Mavis Staples on Summer Tour With Bob Dylan: ‘It’s Really an Honor’
Just a few months ago, Mavis Staples‘ manager called her with some unexpected news: Bob Dylan wanted her serve as the opening act on his summer tour. “I was very surprised,” says Staples. “And it was a month and a half long. I’ve never done a tour that long. I’ve done a month before. I guess I can make a month and a half. I was very excited to see that my old friend wanted to work with me again. It’s a good feeling knowing I’d see Bobby every day for a month and a half.”
Dylan and Staples have known each other since the early 1960s, and at one point they grew so close that Dylan even asked if she’d marry him. We asked Mavis about that infamous proposal, along with her plans for the summer tour and what she expects will happen when they hit the road together.
What did you first think when you heard about this tour?
I was happy that he hadn’t forgotten about me. I think the last time we worked together was a European tour, but we were on different stages at the same festivals.
You also duetted on “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” in 2003.
Yeah. I thought that maybe I should learn that song again because he may want to do that. He may want us to do it together. I remember in the song there’s a line that says, “I’m so hungry that I could eat a horse.” I said to Bobby, “I’m not singing this.” He goes [gravelly voice], “OK, Mavis, I’ll sing that.” I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so hungry I could eat a horse.
Have you spoken to him since the “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” sessions?
Oh, yes. I spoke with him while I was in Japan. I think this was 2004 or 2005. Bob was there. I was working at the Blue Note. I kept getting this message that this lady was calling me. I didn’t know the name he uses to check into hotels. I kept saying, “I don’t know this person.” When I got back to my hotel his name was there and I went, “This is Bobby!” It was late. We had two shows. It was after 1 a.m.
He was sleeping when I called him. He went, “Oh, Mavis, I’ve been trying to get you. I want you to come over here.” I said, “Where are you?” He said, “My hotel is right across the street from you.” He said, “I want to hear your opinion on my new album.” I said, “Bobby, I can’t come out. It’s after 1 a.m. in the morning. I can’t come out by myself in Japan.” He goes, “Mavis, it’s just right across the street.” I said, “I know, but that’s spooky! You come over here!” He goes, “I gotta be up early.” He had to catch that fast train to somewhere. He said, “OK, Mavis. I really wanted you to hear my album. I really wanted your opinion.” I go, “Aw shucks, Bobby. Why didn’t you call me when you’re back in the States?” I gave him my number, but I never heard from him. It was good to hear from him, though.
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