Steve Cropper, Fire It Up

Steve Cropper, Fire It Up, Mascot Label Group / Provogue Records

Steve Cropper, legendary guitarist, songwriter and record producer, delivers his first solo album since 1969.

Cropper – the Colonel – has had a stellar career as a guitarist backing a star-studded cast of artists, including Etta James, Art Garfunkel, John Lennon, Mavis Staples, Albert King, Rod Stewart…the list goes on. You can hear him on Wilson Pickett’s Midnight Hour, Otis Redding’s Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay and Albert King’s Born Under a Bad Sign, to name but a few.

He was in bands with Otis Redding and Booker T. & the M.G, and was a member of the Blues Brothers Band. Rolling Stone ranked him 39th on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists and Mojo Magazine named him “the greatest living guitar player.” When Keith Richards was asked his opinion of Steve Cropper, he just drawled, “Perfect, man.”

As part of Booker T. and the M.G.’s he’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and subsequently made it into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. If there’s such a thing as rock’n’roll royalty, Steve Cropper is it.

There’s not been much in the way of solo work, however, but at 79, Cropper has decided to put that right with Fire It Up. “It’s made from old grooves, because during a lockdown, you work on stuff that’s been in your head for years.” Produced with long-time collaborator Jon Tiven, Cropper is both guitarist and a producer on the album. “To be a good producer, you’ve got to be able to hear a song finished in your head before there’s much of anything done…a good production is not accidental. I’m really proud of things that I produce.”

And so he should be. Thirteen well-constructed songs, with a terrific band and an outstanding vocal performance from Reale.

After a minute’s Blues Brothers-esque instrumental introduction, all rhythm and horns, the album gets into its stride with the classic-sounding title track. The band, as befits the title of the song, is really on fire, while Roger C. Reale handling the vocals, does so delivering the lyrics with urgency and just the right amount of rasp.

We’re into more mellow territory with One Good Turn, a tuneful meditation on the need to support one another, featuring a cool, laid-back guitar solo. There’s a nice amount of variety on the album with some funky numbers like I’m Not Havin’ It and She’s So Fine, the piano-driven Say You Don’t Know Me and the blues of Out of Love.

The Go Getter Is Gone highlights the album’s collaborative effort. “Roger came up with most of the lyrics here,” Cropper says, “I came up with the rhythms and the grooves and the changes, but I think teamwork is better.” The song illustrates the song-writing strength of the album – none of the songs are simplistically structured from a musical point of view and are strong lyrically. Take Far Away, for example, a soul-rock jam that has plenty of signature Cropper lead work (and some tasty vocals from Reale assisted by Jon Tiven and Beth Hooker), which bewails the divided nature of our society, even amongst people who might be united in their struggle with the basics of life:                                   

I can’t believe what I’m seeing today
It brings a tear to my eye
People divided on what they believe
Still they struggle just to get by
The day to day has become undone
And everything that’s right is wrong
Nobody listens, they just keep talkin’
Until they think they’ve won

1. Bush Hog Part 1
2. Fire It Up3. One Good Turn
4. I’m Not Havin’ It
5. Out of Love
6. Far Away
7. Say You Don’t Know Me
8. She’s So Fine
9. Two Wrongs
10. Heartbreak Street
11. The Go-Getter Is Gone
12. Bush Hog Part 2
13. Bush Hog