Maui’s the place for a rockin’ New Year’s Eve
The co-writer of one of the greatest instrumentals of all time, the Booker T. & the M.G.s’ “Green Onions,” and Otis Redding’s biggest hit, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Blues Brothers Band guitarist Steve Cropper will join a bunch of fellow legends on New Year’s Eve at The Wailea Beach Resort — Marriott, Maui for a historic night of music.
Performing at what has been called “the world’s most exclusive New Year’s Eve party,” Cropper will join Alice Cooper and his band, Steven Tyler, Michael McDonald, Pat Simmons, Dave Mason, Weird Al Yankovic, Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson, Disturbed’s David Draiman, Lynda Carter, Willie K, Bob Rock and Lily Meola.
Praised by Rolling Stone as “the secret ingredient in some of the greatest rock and soul songs,” Cropper co-wrote such soul classics as Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” and Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood.” His songs have been covered by the likes of James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Eric Clapton; and his recording and performing credits range from John Lennon, Ringo Starr and B.B. King, to Jeff Beck and Neil Young.
Following are interview highlights with the guitarist and his thoughts on the release of “Green Onions” in 1962; meeting the Beatles; backing Otis Redding at the Monterey Pop Festival; the famous whistle at the end of “Dock of the Bay”; working with John Belushi and Dan Akroyd; and the latest Blues Brothers’ CD.
The birth of the Stax Records’ sound
Booker T. & the M.G.s, with Cropper on lead guitar, played on a string of popular songs by soul and blues legends like Redding, Pickett, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave (“Soul Man”), Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas and Albert King (“Born under a Bad Sign”).
“We were the staff band,” he recalls. “They were all just friends. At one time, we had 17 artists on the label. We didn’t know how big things would become.”
“Green Onions,” released in 1962, became a worldwide hit.
“It was a cool little riff that Booker had written. He showed me an idea for a vocal song, but he hadn’t even started on the lyrics. I got a disc jockey friend to play the untitled track just to hear it. I didn’t know he put it out on the air, and the phones lit up, and we knew it was a hit. It was totally by accident.”
The incomparable Otis Redding
Cropper’s connection with Redding included co-composing songs such as “Mr. Pitiful,” “634-5789,” “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song),” and “Groovin’ Time.” With Booker T & the M.G.s he backed Redding on the Stax/Volt Revue’s 1967 European Tour, and the historic Monterey International Pop Festival.
Bob Weir of Grateful Dead fame recalled later about Redding’s incendiary performance there: “I was pretty sure that I’d seen God onstage.”
“It was the first rock festival I had even been to,” says Cropper. “It was a shock for everybody. We had no idea how well Otis was going to be received. The fans sat in the rain waiting for us to go on. We walked out to an ocean of umbrellas.”
“Dock of the Bay” and the famous whistle
“He called me and said, ‘I’ve got an idea for a hit.’ “ As they were recording the ballad, they didn’t have a last verse written, so Redding whistled it, planning to return to Memphis to finish the song. He died in a plane crash a few days later. Cropper felt the whistling should stay as it perfectly fit the mood of the song.
“We never wrote a fade out because Otis would just make up something and go. He just started whistling. And I got the idea to add seagulls and ocean waves. There was a message in there that just seemed to hit everybody.”
A No. 1 hit, it won them both a Grammy and went on to become the sixth most played song of the 20th century.
Meet the Beatles
Huge fans of the M.G.s’ sound, the Beatles even recorded a “Green Onions” imitation instrumental, “12 Bar Blues.” When the M.G.s first landed in the U.K., the Beatles sent a limousine and greeted them with bows. Cropper later played on Lennon’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Menlove Ave.” albums, and Starr’s “Vertical Man” and “Ringo” albums.
“I was on the L.A. sessions with John,” he recalls. “I was fortunate to meet all of them at different times. I hung out with George (Harrison) one afternoon in Beverly Hills. We talked for hours. They were all fantastic.”
