three or four of your favorite records or songs
you want to learn, and bring them next time.
I’ll teach them to you.” One of them was
“Walk, Don’t Run” by the Ventures. I think
the other one was part of the solo stuff in
“Honky Tonk,” from Bill Doggett’s record.
And it all started from there.
Later, Charlie Freeman [a friend with
whom Cropper started the Mar-Keys] was
taking lessons at Lynn Vernon’s. I would go
home and get my guitar, walk to his house,
and be sitting on his front porch when he
got home, waiting to download what he
had been taught that day. The benefit was
twofold. One was, Charlie had somebody
to work and rehearse with, and it caused me
to learn a little more rhythm to play behind
what he was doing—because Charlie was
more of a jazz-solo guy. He would teach
me the chords that he’d learned that day. I
would play the rhythm chords and he’d start
playing solo stuff, so we became a team. I
didn’t want to learn a lot of jazz stuff—I
just wanted to do, you know, rock and roll
songs and stuff like that, which we did.
If I had been locked in my
room when I was in high
school, I might have come
out a better guitar player, but
I wasn’t. I did many other
things—then and today.
of anything to put in there! Simple seemed
to be the better way to go.
That’s all changed today—everybody is
stepping on everybody. It changed in L.A.
25, 30 years ago. When you’d go to a session,
there would be four or five other guitar players on the date and I’d wonder, “What the
hell is this all about?” The reason there was
one guitar player on most of the Stax early
hits is because they could only afford one
guitar player, and I was willing to work for
15 dollars a session. Other people weren’t.
What do you think you brought to the
Well, I don’t know if I helped the instru-
ment any [laughs]. I just used it a little
differently. I learned that, in music—kind
of like in golf—less is more. I don’t know
how it was across the country, but I know
how it was in Memphis, Tennessee, on ses-
sions: The more you played, the less they
liked it. Most sessions—at least in the
rock ’n’ roll or R&B stuff—were all “head
arranged.” There were no charts. You could
do what you wanted to do as long as you
didn’t get in the way of what was going on,
like the singer and all that. So 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.”
[Laughs.] 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
Once you started working at Stax, you did
much more than play guitar on sessions.
People say you worked very hard. Can
you describe your mindset at the time?