NPR logo

Not My Job: Soul Singer Mavis Staples Gets Quizzed On The Shaggs

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/513249260/513432387" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Not My Job: Soul Singer Mavis Staples Gets Quizzed On The Shaggs

Not My Job: Soul Singer Mavis Staples Gets Quizzed On The Shaggs

Not My Job: Soul Singer Mavis Staples Gets Quizzed On The Shaggs

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/513249260/513432387" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards
Mavis Staples poses for a portrait at the 42nd NAACP Image Awards in March 2011 in Los Angeles.
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards

In December, soul singer Mavis Staples received a Kennedy Center Honor and earlier in 2016 she released a new album called Livin' on a High Note. But today, we're digging into the past to talk about her time with The Staple Singers, her family music group that delivered hits like "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There."

The Staple Singers weren't the only great musical group founded by a father and his children in the 1960s. Who can forget The Shaggs, right? We'll ask Staples three questions about the legendarily odd band, formed in the late 1960s by the Wiggin family, from New Hampshire.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now it's the game where we ask really great people about things that are meh. It's called Not My Job. Chicago has so much to be proud of - our architecture, our baseball team - finally...

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: ...And all the many places we have where you can buy normal pizza. But Chicago has nothing and no one to be prouder of than our very own national treasure, the soul singer, Kennedy Center honoree and general superwoman Mavis Staples.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Mavis, welcome back to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

MAVIS STAPLES: Thank you, Peter.

SAGAL: So...

STAPLES: Thank you.

SAGAL: So this amazes me, Mavis, but the last time you were on our show was about eight years ago.

STAPLES: Yes, it was.

SAGAL: So what you been up to since then. Anything interesting?

STAPLES: Oh, my.

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAPLES: I've been doing a lot of things, Peter.

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAPLES: Thanks to you.

SAGAL: Yeah, we started you off.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I'm trying to think of all the things that's happened. So let's see. You toured with Wilco.

STAPLES: Yes.

SAGAL: A great Chicago band.

STAPLES: Yes, yes.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: And was it Arcade Fire?

STAPLES: Arcade Fire.

SAGAL: Wow.

STAPLES: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So you were there in the middle of it in the '60s musical explosion. We all know that we all - as we talked about last time, you and Bob Dylan had a little bit of a thing.

STAPLES: Oh, God.

SAGAL: Oh, God.

(LAUGHTER)

LUKE BURBANK: How have we been talking about anything that isn't that?

FAITH SALIE: Oh, yeah.

SAGAL: Well, we...

(LAUGHTER)

SALIE: He proposed to her.

SAGAL: ...We covered that a little bit.

STAPLES: Yes, we did.

SAGAL: Yeah, last time she was here. So my question is how are things different now - touring around with Arcade Fire and Wilco and everything else you've been doing - than it was back then?

STAPLES: It's keeping me younger, really...

SAGAL: Sure.

STAPLES: ...Hanging with these young people.

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAPLES: But you didn't mention Dylan.

SAGAL: No.

STAPLES: You didn't know that I toured with Dylan, did you?

SAGAL: Oh, yeah, I didn't know that you also toured with Dylan.

STAPLES: Six weeks.

SAGAL: Oh, my gosh.

STAPLES: Six weeks.

SAGAL: You and Dylan.

STAPLES: Yes, indeed.

SAGAL: And how was that?

STAPLES: Oh, that was great.

SAGAL: Now let me say...

STAPLES: This time I proposed to him.

SAGAL: Did you really?

STAPLES: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

BURBANK: Did you...

STAPLES: I did.

SAGAL: How'd that go? Did you - tell me what - how do you propose to Bob Dylan?

STAPLES: Well, first thing I said, oh, Bobby. I said, oh, I've been wanting to see you. I've been missing you. Well, if you'd married me you could've seen me every day.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Oh, he's bitter. Is he still bitter about...

STAPLES: Oh, he was mad. I said, don't treat me like that. Why you taking that tone of voice? But he meant it.

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAPLES: He meant it.

SALIE: Aww.

BURBANK: Is it possible that when he proposed to you, Mavis, you just didn't understand what he was saying?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: That'd be really funny. He's like, Mavis (unintelligible).

