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Soul Express Interview

By Heikki Suosalo


  On August 19 Candi performed here in Helsinki at the Flow Festival and gave a great show singing her 70s gems, some gospel and finishing with two of her most popular secular recordings today, Young Hearts Run Free and You Got the Love.  During her stay in Finland I had the pleasure to talk with Candi about some points of her career.

  Canzetta Maria Staton was born in the rural Hanceville, Alabama.  The family was poor, and for Candi one of the escapes from reality became music.  Candi remembers that at a church “picnic” type of a meeting “one particular Sunday they brought this little girl and she sang a song, and the place went wild.  That planted the seed, ‘I wanna sing, like her’.  That desire became bigger and bigger in my heart.  I started trying to sing.  At first nothing really happened with my voice, but I guess I was training myself and didn’t even know it.  But I got good.  My mother’s friend overheard me one day and she told my mother I could sing, but my mother said ‘no, she can’t.  I’ve heard her humming around, and she can’t sing’.  My mother’s friend went directly to my pastor.  He believed her and called me up one morning.  I was five or going on six.”

  Candi became a member of a gospel quartet formed by her pastor, but soon after that, due to her father’s worsening behaviour (father passed away in 1958), the family had to leave him behind and move to Cleveland.  From there Candi and her sister Maggie went to school in Nashville, Tennessee, and together with Naomi Harrison formed the Jewel Gospel Trio.  Their first gospel single came out on Aladdin by the end of 1953 (Rest, Rest, Rest/At The Cross) to be followed by I Shall Know Him/Over There.  (There may be a single even before those two on an obscure Nashville label).  Nashboro Records picked the group up and released five singles between 1955 and ’58, including the recently re-released Too Late.

  Candi moved back to Alabama, where her mother had also relocated, got pregnant and married for the first time in 1959, had four children but got divorced seven years later.  Before that she’d had a big crush on Lou Rawls.  The Jewel Gospel Singers kept on recording and cut dozens of records for Savoy between 1963 and ’66.  “I don’t know where they are.  I don’t know who has them, because everybody, who had anything to do with them at all, is dead.  My sister had a lot of them, but she was moving to Atlanta and the truck had an accident and everything was destroyed.  I have a few tracks.”


  By early 1968 Candi had quit church music, started working at a club in Birmingham and met Clarence Carter.  It was, however, about a year later that Candi met Clarence again in Alabama and this time agreed to tour with him.  In the meantime she had fled from her jealous husband to Cleveland to work in a hospital.  Soon one thing led to another, and Candi and Clarence got married in 1970.

  Clarence recorded with Rick Hall at Fame, so it was only natural that Candi’s first secular single came out on that label, too.  I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool) hit # 9-r&b and # 46-pop in the summer of 1969.  Equally popular or still bigger hits were ahead: I’m Just a Prisoner, Sweet Feeling, Stand By Your Man, He Called Me Baby, In the Ghetto

  “I recently saw Rick Hall in New York.  I got a chance to hug him and talk to him.  Rick was Rick.  Rick knows exactly what he wants, and he doesn’t stop until he gets it.  I was in my twenties, but he made me sing songs over and over and over again. He wanted to get that hoarseness in my voice.  When we recorded, everybody was in the same room together and everybody would be looking at each other.  Maybe I would do something with my voice and Jimmy Johnson, the guitar player, would just feel me.  Nowadays, when you do everything on keyboards, you don’t really get that feeling and the connection like you used to.  That’s what made that music so fantastic.”

  During her Fame period Candi cut a lot of country and pop songs, too.  “That’s my background.  I’ve listened to country music all my life.  That’s all we could hear down in Alabama – country, gospel and blues.  Rick would come to me and ask my opinion ‘hey, do you think you can do this’.  We didn’t have an arranger to come in and say ‘I’m gonna take this song and arrange it for Candi’.  All of us had our opinions how the music should go, so we tried different things.  If it didn’t work, we tried something else.  Some day we worked on a song all day, and all night.”  So far it’s been extremely difficult to have those Fame sides re-released.  “I told Rick the other day ‘you hang on to that stuff like you had a goldmine (laughing).  Why don’t you release that stuff and let people enjoy it’?  ‘I’m working on it’.”

  Two years ago Honest Jons released a compilation of Candi’s Fame material, which became immensely popular.  “I was honestly shocked.  I did not know it would do that well.  I was pretty much through with it.  I had gone on to other things and I was like ‘well, that was then and this is now’.  It really didn’t sell the first time it was out, so I’m not excited.  I was doing my tv show and I was doing my gospel records, so I wasn’t worried about it.  When it came out and it hit, I was surprised… but it was a good surprise.”


  After three Fame albums (I’m Just a Prisoner, Stand by Your Man, Candi Staton in 1970-72) and the final Fame single in 1973, Candi’s next three singles (As Long As He Takes Care Of Home was a sizeable hit) and the Candi album came out on Warner Brothers in 1974, but they were still produced by Rick Hall.  “David Crawford and I knew each other long before we recorded.  David used to live in Atlanta.  I went over to his studios several times.  He was writing songs to see, if I could sing them.  But I was on a contract with Rick Hall and Warner Brothers, so I couldn’t really do anything.” 

