Shoals documentary and I happened to be at the studio when they started filming." The critically-acclaimed film traces Hall's tragic early life and his fight to build FAME studios where legendary southern soul recordings such as Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman" and The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" were recorded.

The earthy "I Ain't Easy To Love" (featuring John Paul White of The Civil Wars and Jason Isbell) opens the set. It was written by country singer/songwriter James LeBlanc, a recovering drug addict, to his girlfriend, singer Angela Hacker. "My now ex- husband was dealing with drugs at the time I heard the song so that resonated with me," Staton confesses in deciding to record the bluesy rocker. Hall emerged from semi-retirement to produce it and three other songs. Two of the others, the bustling plea of "Commitment" and the soulful southern ballad, "Never Even Had A Chance," made the final track listing. "The other song we did together didn't fit the feel of this album," Staton says. "It's a really good song so we'll use it for another project."

With the exception of "Close To You" (produced by Staton's UK touring band, PUSH), the remainder of the collection was produced by Staton and her son, Marcus Williams, an ace drummer who has played for the likes of Isaac Hayes and Peabo Bryson. "Marcus produced several of my gospel albums that tended to be on the traditional side so the traditional flavor of this album wasn't a big leap for him," Staton says. "I told him to make a good Americana album, he had to think simple and just keep the arrangements basic and I think we did an excellent job."

Throughout her career, Staton has never recorded within the strict parameters of a single music genre. During her disco years, she'd slip a country track like Freddy Fender's "Before The Next Teardrop Falls" on what was largely perceived to be a disco album. Even now, she approaches the Americana genre through the lens of a country and contemporary blues fusion.

On the country side of things, "Even The Bad Times Are Good" and "Where Were You?" are traditional ballads (including steel guitar) while "Eternity" has a naked acoustic resonance. "Go Baby Go" is a deep soul track with twangy guitar and a haunting harmonica. Then, there's the bluesy side of Staton's personality. "Where I grew up we could hear two types of music on the radio," Staton recalls. "We heard Earnest Tubb and Hank Williams a certain time of day and then another time of day, we heard B.B. King, Ruth Brown and the blues artists. Then, on Sunday we heard gospel in church so my musical foundation is a mixture of all of that good stuff."

In spite of the James Brown-styled horns on "She's After Your Man," Staton crafted a song with a Malaco Records flavor that salaciously echoes Denise LaSalle or Shirley Brown. Staton fires off some fiery up-tempo blues tracks with "Treat Me Like A Secret," "Three Minutes To A Relapse" and "My Heart is On Empty." The set closes with the two most blistering blues tracks, the minor-note balladry of "Have You Seen The Children?" (a world-weary indictment on today's society and a passing reference to Trayvon Martin's murder) and "A Better World Coming" which boasts a hopeful message on par with The Impressions' "People Get Ready" or The Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There."

With the success of the "Muscle Shoals" documentary, it seems the perfect time for Staton to record this homage to her roots and on February 28th she'll be inducted into The Alabama Music Hall of Fame. "It feels wonderful to be inducted," she says. "I thought they'd wait until I was dead before they put me in there." In 2011, Staton performed one of her old FAME Records B-sides entitled "Heart on a String" at The Americana Awards held at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium to enthusiastic applause. "I felt right at home there," she recalls of the night where she shared the same stage as Allison Kraus, Robert Plant, The Civil Wars and Gregg Allman. "I think I always had some Americana in me but I didn't call it that. I love country music and one time I was opening for Ray Charles and every night I'd go into his dressing room and talk with him. One night he said, 'You know you're a female Ray Charles.' That's the greatest thing he could ever tell me because he's a mixture of blues, country and gospel. He said, 'You've got the same mix I have.' What they used to call disco is now called House music. Americana is just a new way of saying country and blues." Life Happens is Americana according to Candi Staton.



Rick Hall and Candi Staton were at a Muscle Shoals Music showcase at Nashville's Cannery Ballroom in October 2011 when Staton first heard James LeBlanc and his girlfriend Angela Hacker perform it as a plaintive acoustic ballad. "Rick and I were sitting next to each other and he was telling me the story behind the song as James and Angela were singing it," she recalls. "They were both recovering drug addicts and at that time, my now ex- husband was dealing with drugs so that resonated with me because the song was birthed from someone battling drugs. I heard his cry inside that song and I felt that pain. Rick said that it could be a hit song for somebody and I agreed but I didn't think about it anymore until we were in the studio a few months later and he brought the song up again and I said, 'let's do it.'"

Initially, Staton recorded the song by herself but later told Hall she wanted to sing it with someone else. Randy Owen from Alabama cut a cool version with Staton and Gregg Allman was also in talks to record it at one point when fate intervened during the promotion of the "Muscle Shoals" documentary about Rick Hall and the music born from that region of Alabama.

