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Road to D.C.: "Long Walk To D.C."

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staples for hoekstra 2.jpg Soul folk in action.

Jan. 16 (Midnight, eastern)

BREEZEWOOD, Pa.----The week will be filled with goosebump moments. The first one comes while listening to the Staple Singers 1968 tune "Long Walk To D.C." while driving into Breezewood, "The Town of Motels." The sleepy city is at the intersection of the old Lincoln Highway, Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-70.
There is no turning around, just like the Staples sing.
I have a lot of Curtis Mayfield, Bob Dylan and Staple Singers for the journey. But nothing keeps you going like Mavis Staples......

Long Walk To D.C. - The Staple Singers


The Homer Banks composition begins with Pops Staples tremelo guitar, a profound ripple in a sea of hope. Mavis starts singing: "It's a long walk to D.C./but I got my walkin' shoes on/It's a long walk to D.C./but I know I'll make it someday..." Her sister Cleotha and brother Pervis pick up the pace with jubillee gospel accented by snakeskin tambourine. My oh my. Mavis continues to sing...."I gotta see the president/No matter what it takes/I got a dime for some coffee/Another dime to buy me cake..." I emerge from the bleak tunnel under the Allgeheny Mountains. A metaphor? You tell me.

Banks died in 2003 after a bout with cancer. He was 61. He also co-wrote the Staples Singers hit "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" and the Luther Ingram smash "If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want To Be Right)." I may play that on my trip back to Chicago. Banks attended the segregated Booker T. Washington high school in Memphis.
Former Stax producer Al Bell brought the Staples to the Memphis label. "Homer and many others were getting more inspired by the passive resistance movement of Dr. King's," Bell says. "And the impact it was having from a positive standpoint on African-Americans. The attitude that many African-Americans were taking at that time was that this was the way we should get the attention of the largest segment of society, politicans and heads of corporations.
"The positive passive resistance approach moves up from how we'd been characterized by many: when more than two of us get together, there's going to be a fight or a problem. That goes all the way back to slavery. What Dr. King stood for was what I/we--meaning Homer and others--reflected on what was going on with the majority of African-Americans at that time (1968). He's saying, 'It's a long walk to D.C. Oh, but I'm on my way. Because I'm about what this man (Dr. King) is about and what this man is talking about."

For more on the Al Bell story, link to his new radio station:

"Long Walk to D.C." was produced by Steve Cropper. The band included fellow MG's Duck Dunn on bass and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums. Marvell Thomas played keyboards in place of Booker T. Jones. The Memphis Horns (Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love and Joe Arnold) also played on the record. "I felt Steve could interact with Pops guitar-to-guitar," Bell said. "And Steve, having worked with Otis (Redding) could bring out the Staples."

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.


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This page contains a single entry by David Hoekstra published on January 16, 2009 10:33 AM.

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