STAPLES: (Laughter) Yeah. But he made it really clear, you know? I understand where you coming from.

SAGAL: So we're about - oh, I don't know - 50 years from - on from that. Was the magic between you still there?

STAPLES: Yeah.

SAGAL: Yeah.

SALIE: Aww.

STAPLES: (Laughter) you know, someone knocked on my door in the dressing room - someone wants to see you. And I knew who it was. And I felt like I knew who it was.

SAGAL: Sure.

STAPLES: And here he comes. And he has these sunglasses on where I can see myself in the sunglasses...

BURBANK: Yeah.

STAPLES: ...Because it's a mirror, you know, and a hoodie. He had on a hoodie.

SAGAL: He's wearing a hoodie?

STAPLES: He's wearing a hoodie.

SAGAL: So he's wearing a hoodie and, like, mirrored sunglasses.

STAPLES: Right.

SAGAL: So he looks like the Unabomber, and he walks in.

(LAUGHTER)

STAPLES: I think he meant to scare me.

SAGAL: Yeah, OK.

STAPLES: You know?

SAGAL: So all right - so wait a minute. So in walks Dylan, and he says...

STAPLES: I said, hey. And after that line that he gave me about if you'd married me you could've seen me every day, I told him - I said, well, let's get married now.

SAGAL: Yeah. That's called calling a bluff.

STAPLES: Yeah, I really didn't want to hear the answer...

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAPLES: ...You know, if it was going to be OK.

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAPLES: You know, but he told me no. No. He turned me down.

SALIE: Aww.

SAGAL: Did he really?

STAPLES: He turned me down.

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAPLES: I said, OK, if that's the way you want it, Bob. Maybe you're thinking that we're too old. When you - I wouldn't marry you I was telling you we were too young.

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAPLES: And so it might be that the tables are turned. We're too old now.

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAPLES: No, it's not that. It's not that. I'm already married.

(LAUGHTER)

STAPLES: I said, oh, my God.

SAGAL: Is he really?

STAPLES: Yeah, he's married.

SAGAL: Is he now?

STAPLES: I'd have to wait till he got divorced.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: All right, there is a book about you and the Staple Singers by Greg Kot from here in Chicago.

STAPLES: Right, yes.

SAGAL: There's a documentary about you on HBO.

STAPLES: Yes.

SAGAL: You've got - what else - what other worlds are left to conquer for Mavis Staples?

STAPLES: Oh, man, Peter, I'm just happening.

SAGAL: You are.

(APPLAUSE)

STAPLES: What can I say?

SAGAL: I don't know.

SALIE: We need a Broadway show.

STAPLES: Oh, let's...

SALIE: We need a Broadway show...

STAPLES: ...Now let's put...

SALIE: ...Right?

STAPLES: Yes, indeed. That's the only thing I haven't done.

SALIE: Mavis, if you had to - if you had to cast yourself, who would you want to play Mavis Staples in a Broadway show?

STAPLES: Lena Horne. (Singing) Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky, stormy weather.

(APPLAUSE)

STAPLES: But see, you guys - y'all wouldn't know about that. You're too young.

SALIE: I know who Lena Horne is.

(CROSSTALK)

ROXANNE ROBERTS: Come on, we know...

STAPLES: You know the movie?

SAGAL: She's dating Frederick Douglass, right?

(LAUGHTER)

STAPLES: Oh, my God.

SAGAL: Yeah. So Mavis Staples stands at the ready, ladies and gentlemen.

STAPLES: Yes.

SAGAL: Mavis Staples, it is so great to have you with us again.

STAPLES: Oh, Peter, I'm so happy to be back.

SAGAL: We are so - oh, it's always great to have you.

STAPLES: I'm so happy. Thank you, Peter.

SAGAL: And this time - because we're going to do this - we're asking you to play a game that we are calling...

BILL KURTIS: Meet the Shaggs.

STAPLES: Uh-oh.

SAGAL: So it turns out the Staple Singers were not the only great musical group founded by a father and his children in the 1960s. There was also The Shaggs, one of the most legendary and strange rock bands ever to play. We're going to ask you three questions about The Shaggs. Answer two correctly and well - well, you've done this before.

