Respond to this challenge, by either by using the prompt word mercy, or going with the above picture, or by means of the song ‘I’ll Take You There’, or by going with another song by The Staple Singers, or anything else that you think fits. The Staple Singers were a family group which included Roebuck “Pops” Staples, his son Pervis and his daughters, Cleotha, Mavis, and Yvonne. They had a #1 hit on the Billboard R&B Singles chart and the Billboard Hot 100 chart with ‘I’ll Take You There’ in 1972 and this was written by Al Bell who was born Alvertis Isbell. Stax Records signed a simple distribution agreement with independent giant Atlantic Records that, unknown to almost anyone at the time, gave away the rights to all of their music that was performed, recorded, licensed and distributed. It was common in the 1950’s and 1960’s for small independent labels to sign distribution agreements with larger, more-established labels to get the music out to radio stations and music stores. Both labels provided talented artists, but Stax provided a killer studio band Booker T & the MGs and an amazing team of writers and producers, while Atlantic provided a distribution machine that allowed hit after hit to be disseminated to every radio station and record shop.
Al Bell was a very successful black Washington DC disc jockey that started his own label Devore. In 1965, Stewart hired Al Bell as national sales director, to join Stax as head of promotion, because of problems that Stax was having with a distribution agreement that they made with Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records. Bell was hired to try and turn the struggling record company around, so he moved from the business side to production, and he made his biggest contribution as a producer with the Staple Singers. He had been introduced to the group while working at KOKY in Little Rock, and Bell wrote their biggest hit, ‘I’ll Take You There’ while visiting North Little Rock for his brother Louis’s funeral.
In the summer of 1971, Mr. Bell’s younger brother Louis was murdered in Arkansas. Louis was shot to death and Arkansas native Al spent four or five days unable to interact with relatives while coping with this loss, doing nothing but looking to find his murderer. Right before the funeral, Al Bell said, he sat on the hood of a junked school bus that his father kept in the backyard and something happened inside of him, as this song came to him. He didn’t feel comfortable, even with being in this familiar place, because he kept thinking about his brother, and he began to hear this music. Bell likes to say that he did not write the song, but that it was written through him. All he could do was cry, and then he heard, “bum, bum, bum, bum,” in his head, as a bass line came to him and then the words. Bell recalled trying to write other verses, but he couldn’t come up with anything and since nothing worked, there was nothing left to say. Bell brought the song to a recording session with the Staple Singers, who “took it to the next level,” with its island groove.
Mavis Staples has a different recollection of how this song was written, as she said that this was a collaborative effort where she was working out the lyrics with Bell on the living room floor of her condo in Chicago when a neighbor complained they were making too much noise. The Muscle Shoals rhythm section says the arrangement was developed from scratch in the recording studio, with a little help on the opening coming from an obscure Jamaican instrumental reggae tune by Harry J All Stars called ‘The Liquidator’ about an assassin.
The Staple Singers were among the first groups to move from gospel to inspirational soul music. In 1968, the Staples signed with Memphis-based Stax and their first two albums were produced by Steve Cropper and backed by Booker T. & the MG’s, but this album Be Altitude: Respect Yourself, Al Bell took the group down the road to Muscle Shoals, where things got decidedly funky as they were working with The Swampers. ‘I’ll Take You There’ features lead singer Mavis Staples inviting her listeners to seek Heaven, a place where nobody is crying, and no one is worried. The song was almost completely unrehearsed, and most of the lines that Mavis made up came from inside of her.
Help me now
(I’ll take you there)
(I’ll take you there)
Oh! Oh! Mercy!