“Joliet” Jake Blues and Elwood Blues
When Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi formed a blues and soul revivalist band in 1978 for a musical sketch on “Saturday Night Live,” they called on Cropper and his M.G.s bassist buddy, Donald “Duck” Dunn, as essential players. The role led to a No. 1 album, two hit “Blues Brothers” movies and sold-out concerts.
” ‘Duck’ Dunn and myself did an album and tour with Levon Helm and the ‘Saturday Night Live’ horns, and Belushi heard us play one New Year’s Eve at the Palladium, and said, ‘If I ever put a band together, I want that band.’ “
As for any funny memories, he recalls: “When we were doing the movie we were supposed to rehearse dance steps at a sound stage. Aykroyd met us at the door with his finger at his mouth going ‘Shush.’ He said, ‘It’s asleep.’ John had come in in the middle of the night and passed out on the floor.”
The “return” of the Original Blues Brothers Band
Still touring today, the Blues Brothers Band just released an exceptional new CD, “The Last Shade of Blue Before Black,” with Memphis soul-legend Eddie Floyd, Dr. John and blues legend Joe Louis Walker.
“We’ve been on the road for 30 years, but this particular group that made the album, we’ve been together for 15 years,” explains Cropper. “We kind of quit after Belushi died. Then Dan Aykroyd’s wife called everybody to see if we could put the band together for Danny’s birthday and we thought, ‘We’ve got to keep it going, it’s way too much fun.’ “
Making his debut at the annual Wailea party, Cropper is looking forward to helping out. In the past few years, this unique benefit event has provided 1.6 million meals to the Maui Food Bank, along with significant financial support to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului.
“We’ve been doing this since 2008 with mostly resident Maui musicians,” says event organizer Shep Gordon.
“We’ve all done charity shows and this one is so much fun because it’s very loose,” adds Cooper, who recently released the acclaimed album “Paranormal.”
The Grateful Dead’s legendary bassist returns to Maui for two Phil Lesh & Friends concerts at 7:30 tonight and Friday in the Castle Theater at the MACC.
Drawing from the Dead’s extensive repertoire, Lesh & Friends’ set lists range from standards like “Casey Jones,” “Estimated Prophet” and “Uncle John’s Band,” to “Box of Rain” and “Jack Straw.” Their covers may include the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice,” Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.”
A few years after the death of the band’s iconic lead guitarist/ singer Jerry Garcia, Lesh began playing with a rotating ensemble of musician friends to reinterpret the Dead’s music. Friends on the 2017 Hawaii tour include the bassist’s son Grahame Lesh, Ross James, Scott Law, Alex Koford and Jason Crosby.
A special guest on the tour is two-time Grammy Award-winning guitarist Eric Krasno, who was a co-founding member of the bands Lettuce and Soulive. His solo endeavors include collaborations with Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Roots and Aaron Neville.
Multi-instrumentalist Crosby has previously been a member of Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and the Susan Tedeschi Band.
Praised as an “esteemed flatpicker” by Acoustic Guitar, Law is equally inventive on steel strings. He has performed with an array of bluegrass, American roots, rock and jam band luminaries including The String Cheese Incident and Leftover Salmon.
A multi-instrumentalist, Ross was a founding member of the band American Jubilee, and has shared the stage with many greats including John Scofield, Warren Haynes and John Mayer.
Grahame Lesh plays guitar and sings with various Bay Area bands including the country-rock group Midnight North, the Terrapin Family Band and Communion.
And drummer Koford plays with Midnight North, the Terrapin Family Band, and his own group Colonel & the Mermaids.
Before the Dead, Lesh first played bass with Garcia in the group The Warlocks in the fall of 1964. It was Lesh who inspired one of the Grateful Dead’s key innovations — the rock-style jam.
“Together with (John) Coltrane the music of (Charles) Ives was to become the foundation of my personal artistic aspirations, and both artists would exert a tremendous influence on the embryonic aesthetic of the Grateful Dead,” Lesh wrote in “Searching for the Sound.”
* Phil Lesh & Friends is presented at 7:30 tonight and Friday in the MACC’s Castle Theater. Tickets are $140 and $150 (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or by visiting www.mauiarts.org.