Friday, July 06, 2012

clive "staples" lewis: the untold story



One is appalled at the dearth of attention afforded Clive Staples Lewis's seminal role in the popularization of gospel music. Even in musicological circles, little mention is made of "Grandpops" Staples, clear proof that even in the latter half of the 20th century the colour of a man's skin was still reason enough to have him and an essential aspect of his life's work excised from at least two sets of history books.  (C.S. can be clearly heard on this early Staples recording of Uncloudy Day, singing low harmony and playing tremelo guitar.) 

not pictured: Clive Staples Lewis

One's mind boggles at the fact that so-called Lewis "scholars" still subscribe to the "Jack is dead" theory, conflating the death of John F. Kennedy and the release of the Beatles' second record with Clive's decision to go on the road with Roebuck, Cleotha, Pervis and Mavis, late in 1963. Coming at the end of a particularly prolific year in the lives of these artists, the tour was in support of the recently recorded albums Swing Low, Hammer and Nails, The 25th Day of December, Letters To Malcolm, and The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, all of which were released on the Riverside label over the course of the following year (1964). Even the most definitive Lewis biographies make no mention of "Jack" scribbling away on his manuscripts for Screwtape Proposes A Toast  or Of Other Worlds (published under the pseudonym "Walter Hooper") backstage between sets at the Apollo, or during sessions at Checker Records.  

not pictured: Clive Staples Lewis

It is no coincidence that Lewis's literary output dwindled once the Staples crossed over into the mainstream with their recordings for Epic and Stax Records in 1967/68: the escalating pressures of television broadcasts and public performances, and the fact that the group was increasing in demand as session musicians with high-profile acts like Booker T & The MG's, The Band, Ike & Tina Turner increasingly eclipsed the low-paid literary efforts of Lewis's youth. 

not pictured: Clive Staples Lewis

His last known studio work was on Mavis Staples' 2010 recording You Are Not Alone, to which Clive contributed celeste, mellotron, organ, piano, tambourine, vibraphone, Wurlitzer organ and background vocals, credited as Patrick Sansone - a clear reference to Elwin Ransom, Lewis's literary alter-ego. Clive "Staples" Lewis was 111.

by Ronald K. Reed, B.A. (General Studies) photo credit: Andrea Loewen