Sunday, 19 October 2014 00:00

Interview with Steve Cropper

Written by  Simon Alcock
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Interview with Steve Cropper

I don’t think it would be too large an embellishment of the facts to state that almost everyone reading this article will either recognise Steve Cropper, be well-acquainted with his prodigious musical output, or more than likely be familiar with both the man and his work.

Steve Cropper was born in rural Missouri and moved with his family to Memphis as a child. At school, he formed a band called the Royal Spades with friend Charlie Freeman, which evolved into the Mar-Keys and had their first hit single in 1961. From there, he went on to become an integral part of the creative team at Stax Records, including being co-writer of soul classics such as ‘Dock Of The Bay’, ‘In The Midnight Hour’ and ‘Knock On Wood’.

Cropper later found further fame as a member of the Blues Brothers band. He is also a studio owner and continues to tour. Allthingsnorfolk tracked him down in Russia and asked a few questions about his career ahead of a visit to the UK.  

1) What music did you listen to when you were growing up?

When I was growing up in rural Missouri, radio was very limited, so I listened to whatever was playing. The range of songs was all over the place from Peggy Lee to Classical, but I do remember a song that said, "Hey There, What's Behind the Green Door". Not real sure if "Doggie in the Window" had any influence on me. Only when I was 10 and moved to Memphis, did I listen to Gospel and R & B.

2) When The Royal Spades/Mar Keys got together, did you have any ideas about how you wanted the band to progress?

Not really. It started with only Charlie Freeman and myself, two guitars. A local Disc Jockey told us, if we had a drummer he would put us on one of his weekend dance shows. We progressed into a real band when new members were added. First the drummer (Terry Johnson) then bass (Donald"Duck" Dunn)

then horns (Charles"Packy"Axton). Wayne Jackson and Don Nix. We became the MAR-KEYS after the recording of "Last Night" they would not let us use "The Royal Spades" which stood for the highest hand in poker, a Royal Spade Flush.

3) Were you surprised when ‘Last Night’ was a hit?

Not really, we all thought it was a hit and  just wanted it to be played on the radio. I think it hit because it was the first real "Twist" Instrumental you could dance the Twist to.

4) How did the association with Stax begin?

First was Charles Axton and his uncle Jim Stewart. Jim I'm sure didn't think we would amount to anything, but Packy's mom Estelle did. First came Satellite Records, then they had to change the name for copyright 

reasons and they came up with the letter abbreviation STAX for Stewart/Axton.

5) I’ve heard it said that Stax was the only place in Memphis at the time where black and white freely worked together. Is this correct and if so, were you aware at the time of the differences between the studio and what was happening outside?

None of the above. We were just doing what we loved. There was never any colour at STAX, just people trying to make hit records.

6) What was it about Stax that made it such a prolific source of quality material?

Love, Dedication and Energy.

7) Did you keep an eye on the output of Motown, or did what they were doing have any effect on how Stax operated?

Only from a dance and groove standpoint creatively, but later we started aiming for the pop charts too.

8) What was it like hearing Otis Redding sing for the first time?

All I remember is, the hair stood straight up on my arms, I had never had a voice strike me like that. Incredible.

9) What was it that made you move away from Stax?

I think it all started with the work load and the fact that management stopped all outside recording. Too much demand on product and not enough time to concentrate on individual songs. STAX was a singles company, not an album company but we had to compete with the market; a sign of the times. It took STAX a while to settle down. By then the business had changed and was moving into Disco.

10) How did you get involved in TMI studios?

TMI, the studio, was already built when I first saw it. Jerry Williams and Ronnie Stoots got me out of bed late one night to see it. Ronnie my friend knew I was thinking about leaving STAX. The studio was first class; all it needed was a production plan. So Jerry Williams and I went to NY and made

a production deal with Columbia Records. I had other offers to leave Memphis but decided to stay. Later I moved to Los Angeles and stayed there for several years.

11) How did the association with The Blues Brothers Band begin?

Being asked to join a band to play nine shows at the Universal Amphitheater opening for Steve Martin as the Blues Brothers Band. (James) Belushi heard us play with Levon Helm & the RCO All Stars in NY and he wanted that band. Of course the horns were the Saturday Night Live Horns. I think the success of the live album "Briefcase Full Of Blues" sparked the movie.

12) What was more fun, touring with the Blues Brothers Band or making the film?

Making a movie is "Fun"; touring on the other hand is work, especially the travelling part. But I must say, we had a ball traveling with Belushi and Aykroyd.

13) Is there an artist that you’ve not yet worked with you would like to do so?

My definitive answer has always been, Tina Turner. Not real sure if I would have the energy to do it today.

14) You are about to tour the UK with The Animals. How did the association with them begin?

Everything starts with a phone call. They are fun guys to play with. That's why I keep doing it.

15) Is there a single song you’ve either written or performed on that you would like to be remembered for?

Nothing in particular, let history do it's thing

Steve Cropper and The Animals play at Epic Studios in Norwich on 6th November

Read 2379 times Last modified on Wednesday, 24 February 2016 22:25

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