Pops Staples | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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It may be cute to call pop singers "geezers" once they're past 35, but it's not mere age that rots the geezer--it's the excesses of fame. If one maintains a solid sense of purpose and remembers that music, not fame, is what matters, the creative flame can survive. Perhaps this is what has enabled Chicago's Roebuck "Pops" Staples, the 79-year-old patriarch of the Staple Singers, to stay fresh throughout a 60-year career that has ranged from his family's gloriously raw 1950s roots-gospel recordings on the local Vee-Jay label (four soaring voices backed only by Pops's tremolo/reverb guitar and a snare played with brushes) to their string of inspirational crossover hits on Stax in the 1970s. His recent solo CD, the wonderfully edgy Father Father, draws fruitfully on both these periods; we get plenty of funky shouts (two featuring his daughters) as well as some pensive tunes spotlighting Pops's bluesy moan and swampy guitar picking. One song, the remarkable "Simple Man," is about a well-meaning fellow who's led by down-home common sense to advocate a horrific sort of vigilante "justice" ("Take them rascals down to the swamp / Put 'em on their knees and tie 'em to a stump / Let the birds and the rats and the alligators do the rest"), and who--since he has heartfelt reasons for what he says--isn't likely to have his mind changed by self-righteous liberals who simply stereotype him as a dumb, evil redneck. You certainly don't have to be religious to appreciate Staples's knowing commentary on why today's shrill, antagonistic sociopolitical "debate" seems to be going nowhere. At this free event Staples will perform and be interviewed by Reader contributing photographer James Fraher. Friday, 4 PM, auditorium, Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State; 747-4850.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Paul Natkin.

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