BILL KURTIS: Nothing sends a thrill up our collective leg more than the dulcet tones of our friend Mavis Staples. She came back for a return visit recently so we could catch up on her adventures.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
MAVIS STAPLES: Thank you, Peter (laughter).
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
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.
STAPLES: I've been up to - I've been doing a lot of things, Peter.
STAPLES: Thanks to you.
SAGAL: Yeah, we started you off.
SAGAL: I'm trying to think of all the things that's happened. So let's see. You toured with Wilco.
SAGAL: A great Chicago band.
STAPLES: Yes, yes.
SAGAL: And was it Arcade Fire?
STAPLES: Arcade Fire.
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.
LUKE BURBANK: How have we been talking about anything that isn't that?
FAITH SALIE: Oh, yeah.
SAGAL: Well, we...
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...
STAPLES: ...Hanging with these young people.
STAPLES: But you didn't mention Dylan.
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?
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.
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.
STAPLES: He meant it.
BURBANK: Is it possible that when he proposed to you, Mavis, you just didn't understand what he was saying?
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're 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: (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.
STAPLES: And here he comes. And he has these sunglasses on where I can see myself in the sunglasses...
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.
SAGAL: So he looks like the Unabomber, and he walks in.
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...
STAPLES: ...You know, if it was going to be OK.
STAPLES: You know, but he told me no. No. He turned me down.
SAGAL: Did he really?
STAPLES: He turned me down.
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.
STAPLES: And so it might be that the tables are turned. We're too old now.
STAPLES: No, it's not that. It's not that. I'm already married.
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.
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.
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.
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...
KURTIS: Meet the Shaggs.
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.
SAGAL: Bill, who is Mavis Staples...
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.
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...
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.
STAPLES: All right.
STAPLES: (Laughter) All right.
BURBANK: Is this why the person who maintains The Shaggs fan club online is firstname.lastname@example.org?
SAGAL: It's possible. 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."
SAGAL: B, quote, "I cried bitter hot tears of pity."
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. 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?
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...
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.
SAGAL: Congratulations, Mavis.
STAPLES: Thank you, Peter.
SAGAL: Mavis Staples. Her latest album is "Livin' On A High Note."
SAGAL: 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) Isolated and afraid. Open up, this is a raid. I want to get it through to you. You're not alone.
SAGAL: When we come back, a Bluff the Listener game from our secret archives and Run the Jewels run their mouths. That's all coming up in a minute on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
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