Steve Cropper made one of his biggest career decisions in the bathroom: ‘Man, you can’t do that’

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Inspiration, it seems, hits artists at the strangest times. Certainly, that was the case for Steve Cropper. Seems the young guitarist was on tour, long before he helped put together Booker T. and the MGs, and found himself at something of a career crossroads.

He was then playing with the Mar-Keys, who’d scored a national hit with 1961’s “Last Night” — a song which actually featured Cropper on the organ. He shared leadership in the group with Charles “Packy” Axton, the tenor-playing son of Estelle Axton, co-owner of Stax Records with her brother Jim Stewart.

But after stops in a series of major American cities, not to mention Dick Clark’s show, the Mar-Keys ended up in the midst of a three-week stint in Bossier City, Louisiana. Cropper, who was always more interested in studio work than he was in touring, had had enough.

“I really missed it,” Cropper tells Bronson Herrmuth. “That whole summer took me away from being in the studio, and that’s where I really enjoyed myself and had a love for it. Packy and I were in the bathroom and I looked at him and I said, ‘You’ve been wanting to be leader of this band since we got out of high school. It’s yours.’ He said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘I’m catching the first bus out of here tomorrow.’ He said, ‘Man, you can’t do that!’ [Laughs.] I said, ‘Watch me!'”

Cropper did, in fact, return home. He enrolled in what is now the University of Memphis, and made a beeline back to Stax. The rest, as they say, is history.

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