STAPLES: OK.

SAGAL: Bill, who is Mavis Staples...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...Who is Mavis Staples playing for?

KURTIS: Jason Ledesma of Detroit, Mich.

SAGAL: All right. Now, The Shaggs, who came out of a small town in New Hampshire, were formed when a man named Austin Wiggins told his three daughters that they would be forming a band. Why? Was it A, he was a huge fan of The Supremes, but he couldn't afford their records; B, they asked for a car and he said, right, yeah, soon as you get a recording contract; or C, his mother, a psychic, had predicted that one day his daughters would form a band?

STAPLES: I would think that it would be C.

SAGAL: You would be right, Mavis.

STAPLES: I know. Whoa.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: His mother...

STAPLES: (Laughter) All right.

SAGAL: His mother, long before, had predicted that Austin would marry a blonde - check, he did that - that he'd have two sons - yep - and that his daughters would become a popular music group. So he pushed it. All right...

STAPLES: (Laughter).

SAGAL: ...So he got his daughters. He gave them instruments. He made them practice every day. And they wrote original songs. The original songs covered some of the topics of interest to teenagers in the late '60s such as which of these - A, how great parents are; B, why kissing is bad; or C, library science?

STAPLES: Oh, my God. It's got to be how great parents are because parents are great.

SAGAL: You are right.

(APPLAUSE)

STAPLES: All right.

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAPLES: (Laughter) All right.

SALIE: (Laughter).

BURBANK: Is this why the person who maintains The Shaggs fan club online is mstaples@yahoo.net?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It's possible. But I will give you - this is The Shaggs song "Who Are The Parents" from their one and only album, "Philosophy Of The World." The lyrics go (reading) some kids think their parents are cruel just because they want them to obey certain rules. Parents do understand. Parents do care.

STAPLES: Yes.

SAGAL: Now, last question here. One of the interesting things about The Shaggs was despite being forced by their father to practice almost every day, they never really either A, learned to play their instruments well or sing. So when their record finally came out it got some interesting reviews. One music critic wrote which of these? One of these is real - A, quote, "broadens the definition of what we might call music."

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B, quote, "I cried bitter hot tears of pity."

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C, I would walk across the desert while eating charcoal briquettes soaked in Tabasco for 40 days and 40 nights not to ever have to listen to anything Shagg-related ever again.

STAPLES: Oh, my God. That was a terrible, terrible sound.

SAGAL: It was a terrible thing, yeah.

STAPLES: That last one - that last one took me on a way with you.

SALIE: (Laughter).

SAGAL: Yeah. Yeah. It's a journey, that last one.

STAPLES: Yeah, that last...

SAGAL: It's a long way to walk.

STAPLES: Long way to walk - but I'm going to take B.

SAGAL: You're going to take B, I cried bitter hot tears of pity.

STAPLES: Bitter hot tears.

SAGAL: It's actually the last one. The one about...

STAPLES: It - was it?

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAPLES: Was it?

SAGAL: Yeah. That's from an article by Susan Orlean about The Shaggs. The Shaggs became a huge cult band, outsider music. Frank Zappa...

STAPLES: Yeah.

SAGAL: ...Was a huge fan of them.

STAPLES: Oh, wow.

SAGAL: Yeah. They're sort of - they're very unique, I would say. Bill, how did Mavis Staples do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Two out of three. She won.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Congratulations, Mavis.

STAPLES: Thank you, Peter.

SAGAL: Mavis Staples. Her latest album is "Livin' On A High Note."

(APPLAUSE)

STAPLES: Thank you.

SAGAL: And this young lady from the South Side of Chicago is playing Chicago's Symphony Center on February 17. Mavis Staples...

STAPLES: Oh, my God.

SAGAL: Thank you so much for being with us.

STAPLES: Thank you.

SAGAL: Thank you.

STAPLES: All right, thank you, everybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU ARE NOT ALONE")

STAPLES: (Singing) A broken home, a broken heart, isolated and afraid. Open up, this is a raid. I want to get it through to you. You're not alone.

SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill reveals the secret to happiness in our Listener Limerick Challenge - cover your eyes. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.