If Yankee Stadium is “the house that Babe Ruth built,” Stax Records is “the house that Booker T, and the MG’s built.” Integral to that potent combination is MG rhythm guitarist extraordinaire Steve Cropper. As a guitarist, A & R man, engineer, producer, songwriting partner of Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd and a dozen others and founding member of both Booker T. and the MG’s and The Mar-Keys, Cropper was literally involved in virtually every record issued by Stax from the fall of 1961 through year end 1970.
Such credits assure Cropper of an honored place in the soul music hall of fame. As co-writer of (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, Knock on Wood and In the Midnight Hour, Cropper is in line for immortality.
Born on October 21, 1941 on a farm near Dora, Missouri, Steve Cropper moved with his family to Memphis at the age of nine.
In Missouri he had been exposed to a wealth of country music and little else. In his adopted home, his thirsty ears amply drank of the fountain of Gospel, R & B and nascent Rock and Roll that thundered over the airwaves of both black and white Memphis radio.
Bit by the music bug, Cropper acquired his first mail order guitar at the age of 14. Personal guitar heroes included Tal Farlow, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, Chet Atkins, Lowman Pauling of the Five Royales and Billy Butler of the Bill Doggett band.
The aspiring musician quickly became buddies with another guitar playing teenager named Charlie Freeman and together the two schoolmates formed a band they dubbed the Royal Spades.
A hybrid version of the Spades, renamed the Mar-Keys, wrote and recorded a popping instrumental entitled Last Night in early summer 1961, Released on Satellite Records, the record shot into the Top 5 on both the pop and R & B charts.
When a California company also called Satellite Records threatened to sue over use of the name, the Memphis-based Satellite metamorphosized into Stax.
By the time of the Mar-Keys record, Cropper was something of a studio veteran, already having played sessions for Sun, Duke-Peacock and Hi Records.
It was only natural, then. that shortly after quitting the Mar-Keys during their first tour, Cropper was given the keys to the Stax studio and became, along with company co-owner Jim Stewart, the label’s de facto A& R man and engineer.
For the next decade Cropper’s career was wed to Stax. Booker T. & the MG’s were born when Cropper, keyboardist Booker T. Jones, drummer Al Jackson and bassist Lewie Steinberg were hired for a session in late summer 1962 at the then-fledgling Stax Records.
When the rockabilly singer the quartet was ostensibly hired to accompany finished early, the four musicians whiled away their time jamming on a blues. Unbeknownst to any of them, Stax co-owner and erstwhile engineer Jim Stewart turned on a tape deck.
Satisfied with the results, the four newly constituted band members worked up a second side which came to be known as Green Onions. A dynasty had begun.
Green Onions became an instrumental anthem for both black and white America, peaking at number One on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues charts and number three on the pop charts.
Mo’ Onions soon followed, as did Soul Dressing, Boot-leg, My Sweet Potato, Hip Hug-Her, Groovin’, Soul Limbo, Hang ‘Em High, Time Is Tight, Mrs. Robinson, Something and Melting Pot.
Steve Cropper currently runs his label, Play It Again, Steve.
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