Candi Staton is the finest female singer ever to grace a Southern Soul recording, her achingly vulnerable vocals perfect for the lyrics of the best country/soul songs. Luckily for us, during her tenure at Rick Hall’s Fame label she got the best songs, mostly from the pen of George Jackson, perhaps the top Southern Soul songwriter of his generation. George spent every waking minute of his day writing songs and probably came up with a few while he dreamt too. As Candi herself said, “That was his thing.”
Brought to the FAME studio by her then husband-to-be Clarence Carter, Candi had a Top 10 R&B hit with her very first single on the Fame label, the catchy and upbeat ‘I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool)’, penned by Jackson in 1969. Those who flipped the single over were treated to more Staton/Jackson magic on the beautiful ballad ‘For You’.
From 1969 to 1973, Hall got the very best from Candi, with one gem after another pouring out of his studio down in rural Alabama: songs of cheating, heartache and loss such as the superb ‘Mr And Mrs Untrue’, the edgy ‘Evidence’, the tender ‘Too Hurt To Cry’, the heartrending ‘You Don’t Love Me No More’ and the churning ‘I’m Just A Prisoner’.
Years later Candi revealed that the appealing raw edge which crept into her voice at times was achieved by Hall urging her on to record the same song up to 25 times. Though George Jackson was Hall’s writer of choice for Candi, Rick was also brave enough to take a chance recording her on songs that were firmly associated with other more established artists. Candi’s take on Tammy Wynette’s ‘Stand By Your Man’ is a marvelous slice of Southern Soul whatever your views on the politically incorrect lyrics, while her exquisite version of ‘In The Ghetto’ rivaled Elvis Presley’s mega-hit, and both her covers received Grammy nominations.
Candi’s complete output on the Fame label, in pristine sound, would be a mouth-watering prospect for any soul connoisseur, but Kent have upped the ante immeasurably with the addition of 12 previously unissued tracks, including her final session for the label recorded just before she signed with Warner Brothers in early 1974. The standard of the unissued sides is easily on a par with her released material and I wholeheartedly endorse Dean Rudland’s assessment of these tracks as significant discoveries in his excellent liner notes accompanying this release. Here again George Jackson’s name can be found on many of the credits, including the infectious dancefloor number ‘One More Hurt’ (which has stood the test of time a lot better than many of Candi’s later disco releases), but the find of Kent’s trawl through the FAME vaults is ‘We Had It All’, an outstanding country soul ballad written by Donnie Fritts and Troy Seals and previously recorded by Waylon Jennings.
Candi Staton has since spoken about the ups and downs in her personal life at the time of these recordings, but even before we read about it we could hear in her voice that she had lived the heartache, loneliness and doomed love affairs contained in the lyrics of these songs. There are many first class Southern Soul records by female vocalists from the late 60s and early 70s, but none were as consistently excellent as Candi Staton’s output for the Fame label. This is simply as good as Southern Soul gets.
By Martin Goggin