Steve Cropper explores the mysteries of his ageless guitar style: ‘It was all accidental’

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In time, Steve Cropper became one of music’s most respected sessions men, a guitarist of economy, grit and grace who transformed countless on-the-fly sessions into culture-defining hit songs. How he got there remains something of a mystery — even to Cropper himself.

“It was all accidental,” Cropper tells Get Ready to Rock. “I didn’t sit down with a pencil and a piece of paper and say, ‘I’m going to play this tomorrow.’ All of that stuff just fell out of the ceiling, and we did it.”

He developed what Gibson has called “world-class riffs,” what Rolling Stone called “the secret ingredient in some of the greatest rock and soul songs,” in the old-fashioned way: Practice, practice, practice. Only Steve Cropper’s woodshedding showed up inside jukeboxes from coast to coast.

Cropper, somehow, intuitively knew just what to do. He had to, really: Sessions at Stax Records were often held at a moment’s notice, and tracks were cut live. Money was tight at this hometown label, and that played a role, too.

“My style was just created by accident, in a have-to situation,” Steve Cropper says. “The way I looked at it was, I had to be two guys, because they shouldn’t afford two guitar players. They didn’t have the money to pay in those sessions for an extra guy. So I played rhythm, and then I’d play a lick or what we call a fill, and then back to rhythm. So, that was the style I developed, and there was no need to ever have more than one guitar player on most of those early hits.”

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