Mavis Staples can get anyone feeling funky. The R&B and gospel icon recently premiered a concert special, Mavis Staples: I’ll Take You There – An All-Star Concert Celebration, which was recorded on her 75th birthday in 2014 at Auditorium Theater in Chicago, her hometown. Among the many performers that night was Eric Church, who tackled an especially funky version of “Eyes on the Prize.”
Recorded by Staples in 2007, “Eyes on the Prize” traces its origins back to an old spiritual called “Gospel Plow.” In its various forms it’s been recorded by everyone from Pete Seeger to Bruce Springsteen and was particularly popular with Civil Rights-era folk singers, but Church does a faithful rendition of Staples’ version and gives the song a swinging groove. He’s helped out by a 13-piece backing band that includes horns, percussion, and backup singers, but his thick twang is still front and center.
“Their music took a stand, their music said something, their music was about things,” says Church about the Staple Singers’ recordings. “I feel like at times we get lost in music and we don’t say things. . . we don’t get involved. We shy away and they never did. I think that’s why we’re all so enamored with Mavis.”
Mavis Staples: I’ll Take You There – An All-Star Concert Celebration originally aired April 16th on AXS TV but will be seeing a combination CD and DVD release from Blackbird Presents on June 2nd. The special features performances and interviews from the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Jeff Tweedy, and Win Butler of Arcade Fire, who recently featured Staples on their single, “I Give You Power.” The Staples special marks Blackbird’s first release on their new record label, Blackbird Presents Records.
Church is currently on the road for his Holdin’ My Own Tour, which wraps up May 26th and 27th with a pair of shows at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.