‘The place would go nuts’: Steve Cropper played underrated role on signature early Stax hit

No, there’s no guitar on the Mar-Keys’ Top 5 pop and R&B hit “Last Night.” But yes, Steve Cropper was part of that seminal 1961 Stax side — playing a completely different instrument the old-fashioned way.

A No. 3 charter on the pop lists (and a No. 2 R&B smash), “Last Night” would include a memorably continuous organ note when it appeared on the very first long player ever released by the Stax precursor Satellite Records. Producer Chips Moman didn’t have Cropper cooling his heels, however.

“I played the whole thing on organ, a whole note. We did that before we knew about the matchbook trick!” Cropper told us in an exclusive SER Sitdown, laughing. “If you took a book of paper matches, you could use it like a wedge — sticking it between the keys.”

In fact, all four members of Booker T. and the MGs appeared as part of the Mar-Keys, who also hit with “Popeye Stroll” and “Philly Dog.” Later, after Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Al Jackson Jr. and Booker T. Jones split off to form their own group, Cropper says Jones became a master of the matchbook trick: “Booker used to do that all the time,” Cropper says. “He’d get up and the organ would still be going. He’d stroll around and the place would go nuts.”

The million-selling “Last Night,” memorably covered by Georgie Fame on 1966′s Sweet Things, was later re-recorded by Cropper and and Co. for Blues Brothers 2000.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.