  “Warner Brothers gave Rick one last album I was to do.  Rick knew that disco was coming in and the southern soul sound, the Muscle Shoals sound, the Stax sound and all of that was kinda fading out.  They told Rick that if that album didn’t work I would be free to sign with Warner Brothers without him.  And the record wasn’t a big seller.  I honestly believe they didn’t try to push it, to get rid of Rick.  I really believe Warner Brothers didn’t want to push it.  They wanted me as an artist.  Rick let me go, and I signed with Warner Brothers directly, and that’s when David came in.”

  “David and I had a lunch in LA.  I was in a very abusive relationship at that time (Candi’s third husband after she had divorced Clarence).  He was a promoter, but I didn’t know he had a dark side.  Before he met me, he was a big con artist.  He threatened my life many times and did a lot of dirty things to me.  I began to tell David about these things, and he wrote Young Hearts Run Free based on that.  It was like my life-story in a song… same as His Hands.  It’s similar to that.” 

  “I flew in from North Carolina to LA the night before.  I got up eight o’clock that morning.  I did the entire album (Young Hearts Run Free on WB in ’76) by 3 o’clock.  David was the kind of person, who knew what he wanted and he’d get it in one take.”

  After two more albums, one of which with Dave Crawford (Music Speaks Louder than Words) in ’77 and ’78 and one small single hit, a cover of Nights On Broadway, Candi produced her next two albums - Chance in ’79 and Candi Staton in ’80 - herself together with Jimmy Simpson, and although they were reasonably successful they didn’t have the same impact as Young Hearts.  “They didn’t have that Dave Crawford touch.  Dave was temperamental.  After we did Young Hearts Run Free, he got very angry, instead of being happy that we had a big hit.  He wasn’t happy, because he didn’t sing it.  He was a frustrated singer.  ‘I’m not producing you anymore, because I should have sung that song’.” 


  After one single (Without You I Cry) on LA/Jamie in 1981, an album called Nitelites was released on Sugar Hill a year later, and it spawned two singles, Suspicious Minds and Count On Me.  “Warner Brothers had really lost interest in me.  They had other people coming in.  I really wasn’t doing anything with them, so I asked my contract back, and they gave it back to me – just like that!  So I was without a contract.  David surfaced again.  He called me up and said ‘I got a deal with Sugar Hill, and Joe Robinson is interested in you’.  I said ‘David, the only way I’m going back into the studio is that you won’t go crazy on me’.  ‘Oh, that’s over’.  So we did Suspicious Minds, and all that stuff.  It was one record on Sugar Hill, and that was it.  After that I got tired of the rat race.”

  Candi married for the fourth time in late 1980, this time with a drummer by the name of John Sussewell, and together after sobering up and finding religion in 1982 they formed a gospel label called Beracah (meaning “blessing” in Hebrew).  Starting from 1984 (Make Me an Instrument) they have released twelve new gospel and one Christmas album on that imprint, and musically they remind you of Candi’s soul albums, only with different lyrics.  Unfortunately, Candi’s marriage with John didn’t last, either.  “We separated eight years ago.  There were some ways about John that I couldn’t deal with.  He depended on me to work.  He sat back and played video games.  He was into computers.  As fast as I would make money, he would spend it.”

  Still in the 80s Candi said that in the future her music is devoted only to the Lord.  “Humans change their minds (laughing).  My pastor sat me down in the 90s.  He said ‘I need to talk to you.  Candi, those songs that you did in the 70s and in the 80s, they’re not bad songs.  They’re good songs.  Some of them you couldn’t sing because of the way you live now.  Young Hearts Run Free wasn’t bad; Stand by Your Man – those songs are classics.  Those songs were blessed.  They raised your children, they bought you home.  Rethink it.  You could go out and bless people again with those songs’.  It took me about five years to think about it.  Eventually, when the compilation came out, that’s when I began to really think seriously about doing them again.  Now I have a new gospel and new secular albums coming out.”

  Candi’s latest cd, His Hands, is an impressive concept of soul, country and inspirational music (you can read the review in “Deep # 1” from June on this website).  “That was the idea of all three of us, Mark Ainley (of Honest Jons), Mark Nevers (the producer) and myself.  I spent three months in Nashville recording it.”

  Two of Candi’s own children, Cassandra Hightower (background vocals) and Marcus Williams (drums), join her on the cd.  “My son Marcel plays bass and my son Terry is a percussionist.  But that’s not their main professions.  My youngest son, Clarence Carter Junior, owns truck trailers.”

  Of all the songs Candi has recorded during her career, the closest to her is Mama, a beautiful ballad dedicated to her mother.  It comes from the ’95 It’s Time cd… which brings us to Candi’s latest compilation, The Ultimate Gospel Collection (Shanachie 5761; a 2-cd set; 150 min.).  It has 26 songs drawn from Beracah albums.  On the first, more downtempo disc the highlights are The First Face I Want to See, a shattering duet with Joe Ligon, the abovementioned Mama and one fast duet with Dottie Peoples called Shut Up And Start Praying.  Here we also have Too Late, the Jewel Gospel Trio’s slowie from the 50s with some energetic singing from Candi.

  The second disc concentrates more on the uptempo material, and it also features You Got the Love (1986) with The Source.  As a bonus we have four new tracks, and of them It’s Your Season, Hallelujah Anyway Remix and I Will Rejoice In The house are all uptempo dancers with a house beat (must be the You Got The Love influence).  The best of the new ones on the first disc is Grace, They Call It Amazing, an emotional ballad with real musicians throughout. 

  After all the trials in tribulations in her life, what role does the music play in her life?  “Music has always been like therapy.”

(A valuable source: This Is My Story, Candi’s autobiography.  Please visit

Heikki Suosalo

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