he did that he was a junior—so he was two
years ahead of me. He came out with just
his guitar, his Gibson electric guitar and an
amplifier, and sang Bo Diddley [songs].
And then there was a place that we used
to go and dance on Friday night called the
Casino, and I remember seeing Ed Bruce
again, live on that stage, and he did Bo
Diddley again. I somehow just was drawn,
like a magnet, and made my way to the
backstage. There was no security—nobody
told me I couldn’t do it—and I walked
back behind the curtain and he was putting his guitar up. I said something stupid
like, “Man, how do you do that?” And he
said, “Well, son, you just got to get you
a guitar and learn how to play it.” Okay,
end of conversation.
What happened then?
When I got home after school, the first
thing I did was grab the Sears and Roebuck
catalog and start looking at the guitars. I
asked my dad to buy me a guitar and he
said, “Son, we can’t afford a guitar.” “But
Dad, it’s only 17 dollars!” “We don’t have 17
dollars.” And they didn’t. So, I started doing
odd jobs for money. My dad, at the time,
would pay me 50 cents during the week
to mow the yard and hand-trim the grass
around the sidewalk. If I didn’t get it done
by Friday evening, I didn’t go out—not
only did I not get any money for it, I got
grounded as well! He was a pretty strict guy.
But anyway, I continued on, and I
shined shoes. I mowed other people’s
yards, set bowling pins. I did whatever I
could to make a quarter or 50 cents, and
raised 17 dollars. That’s how much the
Silvertone flattop, round-hole guitar was
in the catalog. I had my mom help me
order it, and I had my 17 dollars and I
waited there on Saturday, because they
were going to deliver it on Saturday. I
sat on that front porch till my butt got
raw. Finally, here comes the Sears truck
around the corner, and I’m going nuts.
They brought it in a box—no case, a card-
board box. They pulled it off the truck
and brought it up to the front porch—I
couldn’t wait to get in there to see this
thing. They said, “That’ll be a 25-cent
delivery fee.” Nobody had said that! It
wasn’t in the catalog. They didn’t tell me
that on the order form. I thought delivery
was free, and I go, “Mom!” [Laughs.] So
Mom always said if she hadn’t lent me the
Steve Cropper became a solidbody guitar guy years ago after a particularly hot gig with Booker T. & the MGs. “Hot,” as in blazing sun at the Atlanta Pop Festival. Cropper played a Gibson ES-335, a model he’d worked with off and on since his days with the Mar-Keys. “It was the cherry red stereo model,” he remembers. “They are so hard to find—I have not seen another one that’s tereo. There’s close stuff—with the same neck, same shape, same inlays, and all that . . . usually with a Bigsby. I loved that guitar.” But on that sweltering Atlanta afternoon, Cropper recalls drummer Al Jackson, Jr. approaching him with a cool towel over his head. “‘Cropper!’ he said, ‘Bring the Tele next time!’” “Al liked the Telecaster sound for the MGs—not the more rock-and-roll, fuzzed-up gear,” Cropper says. Indeed, a Fender Telecaster is what you see in nearly all Cropper photos from the Stax years. As a solo artist, however, Cropper was won over some 15 years ago by a Peavey rep bearing gifts—but before that, he’d played Peaveys and hadn’t liked them. “Paul Robinson, who was their top Southern salesman, called me from Memphis one day and said, ‘I’ve got something that I think you might be interested in.’ I’m going, ‘Hmm. Okay, Paul.’ So he shows up at a session, and when we took a break he went out to the car and brought this guitar in. My first thought was, “Okay, here’s another Peavey that I’m going to have to smile and say, ‘Thank you, but no thank you’ to. I plugged it in and played it a little bit, and I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ They got it right.” That’s the one I’ve played for 14 years. “When we did the Peavey Steve Cropper Classic production model, we took a lot of the things that were in that guitar,” Cropper explains. “We measured the necks on some of my other favorite guitars and put it all on the computer and averaged them—that’s what we milled the neck out to be. All of them, I might add, had rosewood fretboards. I don’t remember playing a blonde- necked Telecaster—ever—on any records at Stax. I’m a rosewood guy, because I like that more deadened sound. The lacquered blonde necks are too glassy for me, too wiry. They might have worked live, but I didn’t play live onstage a lot, so I always liked that deader sound from the rosewood fretboard.” Cropper plugs his custom Peavey directly into his amp of choice, a Fender “The Twin”—which Cropper says is easy to find to rent all over the world, despite being discontinued. His only pedal is a tuner. He plays light-gauge strings (.010s) and is not partial to a particular brand. His medium-gauge picks are made by Pick Guy Inc. in Westfield, Indiana.
Steve Cropper discusses his barebones rig and his
early transition from an ES-335 to T-style solidbodies.
Gear Inspired by His Ear
quarter that day, I’d never have been a guitar player. That’s her claim to fame.
Eventually, your dad bought your first
electric guitar, and you started playing
locally. I read that you took lessons from
a local player named Lynn Vernon.
Lynn was a great player, a great jazz player
and a good teacher. I took, I think, about
three paid lessons from him—three or four.
It wasn’t expensive by today’s standards,
but they were expensive then. A true story:
He opened the page to the music and said,
“Okay, play this,” and then he played. Then
he listened while I played it, and he goes, “I
knew it—you’re not reading the notes. You’re
playing what I just played.” I said, “Dang,
I got caught,” you know! I thought he was
going to kill me, but he didn’t. He said, “I’ll
tell you what you do. Why don’t you get