At this point four decades ago, John Lennon’s troubled mid-1970s Rock ‘n’ Roll oldies album was headed to New York, in an effort to save the project. Sessions with eccentric producer Phil Spector had broken down, even as Lennon himself spooled out of control in a blur of booze-fueled nights away from his then-estranged wife Yoko Ono.
But prior to that, as things got underway in Los Angeles, there was a reunion of sorts with Steve Cropper — the Stax legend who had met Lennon years before. They traded a few memorable stories, and at least one treasured guitar lick, even as Cropper sat in on an album that ultimately marked the beginning of a five-year retirement for Lennon.
“He was just an awesome guy,” Cropper says of Lennon, in Alan di Perna’s book Guitar Masters: Intimate Portraits. “I had met him before at the Bag ‘o Nails in London in 1967, and he remembered that. And he was always a big fan of Booker T. and the MGs. We were at A&M Studio in L.A., working on Rock ‘n’ Roll. He said, ‘Cropper, can you stay over after the session? I’ve got a little something I want to show you.’ I said, ‘Well, yeah.’ So, it was just him and me in the studio, and he showed me this riff. He said, ‘I wrote this riff years ago, and I always thought it would be good for Booker T. and the MGs.’ That was pretty cool.”
The Beatles, of course, earlier had a near-miss trip to record with Cropper in Memphis, around the time of Revolver. The guitarist also memorably covered the Lennon-McCartney tune “With a Little Help From My Friends” as the title track on a 1969 solo album — though Cropper used the arrangement that propelled Joe Cocker’s version to the charts.
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