Steve Cropper is a founding member of both Booker T. & the M.G.'s as well as The Blues Brothers. He was a central figure at the legendary Memphis R&B/soul label, Stax, where he worked in a variety of capacities, including as a writer, earning a credit on Otis Redding's classic, "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay."
By the 1970s, he had left Stax and Memphis behind, eventually moving to California. He became a member of The Blues Brothers and was an integral part of the group's debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues and the subsequent film of the same name. Despite the 1982 death of John Belushi, the group has had continued success as a touring entity, especially in Europe.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 as a member of Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Cropper has continued to write, produce and record. He visits Salina's Stiefel Theatre on Thursday, July 5 with fellow guitarist Dave Mason as part of their Rock & Soul Revue tour.
This combination of you and Dave Mason is interesting because you were doing the Booker T. and Stax stuff in Memphis. Then these English guys were starting up and coming to the States. What was your take on that as you'd created some of the music that influenced them?
Good question but I don't know that we thought about it. I've talked to a lot of them and they said, "Oh, man, we listened to Stax." Even The Beatles told me that when they were all still around, that they listened to Stax music all the time. I did a video one time called John Lennon's Jukebox, and he had one of the earliest jukebox's that was made in Germany, I think, and he had two of our records on there. He had "Green Onions" and "In The Midnight Hour," which I thought was really interesting. I thought, "I didn't know those guys were listening to our music!"
There is that legend that gets passed around that The Beatles were going to come to Memphis and record there.
That's not a rumor. That was actually the truth. They sent their manager, Brian Epstein over and he spent about a week-and-a-half in Memphis. We were talking about recording Revolver. Brian was never happy with security. I said, "Man, you gotta understand something: You're in Memphis, Tennessee; you're not going to have hundreds of people standing around trying to bust in the doors, trying to get to The Beatles. It's not going to happen." I don't know why, but I just knew that. I knew that that was the kind of place it was.
He needed a place for them to stay that was really secure and I thought I'd found them the ultimate place in Memphis, where it could be totally secure. They could have 24-hour police security, whatever they wanted, big iron fences. Nobody would get over or in. He wasn't happy. I got a called and he said, "Would you be willing to come to New York and record?" I said, "Well, yeah, if they'd be willing to do it Atlantic." He said, "Oh, yeah, we'll do that." I said, "OK, that's fine. I can do it." Then he called me again and said, "Well, it looks like we might have to wait until the next record because this one's pretty much finished." I didn't want to come in on the tail end of a record. So it never happened.
I do have a Blues Brothers question. I'm of an age that that's where I discovered your work, then went backward. What was it like to have that band happen the way that it did. Briefcase Full Of Blues was so big. For a lot of guys my age that was their introduction to that brand of music.
There were a lot of fans out there, I think, and a lot of press as well that thought the run was over after Briefcase Full of Blues. The difference was, it did so well. Initially, I think it went triple platinum. Dan Aykroyd had been after different movie production companies and especially the one that we worked with, Universal. Atlantic, our record label, put more pressure on them to do this movie.
I think Universal was also influenced by the fact that John Belushi had just come off Animal House, one of the biggest movies of all time. They felt safer about taking this chance. Danny came to me and said, "If you look at my lip, it's got a blister. It was bleeding about three hours ago. We went in and said, 'We're going to do the movie with actors.' Aykroyd said, "No you're not. You're going to use the band." He talked them into using the band. That was a great move. We knew we weren't actors, but that gave the fans a reason to think they could be actors too I guess.
The music you made with Booker T. & the M.G.'s is so relaxed sounding, so comfortable sounding.
I think the attitude everyone had was very, very loose. We were just in there having fun. When you're having fun, things are loose. But our success was down to that we made dance music. It wasn't just out of time loose stuff, it was very directional. It had a lot of intention to it. We can thank our drummer Al Jackson for that. He really stayed on top of what the kids were doing in those days.