Monday, March 05, 2007

Get on Down With Steve Cropper!

Steve Cropper - Funky Broadway

Steve Cropper's contributions to American music are pretty awesome: he wrote or co-wrote many hits for Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett and others; he made up one-fourth of the legendary soul instro group Booker T. & The M.G.'s; he appeared as a sideman on numerous soul and rock records; and his guitar skills have taken him to the top of the list of great guitarists. Most of his fame, of course, came from his tenure at Stax Records, where he was involved with the label as a de facto A&R man, session musician, songwriter, producer and artist from the beginning of the '60s until he left the label in 1970 as a victim of the changing attitudes and work methods of the label as the "snapping fingers" era began and Stax began to move away from its Southern soul roots.

Although he was such a valuable figure at Stax, it was either by neglect, a desire not to deemphasize the Booker T. & The M.G.'s act, and/or his own low-key nature (both personally and as a musician) that Cropper only appeared on two LPs as a solo artist, both near the end of his time at the label: the interesting Stax album Jammed Together, on which he joined Pops Staples and Albert King (one of the two 45s pulled from that album features Cropper singing "Water"), and his debut as a leader, the Volt LP With a Little Help From My Friends. Again, for any of the three reasons named earlier, and perhaps a fourth, that the Cropper LP was maybe part of the massive LP release Al Bell engineered to build an instant post-Atlantic Stax album catalogue (can someone confirm this, as I don't have my materials handy?), Cropper's album was not well-promoted, no singles were pulled from it, and the great record vanished with little fanfare. As usual, we soul fans are so fortunate that the CD era has given so many great recordings, including the Cropper LP, a new lease on life. "Funky Broadway," today's selection, finds Cropper working it out on the early funk classic. Cropper's version is a bit closer to Wilson Pickett's than it is to Dyke & The Blazers' original, but Cropper gives the tune a great Stax groove. From the stomping introduction to Cropper's guitar work to the neat breakdown to the soaring finale, said Stax groove is everywhere and the tune really cooks.

No comments: