Guitar legend and Stax Records mainstay Steve Cropper suggests how to stay a successful Soul man.
BE A BAND PLAYER
I’ve always been a band player – band meaning a group of guys. I want to be one of the players. It’s fun to be singled out and all that sort of stuff, but I think I’m either more comfortable or I have more fun backing other people than I do through doing it myself. I don’t like being out there just by myself. I do a lot of shows where I’m featured or I’m there as a guest, and there’s a whole show going on while I’m sitting back there in the dressing room by myself. Just looking at walls. I mean what do you do? The quicker I go on the better I like it.
The memories I have about Stax is the fact that everybody was working for the same purpose. It was a major, major team effort. You couldn’t credit any one person for anything; it was like a well-oiled sports team which wins their games because they’re all in it together, all in it to win the game. Stax basically outgrew itself – the demand was so much that it definitely had to fragment and become the big record label that it was. I think that proves itself in the music that has lasted so many years; the music which keeps re-inventing itself. The songs that stick – most of them – were done in the ’60s.
GET YOUR OWN SOUND
I know when I’m listening to Eric Clapton. I know when I’m listening to Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page. All those guys are fantastic. I never looked at myself as one of those guys because I wasn’t out there trying to be one of those guys. Through the years, the older I get the more it seems to be winding up that way. I’ve been very fortunate to just play what’s around me. Basically, most of the big artists I work with tell me on the front end not to copy the record but to come and be Steve Cropper. Who that guy is I don’t know. If they want me to do that I’ll do the same thing I do in the studio: I hear what I hear then I play something to complement it.
First song I had recorded was inspired by [The MGs’ bass player Donald] ‘Duck’ Dunn. I wrote a song, a little instrumental called ‘Duckie’. I was writing a lead sheet with a friend so I could get it copyrighted, his dad heard it and wanted to record it. I ended up on the flipside of a number three record in the nation when I was sixteen. That’s hard to do. That’s by accident – somebody was looking after me and that’s followed me around all my life. They could have called somebody else in to play on the ‘Green Onions’ session, but they didn’t and I ended up playing on it.
A lot of people think I play all the time. When I go home, guitar goes in the corner and I don’t pull it out until there’s a gig somewhere. It sits there. It might sit there three days, it might sit there three weeks.
Don’t overplay. Don’t overplay. Less is more. It will always be: less is more. Nobody is ever going to remember all those fancy solos – even the guys that play them, most of them won’t remember – so play some licks that people can walk away humming, that people can identify with.
Interview: Robin Murray
Get the best of Clash on your iPhone – download the app here: http://tinyurl.com/ch9v77s