When John Lennon was viciously murdered on Dec. 8, 1980, he’d only begun a tentative comeback – issuing his first album since 1975’s Rock ‘n’ Roll oldies album. Stunned fans eventually sent the new Double Fantasy studio project to triple-platinum sales, even as former collaborators like Steve Cropper recalled treasured musical intersections.
Rock ‘n’ Roll had been completed in New York, after Los Angeles-based sessions fell apart in a swirl of personal issues with the eccentric producer Phil Spector and Lennon’s spiral into a series of booze-fueled nights away from his then-estranged wife Yoko Ono. For Cropper, however, the time in L.A. would be remembered as a very happy reunion.
Lennon and the Stax legend, who had met the former Beatles star years before, traded a few memorable stories, and at least one long-saved guitar lick — though Cropper had no idea he was playing with John Lennon for the last time.
“He was just an awesome guy,” Steve 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. Steve Cropper also memorably covered the John Lennon-Paul McCartney tune “With a Little Help From My Friends” as the title track on a 1969 solo album — though the guitarist used the arrangement that propelled Joe Cocker’s version to the charts.
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