Tag Archives: Steve Cropper

Rocks In The Attic #756: Various Artists – ‘Stax Does The Beatles’ (2008)

RITA#756This year’s Record Store Day was an embarrassment of riches. Not only did it deliver a bunch of sought-after soundtracks, but the funk and soul fan in me was well looked after too.

First released digitally back in 2008, a now double-LP of Stax artists doing Beatles covers sounds like something I’d make up in my dreams. Two of my favourite musical pillars colliding, the only thing that would beat this would be the unearthing of a secret LP of Stax songs recorded by the Fab Four themselves between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. I’ll keep dreaming about that one.

In fact, it doesn’t take much to imagine what Stax Does The Beatles sounds like. Much of the material collected here is available on the individual Stax releases they’re culled from, with only one or two hard to find tracks included. Probably the most famous cover, Otis Redding’s Day Tripper, is presented as an alternate take that’s just as rocking as the well-known version found on his Dictionary Of Soul from 1966. Another gem is a cover of And I Love Her, a b-side by Reggie Milner who only recorded two singles for Stax.

RITA#756aStax house-band Booker T. & The M.G.s  – once going so far as to record an entire LP in homage to the Beatles – turn in the highest number of performances on the album, responsible for four of its fifteen tracks (five if you include guitarist Steve Cropper’s solo effort of With A Little Help From My Friends, the title-track of his 1969 album).

The album’s liner notes make reference to the little-known fact that Brian Epstein once scouted the Stax studios as a potential place to record the Beatles. His visit to Memphis in March 1966 ultimately led to nothing – Epstein abandoned the idea due to fears over security – and the resulting album, 1966’s Revolver, was recorded back at Abbey Road like the majority of their work. It sounds like a match made in heaven though. “Who knows what it would have sounded like had we recorded it at Stax,” ponders Cropper.  Paul McCartney’s soulful Got To Get You Into My Life, covered here by Booker T. & The M.G.s, remains Revolver’s only glimpse of how close the Beatles came to recording a soul and R&B-influenced album in 1966.

The liner notes do make a glaring omission, however. Of all the records in the world, this really was the place to mention that John Lennon used to jokingly refer to the Stax house-band as Book-A-Table & The Maitre-D’s.

Hit: Day Tripper (Alternate Take) – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Something – Isaac Hayes

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Rocks In The Attic #365: Various Artists – ‘The Blues Brothers (O.S.T.)’ (1980)

RITA#365On a family holiday when I was around 14, we drove down to Newquay in Cornwall, and stayed in a Bed & Breakfast on the seafront. On our first day, in fact only twenty minutes after we had arrived, we walked around to the parade of shops next to the B&B. In one of the shops was a wall of second-hand cassettes. I bought this album on tape, together with Toys In The Attic by Aerosmith. Both cassettes became not only the soundtrack to that holiday, but they became first favourites that have never left me.

I love the music of The Blues Brothers just as much as I love the film itself. There’s an unfortunate pigeon-holing that seems to go on though, that resigns both the film and the soundtrack to the camp depths of party entertainment; cheesy music for poor people to sing karaoke to. It isn’t seen as the cultural landmark it should be regarded as, which is a shame. The film did so much for African American music, giving it a much needed shot in the arm. Who knows what would have happened had the film not been released – fewer James Brown records on the streets might have meant there wouldn’t have been as much sampling of Funky Drummer when hip-hop hit. That Clyde Stubblefield groove might have been taken up by the drum patterns of some non-funky white drummers instead. What a horrible thing to imagine.

What a rhythm section – Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn on bass, Steve Cropper on guitar (Steve ‘The Colonel’ Cropper as he’s referred to in the film, although I’ve never seen that nickname anywhere else) – both from Booker T. & The M.G.s – and Willie Hall, from the Bar-Kays, on drums. The brass section, from TV’s Saturday Night Live, are also fantastic although it’s a shame the Memphis Horns weren’t part of the band. I guess it might have been a little too Memphis, had that been the case, and while I would have loved it, the SNL horns were an integral part of the band from its earliest days as a John Belushi / Dan Aykroyd skit on Saturday Night Live.

Where else can you hear Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and James Brown singing on the same record? Even if you take these guys out, the songs performed by just the Blues Brothers band are worth the price of admission alone. I could listen to a song like She Caught The Katy all day, preferably while driving around in an old police cruiser. Just fix the cigarette lighter.

Hit: Everybody Needs Somebody To Love

Hidden Gem: She Caught The Katy

Rocks In The Attic #324: Creedence Clearwater Revival – ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’ (1968)

RITA#324Three hundred and twenty four records in, and this is the first Creedence record I’m writing about. Disgraceful! There’s a reason for it though.

Back in Manchester, I made do with a best of compilation – Creedence Gold – and just never got around to buying any of the studio records. I had to stop buying vinyl for a while – as I moved over to New Zealand, got a haircut and a real job – and during that time I listened to a lot of music through my iPod. It was during this time that I listened to lot of Creedence – probably an unhealthy amount.  A lot of 85 and 86 bus trips into Manchester, and back to Chorlton, were soundtracked by Creedence.

