CANDI Staton is a true soul survivor. Blessed with a distinctive, instantly-recognisable voice and an earthy southern charm, in a career spanning more than 40 years she has battled booze, abusive husbands, shady promoters and reinvented herself several times.
Most people in Britain will remember her 70s disco belter Young Hearts Run Free but she also had a chart hit in the 90s with You've Got the Love.
It is her slightly lesser known 60s and early 70s soul recordings at the legendary Fame Studios in Alabama and their subsequent reissue on the British label, Honest Jons, which kickstarted a triumphant return to secular music - producing two highly praised albums and a gig at the Shepherd's Bush Empire on Tuesday night.
Like many of the incredible singers of the time, from James Carr to Aretha Franklin and the Staple Singers, Candi started out in the church. She was born in 1943 in a little town in Alabama, her father both a farmer and a miner.
"I started singing out loud when I was about five years old," she says. "I got on stage and sang a song for the first time after one of my mother's best friends popped around the house and heard me singing. She told my mum 'You know that girl can sing' but my mum didn't believe it. Then she called me up to sing one Sunday in church. I was shaking. I started singing that song and people started screaming - black Baptist churches back in those days were very emotional places. I was out of metre, out of time, and I rushed through it real quick to get back to my mother. That's pretty much how it started."
After a stint in an all-girl harmony group called the Four Golden Echoes aged eight, she joined another group called Jewel Gospel Trio, aged 13, while at the Jewel Christian Academy.
They were one of the first gospel groups to play with a full backing band and made some recordings. This was where she met some of the people who would influence her powerful country-tinged soul tracks for Fame Studios.
"That's how I met Lou Rawls, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, all those people, like Johnny Taylor - all those big names that became superstars. Even Bobby Womack had his little brothers around him, the Womack brothers. They were singing gospel too."
Candi had five children and was a wife and mother for seven years before taking to singing in clubs at the behest of her brother and joining the backing band of Clarence Carter, another popular singer of the time.
"I was with a man who didn't understand who I was, who was very abusive and controlling. I knew this wasn't going to last. I was thinking: 'What in the world can I do?'.
"The last thing I was thinking about was singing. Personally I didn't think I had the talent. There were so many better singers than me."
But things changed. When the calling came it was more out of practical necessity and a need to survive, than a burning desire to be rich and famous.
"The only thing I was thinking about was my kids need a roof over their heads. I didn't know how to do anything else, so I thought I would try it. First record out of the box was Old Man's Sweetheart, which sold almost 700,000 records. Then I was in demand, promoters started wanting to put me on shows. It took me to the Apollo opening for Bobby Womack and James Brown."
Disco eventually elbowed funk and soul out of the way and in 1976 Young Hearts took off, catapulting Candi out of the rundown rhythm and blues clubs, where there had been brawling and even shooting, and into stardom.
"I loved it - I felt like it was a level up in my career," she says. "We had riders, dressing rooms and people dancing. Disco was beautiful to me."
But by 1982, Candi was exhausted and turned back to the place where it began - the church.
"I was eight years drunk. I got into different relationships that weren't good for me. I was drinking to try and forget, drinking to survive. I was a slave to the music and the demands. I just thought: 'I'm tired of this rat race and I want peace'."
Apart from the Chicago house track interlude in the 90s, Candi took to gospel full-time. Then, in 2004, Honest Jons wanted to make a compilation of her early recordings. The eponymous CD contains much of her best early work, including I'm Just a Prisoner and Another Man's Woman and even a version of In The Ghetto praised by Elvis himself.
She toured Britain, playing the Jazz Café. A business blunder that meant the high-flying compilation was briefly pulled prompted the recording of secular comeback album His Hands and the new album Who's Hurting Now? featuring a collaboration with Groove Armada.
"I was playing the Jazz Café, I was standing there with Mark Langley and people were like: 'Great show, Candi!' I said it was a shame they stopped the record. He said 'Yeah, it is' but I looked at him and said 'You know, I'm still living. They might have stopped the record by the singer still lives'."
She does indeed. And with a performance at Shepherd's Bush Empire on Tuesday night that is likely to include something new, some old classics and some gospel, Candi Staton will be doing her best to give the lie to the belief the the devil has all the best tunes.
* Candi Staton, Shepherd's Bush Empire, Tuesday Feb 24, 7.30pm. Tickets £22.50 on 0844 4772 000