When Steve Cropper performs another round of European dates with the Animals in the fall, he will be returning to the site of some of Stax Records’ biggest — and, for some, most surprising — successes in the late 1960s.
An explosive revue featuring Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Carla Thomas and Eddie Floyd was backed by Booker T. and the MGs and the Memphis Horns over 13 dates across western Europe in 1967. That must have seemed a very long way from the familiar environs of Memphis, Tennessee, where Stax was headquartered.
And yet, they were greeted by sold-out crowds and a bowing quartet of Beatles, much to the dismay of people like Cropper, guitarist for the MGs and a producer at Stax.
“It surprised everybody in the band, everybody,” Cropper tells RegionalMag. “Now Otis had already been over here and he kinda knew that he had a bit of a following. [Otis Redding manager] Phil Walden sort of hinted, saying: ‘Be ready, guys. You guys are pretty famous over here, and you don’t know it.’ The guys in the band, including myself, had our own fans back in the States, because we had had hit records. But we didn’t know that we would get treated like we did in England. It was a different kind of respect. That changed every member of that band’s life.”
Stax eventually released a series of live projects from this tour, including the smash hit Otis Live in Europe. None of them quite capture the giddy sense of anticipating and joy that these Stax artists sparked. In some ways, Cropper has said, you had to be there. Who could have guessed, for instance, that no less a group than the Beatles provided a limo for the touring Americans?
“Man, that was just crazy,” he adds. “The Beatles were probably the biggest band in the world at that time — and for them to even know who we were just blew us away.”
Cropper is now set for a return visit, this time to play another string of dates with the Animals in October 2014. They’ve regularly toured together in Europe, most recently over January and February of last year.