Band members Related acts
- Steve Cropper -- vocals, lead guitar, percussion
supporting musicians (1981)
- Donald Dunn -- bass
- Dan Ferguson -- rhythm guitar
- Steve Foreman -- percussion
- Jack Hale -- trombone
- Willy Hall -- drums
- Jerry Hay -- trumpet
- Jim Horn -- alto sax, flute, baritone sax
- John Jarvis -- keyboards
- Bobby Kimball -- backing vocals
- Craig Kramf -- drums
- Andrew Love -- texor sax
- James Mitchell -- baritone sax
- David Paich -- keybaords
- Bill Payne -- keybaords
- Bruce Robb -- backing vocals
- Joe Robb -- backing vocals
- Steve Robb -- backing vocals
- Rick Schlosser -- drums
- William D. SMith -- organ
- Neal Stubenhaus -- bass
- Trevor Veitch -- guitar
- Levon Helm's RCO All Stars
- The Mar-Keys
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: With a Little Help From My Friends
Catalog: VOS 6006
Country/State: Will Springs, Missouri
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Catalog ID: 3167
Increasingly unhappy with Gulf & Western's purchase of Stax Records, by 1971 namesake Booker T. Jones ended his longstanding relationship with the label. In the process he effectively ended Booker T. & the MGs. Guitarist Steve Cropper responded by releasing his debut solo album - 1971's self produced "With a Little Help from My Friends".
Unfortunately, no matter how talented, at least on paper an instrumental set of ten-popular hits didn't appear to be the most promising way to launch a solo career. Packaging it in a pseudo-psych cover also seemed like a questionable move for an act best known for his soul moves. The good news was that Cropper's solo debut was surprisingly enjoyable and impressive. Featuring an all instrumental mix of popular hits (many penned by Cropper) and a pair of new originals ('Crop-Dustin' and 'Rattlesnake'), musically the set wasn't all that different from most of the MGs' catalog. In fact, you couldn't be blamed if you confused it for the former. True, without Jones' B-3 keyboard to compete, Cropper's slinky Telecaster was a little more prominent this time around, but not to the point of turning the album into one of those showcases for megalomaniac behavior. That said, Cropper's guitar was the only reason to buy the album. For someone who readily recognized Cropper's tasteful soul stylings, the set had plenty to enjoy, including the two new originals ('Crop-Dustin' and 'Rattlesnake'), though his occasional forays into fuzz and feedback stood as personal highlights - check out his performances on '99 1/2' and the title track.
a Little Help from My Friends" track listing:
1.) Crop-Dustin (instrumental) (Cropper - Miles) - 2:58
2.) Land of 1000 Dances (instrumental) (Chris Kenner - Fats Domino) - 5:34
3.) 99-1/2 (instrumental) (Steve Cropper - Eddie Floyd - Wilson Pickett) - 3:20
4.) Boo-Ga-Loo Down Broadway (instrumental) (Jesse James) - 4;28
5.) Funky Broadway (instrumental) (L. Christian) - 4:49
2.) Oh, Pretty Woman (instrumental) (A.C. Williams) - 3:32
3.) I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water (instrumental) (E. Miller) - 3:10
4.) The Way I Feel Tonight (instrumental) (Steve Cropper) - 3:00
5.) In the Midnight Hour (instrumental) (Steve Cropper - Wilson Pickett) - 3:36
6.) Rattlesnake (instrumental) (Steve Cropper) - 4:57
Ironically shortly after the album was released Cropper left Stax, forming Trans-Maximus Records with ex-Mar-Key Ronnie Stoots and Jerry Williams.