Stephen Badger (who produced "Muscle Shoals") decided to use the song which Staton performed solo in the film to promote the movie on "The Late Show with David Letterman." Aside from Staton and The Swampers (Hall's original studio band), Badger recruited two sons of Muscle Shoals, John Paul White of The Civil Wars and Jason Isbell of The 400 Unit, to round out the special performance. "It was a lot of fun singing that with them and I sort of joked about how I wish they could sing with me on the record and I think they both immediately said they would be happy to sing it with me. I didn't even know Jason and John at that point and would have had no clue as to how to reach them so God just hooked that up." The final version of the song is not an acoustic ballad. It's a sensually, soulful mid-tempo country rocker that's sure to introduce Staton's incomparable vocals to a younger generation of Americana fans.


A bluesy soft-rocker, this dry soul track is a lyrically-clever way of expressing attraction for a new man in Staton's life. "Ernie McKone, the music director for my UK band PUSH was on tour with me and told me the band had done some tracks they wanted me to listen to but they had no lyrics," Staton recalls. "So after I got home I was laying on the floor of my den and the lyrics started coming to me. I was so used to playing with them that the lyrics just flowed. That's what the music was saying to me. I have to pat myself on the back if I do say so myself. I wrote that song [laughter]." True, it's got a flavor reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt or latter day Etta James and Staton delivers the message well.


Rick Hall moves Staton into the Triple A radio arena with this swinging LeeAnn Rimes remake that isn't completely country nor completely Pop. "I didn't realize that was LeeAnn Rimes singing when Rick first played the song for me," Staton recalls. "I didn't know it had been a hit or anything like that but I liked the message. That's who I am. I like the idea of being in a committed relationship. I've never been in a real committed relationship. I was the only one who was committed. I was the only one married. They were always still single. I was the one who didn't cheat, didn't run around while I stayed home committed [laughter]."


With a Fender Rhodes and acoustic guitar serving as the musical foundation, this warm ballad is a simple love song that may eventually become a wedding ceremony staple. "That was birthed over 15 years ago," Staton says. "My ex-husband [drummer John Sussewell] and I had a church and this couple asked me to sing at their wedding. I didn't have any songs that were appropriate for a wedding. So, I went home and started playing something on the piano and came up with that song. By the time of their wedding came around, John and I had separated and eventually divorced. He was officiating at the wedding and I didn't want to go to that wedding since he was there so I canned it and said that I'd save it for my own wedding one day. I sang it at my own next wedding to Otis Nixon but it didn't last for eternity. It only lasted for 15 months. I'd love for that song to speak to my own life but it doesn't seem to ever work out that way."


A wistful country ballad written by veteran Nashville songwriter Dan Tyler who also penned "When Will I" on Staton's 2006 "His Hands" CD and "The Light in Your Eyes" on her 2009 "Who's Hurting Now?" CD, Staton greets the song with an earnest knowing. "That song was sent to me when we were picking songs for the His Hands record but Mark Ainley from Honest Jons preferred "When Will I" so we did that one instead. It came up again when I did the next record but Mark picked "Light in Your Eyes" that time. Well, this time I got to be the boss [laughs] and I was going through old demos and found that song and said, "I'm doing it now." That's another song speaking to when you're in love, even the bad times are good. You don't see bad times. You go through valleys and mountaintops. Everything is good, even if you've got to sleep in a tent. It's all good as long as you're together."


This track owes more to the Malaco sound than to Muscle Shoals but it's pure Americana. It's the kind of tell-it-like-it-is track that became Denise LaSalle's trademark on the blues circuit in the 1980s. Over a funky bass line, a curdling organ and James Brown-inspired horns, Staton warns women about a modern day Jezebel on the hunt for married men. "I can truly say that I have experienced that one," Staton sighs. "When I was at the Glastonbury Festival in London, our bus pulled up on the grounds and when me and the band got off the bus, there was this scantily dressed woman standing there and the guys in my band were going bananas because her blouse was down to her navel and she had short shorts on. She was up in everybody's face and I just sort of said out loud to whoever was listening 'Beware girls, she's after your man' because I was thinking about their wives. I went to my dressing room trailer and started writing that song. I was briefly married to an athlete and women were always throwing themselves at him. One time, we were at banquet. I was right there and the girl got between his legs and I said, 'Are you gonna say something or do I?' because he acted like he wasn't going to say anything."


Staton keeps the funky blues party going on this bass driven indictment on a man who's keeping secret. "I was dating this guy just a few years ago," Staton confesses. "I noticed that he would never acknowledge me when his peers were around. I was always just a friend or a neighbor. I looked at him like, 'Really? That's not what you said last night.' I'd have to fight him off back at the house. One time he invited me to a party and I said, 'What time are you gonna pick me up?' He said he was gonna give me directions to get there. I said, 'Why can't you take me? You are treating me like a secret if you don't want to come in with you.' So I dropped him. It turns out that he had sooo many women and he was old as time itself but still running around. When I go through these things, I still get something out of it even if it's just a song [laughs]. We recorded it for my last Honest Jons CD but they didn't want to use it. They said it was too up-tempo. They wanted all of my songs to be dark and sad. They have it in the can somewhere. So, I had my son Marcus Williams re-cut the music and we did this version which I like better anyway. "


