off or throw his strap and hold his guitar
down by his knees and play and dance
across the stage and do all sorts of stuff—
or pick it up and play behind his head.
That night, I couldn’t wait to get home.
My mom said, “What are you doing?”
and I said, “I’m looking for an extra belt.”
And she says, “You’ve got to go to bed.”
So the next morning, first thing when
I got up, I took the buckle off this old
belt and stitched it into my guitar strap
to make it longer so I could play like
Stepping back a bit, when you were a
teenager in Memphis, starting to play
and attending sock hops and so forth, did
you aspire to play professionally? When
did that idea strike you?
No. There was a guy out of Memphis who
later came to Nashville and became a fairly
famous country singer. His name was Ed
Bruce. If I remember correctly, our school
had assemblies the last Friday of each
month. I don’t remember how often they
did the talent show, but I saw Ed Bruce at
one of them. I was in the ninth grade, a
freshman, and I think he told me that when
Cropper’s first solo album, 1971’s With a Little
Help from My Friends, was all-instrumental—just
as the MGs’ had been.
I’ve been told that Pauling’s stabbing,
horn-like approach influenced you a
Exactly. If you listen to the old Stax
records, most of my licks, when I’m not
playing backbeat rhythms or something,
are more like horn lines—horn stabs.
When I was a kid, I used to think, “Oh
yeah, I can play that lick,” but when I
got into this project I really focused and
really listened to what Lowman Pauling
does. And I’m convinced I don’t have it
yet. I think he had some kind of funny
tuning—and when I say “funny,” I mean
anything other than standard tuning.
Because there are some things he plays
that I just can’t find in the position I’m
used to playing in. I couldn’t get the
inflection on certain things. He’s not
alive for me to ask, so I may never know.
I learned very early to play less and get out of the
way. And now they talk about it and say, “Wasn’t
he brilliant? He left all these holes.” Usually the
holes were left because I wanted to keep the job
that I had, and the other times it was because I
couldn’t think of anything to put in there! Simple
seemed to be the better way to go.
How did this tribute album come to be?
It was not my idea. While nothing’s
ever over till it’s over, I had been saying
for the last couple of years that—with
our age and the age of the Booker T. &
the MGs and Blues Brothers projects—
the time for releasing new records and
doing things is just about to reach an
end. But [producer and saxophonist]
Jon Tiven, who we worked with on a
Felix Cavaliere record, was looking for
some kind of project he and I could
do together. He called me one day and
said, “Would you be interested in doing
a record as a tribute to the “ 5” Royales
music?” And I said, “Are you kidding?
Do you think you could get a record
company involved in that?” He said,
“I’ll call you right back.” And he did!
We got a record company and a budget,
and I’m going, “Holy mackerel! When
do we start?”
BETTER TONE. BETTER WORLD. BETTER PRICE.