The String #66: Steve Cropper Reflects On Stax Records, Green Onions And More
At 76 years old, Steve Cropper is in a prime position to reflect on an abundant, history making life in music, and he does so in this week’s show. It’s a special edition taped on stage in front of an eager audience at Nashville’s Who Knew. The series features speakers from the local to the world famous on matters of creativity, entrepreneurship and mission. And Steve Cropper and his history with Stax Records represent all of those in abundance.
Cropper grew up in Memphis from the age of nine, getting his first guitar by mail order in 1955. He channeled the city’s sounds - blues, R&B, gospel and SUN Records rock and roll - into the band the Mar-Keys and then into the studio band at Stax. That history-making ensemble became the recording and touring band Booker T & The M.G.s. Cropper wrote masterworks of the American soul songbook: “Knock On Wood,” “In The MIdnight Hour” and “Dock of the Bay.” We talk about all that and his subsequent career with the Blues Brothers in this in-depth interview.
On putting together the Mar-Keys in high school:
“We went searching through school for a drummer. We found this one kid in the ninth grade. Terry Johnson was his name. So we said we don’t care how young he is. He could play. Come on. And we got on a sock hop. And Boom. Overnight. Why? Becasue like Donald “Duck” Dunn said, we played rhythm and blues, dance music of the day. That’s what we did. We loved it so much.”
On the breakout instrumental that forged Booker T. & The M.G.'s:
“Louis Steinberg who played bass on the original recording said I think we ought to call it Onions, and we said okay why? And he went because that’s the stinkenest music I ever heard. So me and my brilliant attitude said you know onions sometimes give people indigestion. Other people cry when you cut ‘em open. What about Green Onions, because that’s on everybody’s dinner plate in the summertime. And they said yeah, that’s great. Green Onions.”
On completing Otis Redding's “Dock Of The Bay” as a posthumous release:
“That Sunday he passed away in the airplane, and Atlantic Records called and said you got to get an Otis Redding record out. And I said there’s nothing ready, and they said well get something ready. Well that was the only thing we had I thought was worthy of being a chart record. I knew, as Otis would have if he’d still been around, that it needed something. So I called my friend over at Pepper Records and I said do you guys have some sound effect records? He said well Steve that’s what we’re in the business of doing. I said do you have anything in the way of ocean waves and seagulls? And he said absolutely. Come on over."