Cream of the Cropper
Steve Cropper, founder member of Booker T & The MGs, is in Clitheroe on Sunday. The legendary guitarist, who co-wrote In The Midnight Hour, Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay and other classics, spoke to TONY DEWHURST
Steve Cropper is one of the most famous guitarists in modern music, and the Tennessee-based producer and singer songwriter joins his friends The Animals at Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre on Sunday.
Cropper has been the secret ingredient in some of the greatest soul and rock and roll standards, with his trademark sound heard in songs by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Albert King.
A founding member of Booker T and the MG’s, Cropper has not only contributed to such instrumental classics as Green Onions, he co-wrote soul hits In The Midnight Hour and Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.
“I was probably 13 before I was allowed to listen to a radio, but then I heard gospel, soul and rhythm and blues music for the first time and it was the greatest stuff I’d ever heard,” said Cropper.
“It was beautiful music, and that’s something that drew me into it – it has been my life ever since, playing to people and, hopefully, making them happy.”
Cropper, of course, continues to be an in-demand musician and his string-bending talents being most recently showcased on albums by Paul Simon, Elton John and Ringo Starr.
“Songs like Dock of the Bay and Midnight Hour were absolute phenomenons, but it is difficult to answer why they were,” added Cropper.
“It is certainly hard to believe it is 52 years since Green Onions was released.
“That track just had this amazing positive energy. I cut it, mixed it and took it to a local radio DJ.
“It went out on the air and we both said, ‘Hit’. An hour later the telephone was ringing off the wall with record guys from all over America desperate to get a slice of the action.”
Born and raised in America’s Deep South, his education in Nashville was part of a musical upbringing that saw him work with some of the greats in soul and R&B.
Yet the songwriter takes his inspirations from far beyond the R&B scene, adding: “It is strange how songs emerge, it can be very instinctive.
“I remember Eddie Floyd was waiting for me to come up with an intro for Knock On Wood.
“I beat myself to death, but I couldn’t come up with anything.
“But then something came crashing out of the sky and I thought, ‘I wonder what Midnight Hour would sound like backwards?
“If I played the same changes the other way up?
“That’s the intro to Knock On Wood.”
Despite his work bringing so much joy, Cropper’s life was interrupted by the death of two close friends.
First Otis Redding died, and then the demise of John Belushi ended his project with the Blues Brothers, just when it seemed that Cropper’s work would be recognised all over again.
“That really hit me hard, John (Belushi) going.
“I thought, ‘Here we go again.’
“You get something going, a really fantastic vibe, and then boom – someone let’s the air out of the tyres.
“I refused a lot of work after that, and I kind of went into semi-retirement.”
He added: “I’ve done this for half a century and I don’t really care about being centre stage – I’m a band member and that’s the way I’ve always seen it and always will.”
On the same bill, there’s a special treat in store for classic rock fans with The Animals and Friends – including Mick Gallagher, who played on albums with The Clash and Paul McCartney.
The Animals and Friends, plus Steve Cropper. Clitheroe Grand Theatre, November 9. £17.50 adv, £20 door. 01200 421599.