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Steven Lee Cropper (born October 21, 1941 in Willow Springs, Missouri), also known as Steve "The Colonel" Cropper is an American guitarist, songwriter and producer. He is best known as the guitarist of the Stax Records house band Booker T. & The MG's and backed artists such as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla, Rufus Thomas and Johnnie Taylor, also acting as producer on many of these records. He later gained fame as a member of The Blues Brothers band. Cropper is generally regarded as the most well known and influential soul guitarist.

In 1950, his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. At age ten he strummed his brother-in-law's Gibson guitar, for the first time. Cropper received his first guitar aged 14 and started playing with local musicians. His hero at the time was Lowman Pauling of the Winston-Salem, NC band The Five Royales.

Career

Steve CropperCropper and guitarist Charlie Freeman formed The Royal Spades, who eventually became The Mar-Keys. The Mar-Keys was a play on the word "marquee", referring to the marquee outside of Stax studios, known as Satellite Records at that time. Eventually The Mar-Keys began playing on sessions and had a hit single of their own with "Last Night" (1961).

Besides being impressed with the young guitarist's playing, Stax Records president Jim Stewart saw professionalism and maturity beyond Cropper's years. When American Records founder Chips Moman left Stax, the young Cropper was given the keys to the studio and he became the company's A&R man. He became a founding member of the Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.'s, along with hammond organ player Booker T. Jones, bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, and drummer Al Jackson, Jr.. As a house guitarist he played on many recordings such as "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay", co-written with and performed by Otis Redding and "Soul Man".

At this time Cropper's fame was not limited to the United States. The Beatles favoured Cropper's playing and his production on Otis Redding records. In fact John Lennon and Paul McCartney made tentative plans to record in Memphis and to work with the guitarist. However Brian Epstein cancelled the sessions, citing security problems. During this period Rob Bowman, in his book Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story Of Stax Records, quotes Booker T. Jones as saying:

“ We were writing sounds too, especially Steve. He's very sound-conscious, and he gets a lot of sounds out of a Telecaster without changing any settings —just by using his fingers, his picks, and his amps ”
Besides his influential work with Booker T & The MG's, Cropper co-wrote "Knock On Wood" with Eddie Floyd, "In the Midnight Hour" with Wilson Pickett and "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" with Otis Redding. His partnership with Redding was particularly fruitful. "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of the Bay" alone has been played over six million times, making it the sixth most-played song of all time. In 1969 Cropper released his first solo album With a Little Help From My Friends.

Cropper left Stax in the fall of 1970. and Stax lost its most successful producer and one of the label's most successful songwriters. He set up TMI studios with Jerry Williams and former Mar-Key Ronnie Stoots. There he lent his guitar and producing skills to Tower Of Power, John Prine, Jose Feliciano, The second Jeff Beck Group, Ringo Starr and John Lennon.

By 1975 Cropper had moved to Los Angeles and along with Al Jackson and Duck Dunn, he reformed Booker T. & the M.G's. Tragically Jackson, whom Cropper called "the greatest drummer to ever walk the earth," was murdered in his Memphis home before the group could make their comeback. In 1978 Cropper and Dunn became members of Levon Helm's RCO All-Stars and they went on to front The Blues Brothers Band with Al Jackson's protegé drummer Willie Hall. This led to two albums and two movie soundtracks. Cropper also re-recorded "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" (1979) for Sammy Hagar. Cropper lived in L.A. for the next thirteen years before moving to Nashville and was reunited with The Blues Brothers Band in 1988.

In 1992 Booker T. & the M.G.'s were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Cropper appeared with a new line up of Booker T. & the M.G's, for the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary concert, on October 1992 at Madison Square Gardens. At this concert they performed songs by Bob Dylan and backed Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Chrissie Hynde, Sinéad O'Connor, Stevie Wonder and Neil Young. The concert was recorded and later released as The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (1993). Neil Young later recruited this line up of Booker T. and the M.G's, to tour with him and record at his studio band.

In 1996, Cropper was named the greatest living guitar player by Britain's Mojo Magazine. When asked what he thought of Cropper, the guitarist Keith Richards said "Perfect, man". In February 1998 Cropper released Play It, Steve! which included some of Soul music's most enduring songs. The album title comes from the shout of the title phrase by Moore on Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" and later by John Belushi (with The Blues Brothers).

In June 2004 Cropper appeared with "Duck" Dunn and Booker T. Jones as the backing band for Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, held at the Cotton Bowl, Dallas. Others who appeared included Joe Walsh and David Hidalgo.[4] On June 9, 2005 he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, in recognition of his contributions to music.

He married his second wife, Angel Cropper, in the late 1980's. They have two children, Andrea Cropper (age: 16) and Cameron Cropper (age: 9). They currently live in Tennessee where both of his children attend school.

He co-produced The Memphis Album (2007), recorded by Australian soul singer Guy Sebastian. Cropper also played guitar on the following promotional tour, which was recorded and released two years later as The Memphis Tour. On March 2, 2008 Cropper and Sebastian were guests on the Vega Sunday Session with host Mark Gable from the rock band The Choirboys.. On July 29, 2008 Cropper and Felix Cavaliere released the album Nudge It Up A Notch. In August 2008 Cropper appeared at the Rhythm Festival alongside The Animals.

On November 12, 2009 EMP/SFM presented Cropper with their Founders Award.