Guitar and Stax legend Steve Cropper has just released “Fire It Up,” the title track from his new album, out April 23rd. Calling it his first proper solo album since 1969, Cropper explains, “This album is different from everything out there now – I haven’t heard myself this way since the 60s.” “Fire It Up” features vocals by Roger C. Reale, who commented, “Back when I initially heard the track, it had a jump up feel – get started, get moving, look forward to a better day, grab the moment. The title came immediately, so I just dropped the narrative around that. It’s a bit of a call to action – let’s get busy, on any level.”
A founding member of the Blues Brothers and one of Stax Records’ main producers, songwriters, and guitarists – as the guitarist in its house band, Booker T. and the M.G.’s – Cropper reintroduced classic soul to unsuspecting audiences, with Rolling Stone ranking him in the top 40 all-time greatest guitarists. “Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding, “Soul Man” and “Hold On I’m Coming” by Sam and Dave — you simply can’t discuss soul music without Steve Cropper. He plays on John Lennon’s Rock N Roll album, Frank Black’s Honeycomb and Fast Man Raider Man albums, and on several albums by Ringo Starr. He’s also produced for John Prine, Jeff Beck, and John Cougar Mellencamp.
But seven decades into his legendary career, Steve sees this record as different: “This is the first Steve Cropper album since 1969,” he says. “It’s made from old grooves, because during a lockdown, you work on stuff that’s been in your head for years.” Rooted in sessions with the Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere and produced with long-time collaborator Jon Tiven, Cropper is both guitarist and a producer on the album, a role he is most comfortable in after years on the scene. “To be a good producer, you’ve got to be able to hear a song finished in your head before there’s much of anything done,” he explains. “..a good production is not accidental. I’m really proud of things that I produce.”
Careful and selective about what he’ll put his name on, you won’t be surprised to find that ‘Fire It Up’ is an instant classic. From the classic R&B of the title-track to the funk of “Bush Hog” and the quiet restraint of “One Good Turn,” the album may have Cropper’s name on it, but it’s still very much a collaborative effort, where solos and prowess are always in service to the larger rhythm. “This isn’t a battle of the bands,” he adds. “..it’s better to enhance the other guy, make him shine.”
In fact, listening to everyone else may be one of the secrets to Cropper’s style. The “Go Getter Is Gone” highlights the album’s collaborative effort. “Roger came up with most of the lyrics here,” he says. “I came up with the rhythms and the grooves and the changes, but I think teamwork is better.” And suddenly a light shines on why Cropper has pursued so few solo records: “When a basketball team wins,” he says, “it’s not the player who made the last three-pointer who wins, it’s the whole team that got him there.”