By Eric Dahl
Like many of Guitar Connoisseurs readers I really wasn’t introduced to Steve Cropper (aka “The Colonel”) until the first time I watched “The Blues Brothers” movie in 1980. At the time I was an impressionable teenager, but everyone I knew was a fan of the movie and the great music that it represented. Eddie Rehak, my first drummer, gave me a copy of the “The Blues Brothers Souvenir Songbook” and in that first band we played at least half of the songs represented in that book. Fast forward to 36 years later and I’m going through a box looking for songs and I stumble upon this Souvenir Songbook from my youth. The other irony is that it is just days before I’m scheduled to interview Steve Cropper and I knew that I must take this to help explain how much his music meant to me then and now.
The pictures in the middle of the book and on the back feature Cropper and the entire Blues Brothers band: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Murphy Dunn, Willie Hall, Tom Malone, Lou Marini, Matt “Guitar” Murphy and Alan Rubin, are all captured in different scenes from the movie and posed like a High School yearbook on the back cover. Meeting and talking with Steve Cropper (his friends call him Crop) was an eye opening experience. Steve is humble, sharp and witty and isn’t a big fan of talking about himself, but he will talk guitars and amps with you all day long. Here is the first bit of wisdom he shared with me “Do you know how to figure out if an electric guitar is going to sound good? Play it unplugged first and see how it sounds and feels, then find the right amp that goes with it.”
Cropper is full of candid stories and advice from the many musicians he has rubbed elbows with, which is amazing considering he was born in rural Missouri and then moved to Memphis TN with his family when he was only 9 years old. Memphis, a city known for its music and food, is where he absorbed much of his musical style as he acquired his first guitar (a mail order special) at the age of 14. Steve’s talents didn’t go unnoticed as Jim Stewart, the President of Stax Records, brought him on board as part of the house band called Booker T and the MGs. Cropper remained at Stax from 1961-70 and frequently worked with his friend Eddie Floyd on songs. During a recent concert in Nashville, TN at Acme Seed & Feed, Steve would play a few licks or chords and then explain how he came up with those hooks, how he strung it together and what hit record or song it was on. But he was able accomplish this without bragging but merely telling a story like any of us would do about our friends, if our friends where some of the biggest recording artists in history. A few of the names included: Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and the list continues. Awards wise Cropper was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, 2009 EMP/SMF Founders Award, 2010 Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Mojo Magazine ranked him the greatest living guitarist and Rolling Stone Magazine placed him in the Top 100 Guitarists of all time.
But with all that said at the age of 74 Steve isn’t slowing down by any means. He is currently on tour with “The Original Blues Brothers Band” in Europe through August and he has plans to join Melissa Etheridge on tour this fall. His Peavey Cropper Classic (made from 1995-2005) prototype models are still his main touring and studio guitars although he does own Fender Telecasters and other models including acoustics. Amplifier wise Cropper remains a fan of Fender and Peavey amplifiers predominantly but he keeps a few boutique amps around his studio for good measure. Few if any pedals are used as he prefers to just take his guitar chord and plug it directly into the amplifier and dial in his tone. I believe we will see more from Steve Cropper in the coming years as he has caught a second wind. Steve’s wife Angel, is a talented vocalist and songwriter in her own right and I was privileged to sit next to her during Croppers concert. She was eventually pulled up on stage to sing some numbers with her husband and that was a real treat. Steve’s new Publicity Manager, Geddes Boatwright, told me that Cropper was given the nickname “The Colonel” during the filming of the Blues Brothers movie by the director John Landis for the way he handled the hiring of the musicians and song selection for the classic.
Steve Cropper is not a man that can be contained by one title or field of creativity – a stellar guitarist, intuitive Producer, insightful A&R man, Hit songwriter, singer and of course a movie star. And after gaining a glimpse into Crop’s inner circle and spending some time with him what impressed me most was his humility, passion for music, compassion for fans and his sense of family. Don’t let the Blues Brothers albums be your only source for listening to Steve Croppers skills, he has multiple solo albums out and can be heard on virtually every 1960’s Stax track that was pressed. A new website is being constructed for Cropper and there is more big news pending this fall. They may be hard to find but I would also recommend tracking down your own copy of “The Blues Brothers Souvenir Songbook” and if Steve and good old boys come to your town be sure and catch him in concert! Cropper is like so many unsung musical geniuses that didn’t get the credit they deserved for the great guitar hooks and songs they wrote in the past, but that is beginning to change for Steve.
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