Episode #138 — Music Legend Steve Cropper
History is filled with great crossover events. Thomas Magnum and Jessica Fletcher joined forces when she took an ill-fated trip to Hawaii. “Chicago Fire” is constantly meeting up with “Chicago Med,” “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Justice,” “Chicago Street Cleaning,” and “Chicago 49th Ward Aldermanic Services Office.” (The episode about zoning for a new sidewalk cafe on Morse was riveting.) And who can forget the great crossover of you got peanut butter in my chocolate vs. you got chocolate in my peanut butter? But the most exciting crossover we can think of is this week’s Why? episode, where we bring a bit of Rock ’n’ Roll Grad School to your Monday.
If you’re not familiar with our other podcast, it’s our hope that this week’s episode will whet your appetite. Sure, listening to both means you get to hear Heidi and Luke’s dulcet tones twice a week, but we’re humble enough to say that our guests are the far bigger draw. And that couldn’t be more evident than in this week’s episode, where we talk with the absolute music legend that is Steve Cropper.
Even if you didn’t know Steve’s name before listening, you’ve definitely heard him. He co-wrote some songs that have gotten a little bit of radio airplay, such as “Green Onions,” “Soul Man,” “Knock on Wood,” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” He’s internationally recognized as one of the best guitarist of all time, as well as being an A & R man, engineer, producer, and songwriter. And a certain producer of Why? has been a major fan of Steve’s ever since her very first viewing of “The Blues Brothers.” (There have been dozens of viewings since — she can’t pass a Pier One Imports without Steve’s rhythm guitar playing in her head.) He was a Blues Brothers band member, and if you’re overwhelmed about where to start with Steve Cropper’s music catalog, the movie soundtrack is full of great songs that will instantly make you happy.
Of course, Steve was a natural choice to play for the Blues Brothers because he played on most of the original songs they later covered. As a session musician at Stax Records with The Mar-Keys and Booker T. and the MG’s, Steve took part in nearly every record made there for around a decade. We had a lot of questions about what it was like at Stax in Memphis in the ‘60s, and Steve told some amazing stories. He addressed what it was like to play in an integrated band in one of the most segregated cities in America. He also shared how Otis Redding had to work hard to get anyone at Stax to hear him sing, and what happened when they heard his voice. And if you’d like to know how “Green Onions” got recorded, the story is a reminder to always be ready to record when something good is happening.
This is just a tiny glimpse into both our conversation with Steve and his extraordinary career. And while he started out playing with Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding, he has gone on to play with even more greats, along with releasing his own solo albums. We’d argue that he’s the “great” that people like Paul Simon, Ringo Starr, and Jeff Beck got to perform with, but Steve is so down to earth he’d probably underplay it. He spoke a great deal about how lucky he is to have the music career he does, but anyone listening to his session work, solos, and infinite amounts of collaborations knows luck has nothing to do with it.
Steve has a new record out called “Fire It Up,” and he talked with us about his motivations for this album. If you’re ready to dance after the (more than a) year we’ve had, Steve is here for you! And after listening to this week’s episode, you’ll be here for Steve Cropper so be sure to check out his website. He’s also on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. But ultimately, he should be on every playlist you make from here on out. While you curate your lists, we’re off to watch that scene where Steve and the Blues Brothers play “Rawhide” at the bar that plays both Country and Western. Play it, Steve!