Steve Cropper on the Beatles’ flirtation with Stax: ‘Didn’t happen for a lot of different reasons’

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At the peak of their flinty creativity, the Beatles were so enamored with the foundational sounds of Memphis, that they considered recording the album that would become Revolver at Stax Records. The story — or, more particularly, the story of how it almost happened — has become legend.

Steve Cropper, a staff producer, sideman and songwriter with the label, has had plenty of time to sort through that heady period in 1966. “It didn’t happen for a lot of different reasons,” Cropper tells Early Blues, “but I’m not sure it ever would have happened.”

Steve Cropper says he first heard of the Beatles’ interest after a disc jockey friend of his interviewed the band during a visit in Memphis. The DJ, Cropper remembers, asked John Lennon about the possibility of recording locally. “John said something like, ‘Yeah, we talked about that, but we I don’t think we took it seriously,'” Cropper remembers. “So, they acknowledged they’d thought about it. [Beatles manager] Brian Epstein came over and spent a week in Memphis, but then called afterwards and said they couldn’t come to Memphis because of security.”

Steve Cropper, for one, dismisses such concerns. “We thought we had come up with a great solution for that,” he says. Besides, because of Stax Records’ location in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, Cropper is sure that the Beatles “could have walked down the street at Stax and nobody would have said anything, but they didn’t know that.”

Brian Epstein later suggested that Steve Cropper work with the Beatles at the studios of Atlantic Records, then Stax’s business partner. “I said, ‘Yes, I guess I could do that, even though it’s not Stax,’ so he said he’d get back to me. After about a month, he called and said, ‘Steve, we’re still talking about this, but they’ve been working on this album which is nearly finished so it’ll be the next project.'”

Of course, that next project turned into the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a moment of outsized psychedelia that couldn’t have had less to do with the Stax aesthetic. Steve Cropper admits that, by then, he’d already come to understand that working with the Beatles would never happen. All it took was one spin of 1966’s sweepingly complex Revolver, the original Beatles project they’d been discussing all along.

“A few weeks later, the Revolver album came out,” Cropper adds, “and I’m thinking: ‘Well, they didn’t need ME on this. I’d have probably screwed up that whole record.'”

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  • Laura Salovitch

    That would have been a crown jewel in Memphis’ rich musical heritage.

  • Miguel DeLeon

    Well, certainly “Got To Get You Into My Life” would’ve been the template for the work they’d’ve done. The rest of the Revolver album, however, wouldn’t’ve worked. And music history will continue to list Revolver as the #1 album ever (or at least in the top three).

  • Michael Anderson

    Neglects to mention that Stax were going to hike up the price for any Beatles’ sessions.