Stories are the heart of country and blues music and this tale is the maudlin revelation that the relationship has ended. Were you kissing someone else's lips? Were you making love to me when you realized? Staton asks the question, "Where were you when you knew?" The backdrop of steel guitar and a mournful harmonica adds to the somberness of the break-up. "I was going through one of the worst times of my life," Staton says of her recent divorce from an athlete. "When you realize that the guy you have married is not in love with you, it's heartbreaking. He would stay out sometimes 4 or 5 nights and when he did come home, he treated me like I wasn't there. I was trying to make something work that was never gonna work. Because I had been married so many times before I wanted to make it work in spite of the signs and things people warned me about him. Rick Hall played me that song during our planning sessions but he said, 'I think 'Never Even Had A Chance' is a stronger song. My attitude was that this was what I was going through right then. I said ok but I still had that song on my mind and when we decided to finish the album, I revisited the song. In life you want everything to be like a fairy tale and for Prince Charming to come along but that's just a pipe dream. I know several women right now where the husband has suddenly left after years of marriage. I cried a lot of tears because I felt like I was the fool. I waited 13 years to get married and I ended up with a loser."


This bouncy, contemporary blues was initially recorded during Staton's "Who's Hurting Now?" sessions in 2008 but omitted from the final album. Staton and her percussionist son, Marcus Williams, reproduce the song with a firey vengeance on a cheating lover. "A lot of songs come to me just in every day happenings," Staton adds. "That one came out of nowhere. It just came up. My daughter Cassandra was talking to someone on the telephone and they were talking about something that happened to a friend's husband who had cheated on her in the past and it was about to happen again. She said, 'Girl, it's three minutes to a relapse and I'm gonna be all over him' and I said to myself, 'that's a song.' I started writing that down. I've married the same guy over and over again. He just has a different suit and a different name. I don't want to be violent but sometimes you get pushed to your limit and that's what the song is about."


Rick Hall worked on this whirlwind of emotions for over a year until he got it right. "That was a lot of takes," Staton confesses. "It was about 12 takes of that song and then Rick did about thirty different mixes on it. He's such a perfectionist. He wanted me to go in the booth and do yet another vocal and I said, 'Rick, I think we had it the first time we did it' but he kept trying this and that. I was like I'm not singing the song anymore. I can't do it anymore. You've got enough takes. Give me a minute [laughter]. Even though Rick sort of picked this song, it also reflects what I went through with my last husband. Everything is not bad in a relationship even though it's a bad relationship. If everything was bad, you would never have gotten married in the first place. When it was over and divorce was about to happen, there were moments of sadness. We had started a business, a ministry for the state of Georgia to help recidivism. It was a really good solid program and it hurt when it didn't happen. I needed a minuite to reminsce and cry about it but like my friend Gloria Gaynor sings so well: I will survive."


A deep blues with a country sensibility, Staton sings this sad break-up conversation with a Pentecostal intensity. Ed Petterson, who wrote "I Don't Want For Anything" that was included on Staton's 2009 "Who's Hurting Now?" CD, contributed this emotional kiss-off. "He sent me a bunch of songs," Staton remembers. "When I heard that one I said to myself that think I can do this one. It had a little gospel feel but I wanted to change the lyrics in the first verse and it ended up being a beautiful song. We've done our thing and had our fun and now it's time to go. After we cut it, I felt like something was missing. Then, in my head, I could hear a steel guitar on it and when we added that, I felt like the song was perfect."


Another up-tempo Malaco-styled blues, this is a having second-thoughts ditty about the decision to break-up. However, before it's all over, Staton declares "I'm gonna build a bridge and get over you." Staton says, "That was written about 15 years ago. I wrote that song behind the break up of my husband, John. I was grieving that it didn't last. I could make everything work but a marriage. I can write a song, I can tour, raise children and have a hit record but I can't make a relationship work. Everybody has their good things to do in life and maybe mine is not to be with anyone. After this last one I'm not really interested in being married again."


This is a blues ballad that also serves as a commentary on the sad fate of today's youth. "I wrote the song about 5 years ago because I see so many kids going down the wrong road," Staton says. "The children are raising parents and the parents are like children because parents have to grow up so quickly. I was looking at a Dorothy Dandrige movie and the kids were playing hopscotch and running around and getting dirty. Now everything is digital. Kids can't even hold a conversation. They are zoned out. They are in their own world. They are gone. So I put a new verse in there about Trayvon Martin. Emmitt Till was killed because he whistled at a white girl and they came in the house and got him and put a heavy stone around his neck and threw him in the river. Trayvon walked into a store and this overzealous wannabe cop killed him because someone broke into some neighborhood houses the week before and he got away with murder. What are kids supposed to do? Pack guns to protect themselves?"


The physical CD closes with a blistering electric blues song faith, hope and charity in the message vein of The Impressions' "People Get Ready" or The Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There." "My son Marcus wrote that first verse," Staton explains. "He showed it to me. I said, 'that's really good.' So I wrote it down and went back home and put it in my songbook. One day I was looking at it sand started playing the song on the piano and started writing the other lyrics. We put it in that blues groove because when the band started playing it, it felt good as a blues."

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