Harris: The 20th annual Bartenders Ball takes place this Saturday night at the Convention Center. This is traditionally the biggest bash of the year. The highlight of this year’s Bartender Ball is an appearance by the original Blues Brothers band, and joining us on the phone now is a member of that band as well as a man, well, if you look at this man’s credits over the years, they’re amazing: Booker T and the MG’s with that classic Green Onions and he co-wrote Soul Man for Sam and Dave and lots of others. In the Blues Brothers version of Soul Man, you here Belushi yell, “play it, Steve!” Well, this is the “Steve!” This is Steve Cropper. Hi, thanks for coming on with us live from Muscle Shoals, where you’re in the middle of a session?

Cropper: You got it.

Harris: I was looking through these credits. Otis Redding’s Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, Eddie Floyd’s Knock on Wood, Wicked Wilson Pickett’s In The Midnight Hour. You co-wrote or worked on most of those. How did you get involved in the Blues Brothers? Belushi was, I know, a big fan of the Stax years and all that stuff you guys had done. Did he invite you personally?

Cropper: Yeah, absolutely. I was in the studio and he called me and said, “Hi, this is John Belushi.” And I said, “Yeah, right, and I’m the Pope.” His opening statement was, “I heard you and Donald Duck Dunn don’t get along?” So that’s his introduction to me. I had met him before and he had seen the RCO all-stars play, which is pretty much the same band, same horns and Duck Dunn and myself, and when Levon Helm was doing his solo thing and we played up in New York at a New Year’s Eve party and John had seen us. So he kind of said, “I want that band,” you know?

Harris: Well, he certainly couldn’t have gotten better guys. You guys were right there at the core of all that music that he loved. When you guys would sit down with him and talk about that, was he sitting there wide-eyed as a fan like, “Wow! You guys worked with Wicked Picket?”

Cropper: Yeah. I think so, he was really honored. He wasn’t too sure about me, you know, I had long hair and a long beard and all that. He said, “No, that guy is a roadie, he’s not Steve Cropper!” So I think Phil Walden set him straight one night in the back of a limo.

Harris: Do you still have that look?

Cropper: No, not quite. I’ve got a pony tail now. I still got the long hair and I’ve shortened the beard. I don’t look as Amish as I used to.

Harris: Now, the Blues Brothers started out just as a joke because Belushi and Aykroyd were fans of that R&B stuff that you guys had created. So they started like a house band joke on Saturday Night Live, right?

Cropper: Yeah, they used to warm up the crowd with it.

Harris: And then they called you and Duck Dunn and actually put a band together. I want you, if you could, to take me back to that night at the Universal Amphitheater in ’78 when you guys were the opening act for Steve Martin and it turned into the Briefcase Full of Blues album. What were you thinking as you were standing backstage that night?

Cropper: Well, it was pretty unbelievable. We were glad to be there and we didn’t know what the reaction was gonna be, because people were really there to see Steve Martin. And I really think the story begins the second night because, about an hour before we went on, the audience was shouting “Blues Brothers! Blues Brothers!” We couldn’t believe it, just in one night. The word got out. And you can hear that because the Briefcase Full of Blues is the live pieces of the live shows that we did that week.

Harris: Now you won’t have the Blues Brothers — Belushi, Aykroyd, John Goodman obviously won’t be here when you’re in town Saturday night. Who is the lead singer now?

Cropper: Well, we have Tommy McDonald, who’s been with Lou Marini’s band up in New York for a long time, and Tommy’s been on the road with us now for almost three years, and we also have the great Eddie Floyd.

Harris: Oh, really? Is he gonna do Knock On Wood??

Cropper: He will do Knock On Wood and he will also sing 634-5789, which he does in the movie with Wilson and Eddie, and I also wrote that song for Wilson.

Harris: Who’s in the new movie, Blues Brothers 2000? What other musicians? I know James Brown and Aretha come back, right?

Cropper: Oh, my goodness. Well, we have B.B. King, we have Bo Diddley, we have Eric Clapton, we have Travis Tritt, we have Jimmy Vaughan, we have Steve Winwood, we have Dr. John, we have Clarence Clemons.

Harris: I hear the jam at the end is just like one of those dream bands.

Cropper: It’s unbelievable. For singers we’ve got Lou Rawls, we’ve got Gary US Bands, Koko Taylor, Isaac Hayes, on and on and on, it’s amazing!

Harris: Speaking of singers, how is John Goodman as a singer?

Cropper: He’s great.

Harris: Yeah?

Cropper: He’s just all energy. The guy really loves the music. Highly respects it and works very hard at trying to do the right thing.

Harris: What happened to Jim Belushi along the way? I know the did the Super Bowl last year and there were three Blues Brothers at that gig. What happened to him with Blues Brothers 2000?

Cropper: Well, that’s unfortunate. He and the lawyers and the studio just didn’t see eye to eye. So he had overlapped the project and we had to start, you know, and I guess he thought we wouldn’t start without him, but we had to. We didn’t have a choice.

Harris: Gotcha. And what is this I hear about a Blues Brothers cartoon?

Cropper: Well, that’s in the works.

Harris: Really?

Cropper: Yep, I hope so.

Harris: You gonna be animated, Steve?

Cropper: Wouldn’t that be nice?

Harris: Not that you’re not animated on stage. I don’t mean it that way.

Cropper: Well, Garry Trudeau put me in the Doonesbury strip many years ago. So I’ve been a cartoon once, you know. My friends tell me that I’m a cartoon all the time.

Harris: The last thing I want to ask you is, I was looking through the credits knowing you were coming on today. You’ve worked with all those great R&B singers, plus Rod Stewart and Sammy Hagar and Leon Russell and Neil Young…

Cropper: Wow, you’re up on this stuff, aren’t you?

Harris: Well, I did my homework.

Cropper: What can I say, I am a very, very lucky guy. I mean, I’ve had a great career and I still get to do it and get to hang out with all these wonderful people and it’s just a blast.

Harris: Is there anybody that you wished you worked with or still want to work with?

Cropper: That’s a good question. I’m sure there’s several, but the one who always comes to mind is probably Tina Turner. I never got to work with Tina Turner. But I’ve been on stage with Ike and that’s — I’m half there, you know?

Harris: But the view from the band perspective is much better on Tina isn’t it?

Cropper: [laughs] Oh, absolutely!

Harris: Steve, I appreciate you jumping out of your session to come on this afternoon.

Cropper: Okay, Paul. See you soon.

Copyright 1998, Paul Harris.
Transcript by Sean Healey.