This interview was from just a little over 6 years ago. I’m planning on interviewing Steve again soon!
(This originally appeared in the old T-Bone’s Prime Cuts blog – September 30, 2010. http://tbonesprimecuts.blogspot.com)
By T-Bone Mathley
A member of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Songwriters Hall of Fame, The Musicians Hall of Fame and just recently, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. As a member of Booker T. & the MGs, basically the house band for Stax Records, Steve Cropper played on hits by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, “Sam & Dave and the entire Stax roster. He co-wrote, “Green Onions,” “Midnight Hour”, “(Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay” and numerous others. His discography as a writer, producer and player would take two days to recite. Most people with credits like these would be happy to sit back and let their past speak for them. Not Steve Cropper! He continues to tour with both Booker T. & the MGs and the Blues Brothers. When he’s not on the road, he stays busy writing, producing and recording. As a matter of fact, just a few months ago he released “Midnight Flyer.” His second album with Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals.
I had a chance to catch up with Steve at his place in Nashville, Insomnia Studios. We talked about the new album, guitars, Otis Redding and the Blues Brothers.
What was it like working with Felix Cavaliere again?
It’s sort of like stepping back in time. The fact that he sort of came out of high school singing as a teenager and I was playing and singing as a teenager and wound up with Booker T. & the MGs and he wound up with The Rascals doing all those great songs and all. When I say a “step back in time” literally – if you close your eyes, he sounds as good or better than he did when he was 20 years old! And that’s what is really fun. Working with Felix, his attitude is so cool and when you hit a lick or something like that he doesn’t have to say, “What’s that lick?” He just feels it or knows it.
The neat thing about Felix and I – we had already worked together in another band. An all-star band, we did like 21 shows for Northwest Airlines. Went to a lot of cities and had a lot of fun together. Basically it was like a “Hits Band.” We played the ones that people knew and recognized and that sort of thing. It was mainly for their Frequent Flyers Program. People that had earned enough miles, they’d do a little banquet for them and a show.
Second time around it was a little easier, basically because we kind of knew what to expect. The first time we worked together on the album, “Nudge It Up A Notch” it was more of an experiment at least initially at the onset. We didn’t know what we were going to do. We just got together and came up with grooves and stuff like that. Then between 7 and 9 songs into the project we sort of thought we had a direction and went ahead and completed it.
This last album, I’ll be the first to tell you- you probably won’t read about it in interviews, but I’ll tell you here… we were more than 3/4 of the way through the songs and Felix called one day and said, guys it’s not that I dislike what we’re doing, I just want to do some things that are a little more progressive. I’ve tried it and I’m just not real comfortable with the songs. And if it doesn’t upset too many people, I’d just like to start it over again. And we did- you could say we started over in midstream. It’s sort of like fishing and deciding to throw the tackle box overboard (laughs) and pick up some different bait and try fishing for a while.
So, you had to start all over again? Go in a new direction?
Well, we got into that mindset and started working with Tom Hambridge, who is a great drummer, an incredible producer and just a fun guy to be around. And he just sort of put it into a “new spirit.” I wouldn’t say a new direction, put things into a new spirit. So we got together here in the studio, Felix was sitting here, playing the piano and kind of mumbling some words- and I was sitting about 3 or 4 feet away coming up with different grooves. And Tom was sitting over in the corner- and he would just kind of log everything. And our engineer, Eddie Gore would record what we would do. Whenever we would finish a groove that we’d like, Eddie would put it down on tape and Felix would take it home and we all sort of worked on the words together. And we wound up with a little record called, “Midnight Flyer.” Hope you guys like it.
Let’s step back in time a bit, and touch on influences. Who were some of the guitarists that influenced you early on?
There are so many that the list would be endless- but the one guy that I always give credit for the inspiration, that I got to see live- is a guy named Lowman Pauling. The guitarist and I guess the bandleader of the Five Royales. That goes back to the fifties and early sixties. I got to see him live in Memphis, TN and it just blew me away. And the funny thing about him- he did a thing when he took a solo, well kind of like Chuck Berry- when Chuck would take a solo, he’d drop his strap down and play between his legs and do all this crazy stuff. Play behind his head and everything. Lowman Pauling didn’t have to drop his strap down- he had a really long strap, so his guitar always hung down below his knees. I thought that was the coolest thing I ever saw in my life! I couldn’t wait- I got home that night… my mom said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m trying to find one of my old belts… I need to make my guitar strap longer!” (Laughs) And I did! I found one and got my guitar strap and did some finagling and punched a hole in it and got longer so it would hold way down. And I think you can see that on one of my websites- or at least a silhouette of me playing the guitar WAY low. That’s that guitar and that picture came from a live show down at the Royal Peacock Nightclub in Atlanta, GA in 1961. I was an old guy then (laughs)… I don’t do that anymore, but it always stuck with me… so I always give credit to Lowman Pauling. There’s a song called, “Think” – all you guitar buffs out there, go and listen to “Think.” (Starts singing) “Think about the good times…” And listen to the guitar on there- it’ll blow your mind.