‘I swept the floors’: Steve Cropper literally worked his way to the top at Stax Records

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You know Steve Cropper from his legendary work with Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas, William Bell, Johnnie Taylor — and, of course, with Booker T. and the MGs. His beginnings with the Stax Record label, however, were decidedly less glamorous.

In fact, he performed scores of menial tasks, beginning with a stint at the record store attached to Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton’s label offices at the former Capitol Theatre in South Memphis.

“I did a lot of things,” Cropper says in this clip. “I swept the floors, I logged the tapes. Originally, the way I got in there was, I offered myself as a salesman in the record shop — which I did. When I’d take a break, I’d go back and just tidy things up, before I really got into the recording part of it. This kept going on. Then, they needed someone to audition local talent, and we started having auditions on Saturday.”

Cropper was slowly, but surely, working his way closer to a recording session at Stax. He’d already started doing some recording work elsewhere. Finally, Cropper was asked to sit in on a taping with Prince Conley, an early blues signing for the label.

“The song was called ‘I’m Going Home,'” Cropper says, “and it just went from there. The more we worked, the more people came — and the more success we had, the more artists we had, and the more we had to play.”

He’d enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, having gone on to co-write hits like “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” with Otis Redding, “In the Midnight Hour” with Wilson Pickett and “Knock On Wood” with Eddie Floyd. Cropper also had a No. 3 smash with Booker T. and the MGs, 1962’s “Green Onions.”

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