‘They started nicknaming me the Colonel’: Hilarious moment led to new moniker for Steve Cropper

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Steve Cropper has, for some time now, been known as the Colonel. The story of how that nickname came to be goes back a ways, too. In fact, all the way back to age 10.

Long before his time as a signature element of the Stax Records sound, Cropper was the assembly captain in elementary school. Later, Cropper — who is preparing now for a series of concert dates in October and November — was part of the Reserve Officers Training Corps in high school. He also served as captain of a rifle team for three years as a youngster. All of that combined to give him a personal approach that very much resembled an officer in the armed forces.

“You learn how to be very direct,” Cropper tells Alan White of Early Blues, “how to project your voice so you’re not really shouting at anybody or belittling them but you are giving them instructions.”

Fast forward to the late 1970s, and Cropper found himself on tour with Levon Helm’s RCO All-Stars, a group that eventually morphed into the Blues Brothers Band. Trombonist Tom Malone gave him a gift that began as a joke, but became something else. “It was a t-shirt with epaulettes on it, and they started nicknaming me the Colonel because I was always bossing people around,” Cropper says. “When [Blues Brothers co-founder] Dan Ackroyd asked everybody for our handles, the other guys said: ‘Cropper is the Colonel.'”

In the end, that was a vast improvement on one of his earliest childhood nicknames. “Some of my buddies called me Dumbo,” Cropper tells White, “because I had big sticky-out ears like the elephant.”

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