By the way, Cropper has a suitably modest website at: http://www.playitsteve.com/
Rating: 2 stars **
Title: Playin' My Thang
Catalog: MCA 5171
Country/State: Will Springs, Missouri
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: promo stamp on cover; original custom inner sleeve
Catalog ID: --
1981's "Playin' My Thang" served as Steve Cropper's first solo album in twelve years. To be honest, the album's most interesting facet came in the form of Cropper's unexpected decision to showcase his singing voice. I'm guessing that like a lot of other folks, this was the first time I'd heard the man's singing voice. To be honest, Cropper wasn't any great shakes as a singer. He was certainly competent; his voice didn't have a lot of range, but within those boundaries he exhibiting an interesting gravely Southern twang. I've struggled to come up with an apt comparison - perhaps a flatter version of The Band's Leon Helm ... A less talented Delbert McClinton ... A Southern-tinged Christopher Cross ... Interestingly, the focus on Cropper's voice came at the expense of spotlighting his guitar chops. Sure, Cropper provided lead guitar on all nine tracks, but with the possible exception of 'What Do You Say You Love Me' his patented sound was largely absent. Cropper also largely avoided the Stax sound that made him a household name. In its place tracks like 'Give 'Em What They Want', 'Fly' and the ballad 'With You' he opted for a smoother, quasi-Yacht rock sound. The results were listenable, but hardly inspiring.
Interestingly, MCA released two promotional 45s off the album, but that was about it in terms of pushing the album..
My Thang" track listing:
1.) Give 'Em What They Want (Steve Cropper - Richard Wolf) - 4:20 *** stars
To be honest, I don't think I'd ever heard Cropper's singing voice prior to 'Give 'Em What They Want.' It wasn't a bad instrument, showcasing a pleasant country-twang, but clearly not in the same league as his guitar chops. The fact this was a smooth, easy-going, mid-tempo number that didn't pose any major challenges to Cropper's voice certainly didn't hurt. Even Cropper's guitar solo was low-keyed on this one. Pleasant and mildly catchy in an early-'80s fashion.
2.) Let the Good Times Roll (Leonard Lee) - 3:57 rating: * star
While I can understand wanting to include a couple of rock classics, one of the problems doing so was you were setting yourself up for comparisons and in this case there was simply no way Cropper was going to fair well against any of the earlier classic takes - Louis Jordan, Shirley and Lee, B,B. King ...
3.) Playin' My Thang (Steve Cropper) - 4:43 *** stars
Stax-meets-funk ... David Paich on keyboards; Donald Dunn on bass and The Memphis Horns all helped the medicine go down. Cropper's gravelly voice actually sounded pretty good on this one, though this time out his guitar solo was kind of profunctory.
- 1981's 'Playin' My Thang' b/w 'Playin' My Thang' (MCA catalog number MCA-51078)
4.) Fly (Steve Cropper) - 3:10 rating: ** stars
Complete with glossy production and a mandatory sax solo, 'Fly' sounded like an '80s yacht-rock ballad - think along the lines of a Southern version of Christopher Cross. Nothing wrong with that genre, but it was a waste of Cropper's talents.
First off, Delbert McClinton's version is the classic take ... That said, Cropper's cover stay very close to the original arrangement; his vocals actually sounded a bit like McClinton with a bad head cold. Extra star for the good taste in outside material. The album's second promotional single:
- 1981's 'Sandy Beaches' b/w 'Sandy Beaches' (MCA catalog number MCA-51115)
2.) With You (Steve Cropper - John Jarvis) - 3:25 rating: ** stars
Competent, but largely anonymous ballad ...
3.) Feet (Danny Kortchmar) - 2:58 rating: ** stars
Danny Kortchmar wrote it, but 'Feet' sounded like a bad Little Feat boogie tune. Cropper's vocals sounded particularly flat on this one.
4.) What Do You Say You Love Me (Steve Cropper) - 4:53 **** stars
Well, at least 'What Do You Say You Love Me' opened up with some of Cropper's patented guitar and then found a semi-funky groove that Cropper rode in relative safety. Extra star for the guitar work.
5.) Ya Da Ya Da (Steve Cropper - Duck Dunn) - 4:00 *** stars
Co-written with former M.G.s bassist Donald Duck Dunn, 'Ya Da Ya Da' was the album's funkiest number. That's not saying it was particularly good ... Okay, another extra star for the guitar solo.
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