For me, they’re comparable to the Beach Boys. I can put them on the turntable, and it feels like slipping into a warm bath – great American music of an effortlessly high calibre. They’re the alternative Beach Boys even – the dirtier, scruffier version, with a focus on groove instead of harmony, and songs about levees and bayous instead of T-Birds and surfboards.

I had to avoid listing Suzie-Q as the hidden gem of this album – it’s a little too well-known from its appearance in Apocalypse Now to be considered ‘hidden’ – but that’s the real groove of the album; its centrepiece. Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do) is another favourite – written by Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett.

Hit: I Put A Spell On You

Hidden Gem: Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)

Rocks In The Attic #59: Jr. Walker & The All Stars – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1969)

Another one of my Dad’s (I think). This one’s a Tamla Motown record, and features the singles of Jr. Walker & The All Stars – a very overlooked artist in the Motown canon – released between 1965 and 1969.

It’s incredible how well known their debut single Shotgun is. It’s one of those soul songs you’ve heard a million times, in films and television especially, but you might not know who performs it. Many of the songs are driven by Walker’s saxophone, but there’s something very Steve Cropper about guitarist Willie Woods, and his licks are as funky as anything.

Hit: Shotgun

Hidden Gem: Cleo’s Mood

Rocks In The Attic #29: The Bar-Kays – ‘Soul Finger’ (1967)

Rocks In The Attic #29: The Bar-Kays - ‘Soul Finger’ (1967)Thanks to my Dad, I have this in my collection – an original version of The Bar-Kays’ debut on Volt Records – Stax’s sister label – with the cover held together with a couple of strategically placed pieces of sellotape.

Soul Finger is a great soul record, drawing comparisons to label-mates Booker T. & The M.G.’s, mainly as they’re both organ-driven instrumental groups. The Bar-Keys are a little less organ-heavy compared to the earlier group, but with a brassier sound due to their compliment of saxophone and trumpet.

The band was cut down in its prime as a result of being picked up by Otis Redding as his backing band. Four of the six original members died in the same 1967 plane crash that took his life (only the trumpeter survived the crash, and the bass player was on another flight). The Bar-Kays were then repopulated with replacements, and went on to back many other Stax artists – most notably playing on Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul album – and released records all the way into the 1980s.

The Blues Brothers play a great version of the song Soul Finger, as the opening to their Made In America live LP. It’s fitting that Cropper and Dunn play that version, as the M.G.’s were instrumental (no pun intended) in cultivating The Bar-Kays through the ranks at Stax / Volt.

Soul Finger and one of The Bar-Kays’ later songs, Too Hot To Stop, also feature on the soundtrack to 2007’s Superbad.

Hit: Soul Finger

Hidden Gem: Pearl High

Rocks In The Attic #16: Booker T. & The M.G.’s – ‘McLemore Avenue’ (1970)

I bought this only last Sunday, from Real Groovy in Auckland. Got it home, put in on the turntable and while it’s on its first listen I turn on the internet and find out that Duck Dunn has passed away.

The music world has lost a lot of good people in the last couple of weeks – Levon Helm, The Beastie Boys’ MCA, Duck Dunn, and as of the day before yesterday, Donna Summer. That’s be a nice little band right there – an odd band, but something worth listening to.

McElmore Avenue, as the front cover might suggest, is Booker T. & The M.G.’s doing Abbey Road. Released only a few months as The Beatles’ swansong, it’s missing a few songs (my favourite, Oh! Darling is noticeably absent), but this gives the M.G.’s a bit of room to improvise on the songs chosen.

It’s a great little album, with the band on top form, working their way through a largely instrumental and heavily re-ordered version of Abbey Road.

Hit: Come Together

Hidden Gem: I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

Rocks In The Attic #12: Sam & Dave – ‘Star-Collection’ (1974)

Stax, without a doubt, has to be my favourite record label. And Sam & Dave are my favourite Stax artists – although depending on what mood I’m in, it could be Otis or Booker T & The MGs.

This album, a collection of their singles, is a German release – and from what I can see on the internet, it has the tracklisting as 1969’s The Best Of Sam & Dave, although the songs are presented in order.

I think that that album – the 1969 collection – is what Jake and Elwood are listening to in the Bluesmobile, on an 8-track cartridge, when they first get pulled over by the police in The Blues Brothers (1982). It’s a shame Sam & Dave didn’t feature in that film – it would have been fitting for them to have been backed by Cropper and Dunn, from the Stax backing band – but they had just given up touring the previous year on New Year’s Eve, 1981 and never spoke to each other again.

The vast majority of the songs here are written by Isaac Hayes, and his Stax writing partner David Porter – just a few years before Hayes became a household name in his own right. I have the DVD of them performing on the Stax / Volt tour of Europe back in 1967, and it’s clear that they were the hardest-working act on the label, leaving a puddle of sweat on the stage, only for Otis to add to it during his headlining slot.

Hit: Soul Man

Hidden Gem: You Don’t Know Like I Know