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Rhythm Revue Spotlight on the legendary soul and R&B guitarist Steve Cropper

Steve Cropper
Steve Cropper

It's not very often that the musicians and producers who work behind the scenes get much credit, except perhaps for small print on album covers. It was only in later years, thanks to TV documentaries, that we learned about the Funk Brothers at Motown and the Wrecking Crew. Once in a blue moon, the musicians who backed up the singers would have an instrumental hit of their own. It happened at Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee.

Four young men who were known as Booker T. and the MGs were the rhythm section behind many of the Stax hits of the ‘60s. Otis Redding, Carla Thomas and the Mad Lads all worked with these guys: Booker T. Jones, keyboards, bassist Lewie Steinberg, and later on bass Donald Duck Dunn, drummer Al Jackson, and guitarist Steve Cropper.

Steve recalls the recording session that resulted in that first hit. They were delayed by the engineers in the studio.

I don't know why we were just kind of sitting there waiting and somebody started jamming on some blues. We just started playing and when Jim Stewart went to turn on the talkback to say “Okay guys, we're happy go home. See you tomorrow.” We were in the middle of playing this blues thing. So he said, “That's kind of good.” And he didn't say anything. He just reached over and pushed the button and recorded it. We just kind of ended it with a laugh and he hit the talkback and said, “Hey guys, come in and listen to that what you were recording.” “What, you were recording that?” It really was a surprise.

That song was named for a short bit “Onions” not “Green Onions,” because I thought that “Green Onions” had a more commercial spark to it. I said, “A lot of people don't like onions, because it's kind of …. but everybody likes green onions, because with potatoes and some fried chicken… And they went, “Yeah, that's pretty good.”

Booker T. & The MG's - Green Onions (Official Audio)

“Green Onions” was the first of many instrumental hits for Booker T. and the MGs. Meanwhile, they provided rhythm for countless recordings at Stax. For Eddie Floyd, Sam and Dave, and so many others.

Steve Cropper remembers one session in particular that resulted in Otis Redding's biggest hit single.

Otis was clowning around with the seagulls, which is an idea that I later said that it'd be nice to put the sound of seagulls in it. But I really do remember that the whistling thing came out of he and I, originally when we wrote the song, had this idea of some kind of a fade out thing, and Otis was never lost for a fade out. And he just started whistling. This sort of happy go lucky thing and it was just sort of an accidental thing.

Otis Redding - (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay (Official Music Video)

Booker T and the MGs were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Steve Cropper was born

October 21, 1941.

Listen above.

Recommended Listening

With Booker T. & the MGs:

“Green Onions”
“Time Is Tight”
“Melting Pot” (LP version)
“Soul Limbo”

Sam & Dave - Soul Man (Official Audio)

With other Stax artists:

“Big Party” by Barbara & the Browns
“Don't Have to Shop Around” by The Mad Lads
“Walking the Dog” by Rufus Thomas
“Soul Man” by Sam & Dave
“Nobody's Fault but Mine” by Otis Redding

 Deep cut

“Tupelo” (with Albert King & Pops Staples)

Tupelo - Albert King, Steve Cropper, and Pop Staples


Felix Hernandez started his career as a producer and radio journalist while in college. In the 1980’s, Felix independently produced the award-winning radio series BluesStage, which had a 6 year run on over 200 NPR stations. He also worked extensively as a journalist with WBEZ in Chicago, and NPR.