The Grammy-winning “Soul Man” sounds like a hoot of a session for guitarist Steve Cropper, who gets a chance to settle into a nasty little groove as Sam and Dave handle some of Isaac Hayes’ most empowering lyrics. Instead, Cropper says it may have been one of his most challenging.
As usual, the Stax crew basically handled the sessions in one take for “Soul Man,” which would eventually go to No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 2 on the pop charts in 1967. “The ‘Knock on Woods’ and the ‘Midnight Hours’ were cut live with a whole band,” Cropper tells me, in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “We recorded ‘Soul Man’ on a four track, but there still weren’t any real overdubs.”
Fans will thrill to one of Cropper’s brilliantly, now famously, concise performances — without ever knowing what it took to achieve the song’s unique slide-inspired riff: “The one thing about ‘Soul Man’ is, it was one of the hardest sessions I ever played on,” he tells me. “It sounds like a lot of fun, but that little lick I did? I did that with a Zippo lighter. To get that slide lick, I had to sit there and be still. We always stood up and played, especially on the early stuff.”
Cropper is, of course, mentioned by name in the Sam and Dave classic. That entreaty — Play It, Steve! — later became the title of a 1998 solo effort, as well as the title of Cropper’s web site.