Steve Cropper invited me up to Memphis to play Hammond on a show
with him, Duck, and Steve Potts. Last time I played with the
MGs was around 1970 or 71, when I was on staff at STAX on
McLemore. That's when Al Jackson was still alive. I'd
never played Hammond live with Steve, Duck, and Steve Potts
before, but I had supplied the B3 for Booker T & the MGs a few
times at concerts.
I'd played live with Duck at a Rascals show in Sarasota some years back. We sat in and played
about 20 songs. We sure had fun for about an hour, playing the old
STAX and R&B songs.
But this was different.
And - this was Memphis.
In a way, it was like "going home". Because I hadn't
played with Steve and Duck for all these years, it was also
something like an audition, all over again.
I might be wrong, but while discussing this on the phone, I
thought I detected about .5% uncertainty in Steve's voice, because
we hadn't played together for so long, and never
played live, where things can disintegrate in a second.
"You know what? Ninety-nine an' a half just won't do - got t'
have a hunnit." (Pickett - E)
For over thirty years, I've known Duck and Steve are
two of the best R&B players that ever lived. And since I
first heard him, I'm just crazy about the way Steve Potts plays
drums. His left hand has to weigh 200 pounds. I felt
enthusiastic about playing with the finest R&B players in
the entire world.
This was basically Marvell Thomas' show with his group, and Cropper
and Dunn were allegedly going to be "guests". While talking
to Steve on the phone, it became apparent that he was going to
pretty much take charge of who, when, and what, and coordinate
this event as he saw fit - thankfully.
Steve just happens to
be a take charge type of guy.
MEMPHIS, HERE I COME
I loaded the trailer with one of my better Hammond B3s and three 122
Leslies. I left Tampa on Friday afternoon, and drove 1044
miles with two rest stops for naps. I arrived in Memphis
late Saturday afternoon, and only got lost once, right in Memphis.
Typical of me. The interstate sign was tricky.
The show - a two part event - was located at Gibson Guitar
factory, in the Gibson Showcase Lounge (Monday night tickets were
$150), and up on the roof (Tuesday night - The Blues Brothers).
I wanted to bring in the B3 on Sunday, but due to Gibson's
"internal security policy", I wasn't able to do so until Monday,
The trailer was unloaded in less than ten minutes.
Everything is on casters and strapped in place, the back of the
trailer opens down to a ramp, and it usually takes me about ten
minutes to empty the trailer - B3, 3 or 4 Leslies, cable box, and
tools. Positioning the straps (when loading) takes more time
than the loading or unloading does. I managed to get
the Leslies onstage in a few minutes, but had to "walk" them up
I won't waste much time describing what I went
through getting three security men to give me assistance with the
B3 for less than thirty seconds. The science of getting a B3
and Leslies onto a stage is something I've been practicing for
about forty years. When I say I need help for under thirty
seconds - I mean UNDER thirty seconds. In this
case, the B3 went on stage in three seconds - they actually timed
Because the B3 and Leslies are complex, I always show up early,
and always bring a complete set of electronic tools.
I feel I need extra time to adjust, check out tubes, connections,
individual Leslies, set up the mics properly, etc. I'm glad
I brought a spare Leslie amp, because one of the three had almost
self-destructed on the way to Memphis, probably from vibration.
Around 2 pm, Cropper showed up, and we began running over songs.
It felt like history repeating itself. There's something
amazing about Steve's playing - it's so naturally rhythmic,
playing with him is effortless. Steve could
make rhythm pockets out of thin air, out of a paperclip, a broom.
His body sheds more R&B cells in a day than most
people could retain in 20 years. Am I trying to say I
really like Steve's rhythm playing?
"Nah. Don't be led in the wrong direction." (Pickett - E)
On the phone, Steve previously asked me what key I
play Booker's songs in. I'm sorry - I had to
smile about that. It seems unquestionable to me that I would
play all MGs songs in their key, which
I do. Steve told me about occasions when he'd sit in
somewhere, played something like "Green Onions" in E, (it's in F),
and the keyboard player didn't have the slightest clue. I
wouldn't have the nerve to ask Steve Cropper to play his own
songs in some other key.
"You got to realize - Ninety-nine an' a half ain't gon' get it."
(Pickett - E)
Duck and Steve Potts hadn't arrived yet, but sound check wasn't
until later. We ran over a bunch of songs, including some of
Booker's songs. I discovered that I had the right changes to
the extended end of "Time Is Tight". What a surprise - try
it yourself sometime - and use both hands.
I'd forgotten some things about Steve through the years, which
again made me smile. He sometimes relates to a song "being
in a key" depending where the guitar part starts: "Pretty Woman",
starts on an E guitar line, it's actually in A. And, sometimes we call the
same essential chords by different names - depending how Steve
inverts a chord, it could be an F#maj 7 for him - for me, it could
be a straight Bb minor. (I think guitar and keyboard players
have been doing this since chords first began.)
together, we blend, it comes out right, that's what counts.
What I'd really forgotten, and what amazes me, is how Steve is so
much more of a tactile player than I am. When he
physically plays it, touches it - he's fine with it,
it's like he owns it.
In awhile, Steve Potts and Duck arrived, and sound check started
for real. We ran over a few of Booker's songs. Evidently, I
knew my place. We discussed doing a "Booker T set" of five
or six songs. I was really hoping we could do "Serve
Somebody", "Hip Hug Her", "Sarasota Sunset", "Green Onions", and
"Time Is Tight" at the show, but it didn't work out like that.
I got a kick out of Duck and Steve communicating when I did
something "right", eye contacting, nodding, smiles ..... I promised
I would make Duck and both Steves proud of me. I believe I kept my
Something pretty unusual happened
at sound check. Marvell "invited" himself to play my Hammond, while
William Bell ran down "You Don't Miss Your Water".
I didn't really care, I just
played Marvell's electric piano.
But I think William preferred
that I play Hammond behind him. He called Marvell out to the lobby
to discuss this, and the yelling could be heard on Beale Street.
I played Hammond
behind William that night.
During this time, Doug Neel, who is the sound engineer and
production coordinator for Gibson, proved himself to be an
absolute pleasure to work with. Anything he could do to
assist, he was right there. If you get to Gibson's Showcase,
go introduce yourself to Doug. A perfect gentleman, and he
knows his job inside and out. This is exactly the kind of
guy that artists love to work with.