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Her humbleness was never more evident than when I asked her about all the musical luminaries who've jumped at the chance to work with her throughout her career. "When people ask to produce you ... and you're meeting people you admire ... I think to myself, 'you must think really highly of me,'" she said as if in disbelief. And who could blame the likes of Prince, Dylan, Marty Stuart and The Band for wanting to be soak up the vibes of such a great force? I was particularly intrigued by her connection with The Band, and in particular, the jaw-dropping sequence from 1978 film The Last Waltz, where they team with The Staples for a definitive rendition of "The Weight."
As that was my personal introduction to Mavis and her mightiness, I told the vocalist that I benefited from my older sister's obsession with Robbie Robertson, and that it was she who dragged me to see the film several times as a 'tween. Although I enjoyed all the performances in the film tremendously, that famous scene featuring Mavis trading leads with late great drummer/vocalist Levon Helm stood out most. As a dopey kid, I didn't recognize the level of unabashed heart and soul laid out on that piece of film. When I asked Mavis how the film impacted her and her family, she reminisces about the new audiences they gained as a result. "Oh yeah. The college students started coming around and we started seeing a lot of different faces at our concerts." She continues to marvel at the power and the punch that "The Weight' carries, and launched into its first lyric ... and that's about when the interview started to rank this as one of the greatest days I've ever lived through up to this point. She lovingly recalled Helm and refers to him as "a beautiful person," her constant praise and kind words for her contemporaries, her family and her admirers coming across like a breath of fresh air and added sheer delight to the free-flowing conversation we've enjoyed so far.
A self-admitted untrained musician, Mavis sheepishly admitted to me, "I don't know music. I don't know what key I sing in." When asked by bandleaders or fellow musicians what key they should play in to accompany her, her sense of humor takes over, her joking responses "a key of 'S' or 'Q'" since she knows full well such keys don't really exist. She recalled a time many years ago when she was asked to perform the National Anthem before an LA Lakers game and couldn't tell the accompanying organist the key she sang in — so she reached for the nearest phone and called Pops for guidance. Pops pulled out his guitar, started to play and asked her to sing along over the phone. Then he told her she was singing in the key of "A," the information relayed to her collaborator for the performance.
We've all sat around while listening to records or to singers we love and wondered what they were like in person. From the onset of my conversation with Mavis, I felt the exact vibe from her warmth and personality that she's always exuded on record. She's a natural, a down-to-earth lady who happens to sing with the voice of an angel. "I like to feel what I could sing about. I imagine it first like a movie in my head" she recounted. She admitted to enjoying singing all different styles and genres of music, but that she always returns to gospel. "That's home, that's my favorite."
I prod her to fill me in on what fans attending her concert Saturday night might expect to hear. Like a proud mother, she starts to reel of band members' names and the instruments they play. She'll be accompanied by her sister Yvonne, and she mentioned this with the utmost sigh of comfort. As far as their repertoire, Mavis offered a laundry list of classics. "Well, there are some songs that I have to play, songs that bring me back. 'Too Close to Heaven,' 'Uncloudy Day,' 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken,'" she said, then explained, "I never sing the same song the same way every time; I like to grab something new and different on each journey."
Tyler- I can't believe how talented of a writer you are. This article was beautifully…
Great interview! Give the interviewer a full time job! He's great!
The DJ was actually The Castle's very own DJ Tom Gold :)
Fabulous review Gabe! Too bad I missed it.