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Steve Cropper on the 5 Royales

February 13, 2012
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When Steve Cropper was in high school, he was a huge fan of the 5 Royales and their guitarist, Lowman Pauling, covering their tunes and being influenced by Pauling’s hip, minimalist style. Cropper pays tribute to Pauling on his latest record, Dedicated, a star-studded salute to the 5 Royales.

You talk in the liner notes about some of what you got from Lowman Pauling, in particular the concept of playing rhythm and then throwing in little lead licks where appropriate. That sounds like a great description of your playing. When you hear famous parts of yours, like “Soul Man,” do you think those lines are referencing the Pauling influence?
Probably. I would say that the energy and the flavor were a lot like Lowman. I wouldn’t say I was good enough to play as well as him, but that formula seemed to work in the studios. The style that I went with was the one that was working. Whatever they were happy with, you continued doing.

You get really nice tones on this album. How did you track your guitars?
To do the rhythms, I pulled out my old touring amp—my Gibson Quad Reverb. We cut all the tracks in two days, and the first day I used my custom Peavey that I play all the time. The second day I grabbed one of my favorite old ’50s or ’60s Telecasters that I used on a lot of sessions in L.A. in the ’70s.

How familiar were the other players you have on this tribute, like B.B. King and Brian May, with Pauling’s work?
I don’t know about Brian but I know about B.B. He was definitely familiar with him. He was telling me stories about meeting those guys.

How did B.B.’s session go down? Did he come to the studio with you?
No. We went to him. We flew to Vegas, went in the studio, set him on the couch with his guitar, put a microphone on the coffee table, and he started singing and playing. He sounds fantastic. We had so much fun.

What is the most important thing guitarists would get if they went back and checked out Pauling’s guitar work?
That as a guitarist you should listen to the singer. I think if you listen to the records and Pauling’s guitar fills, you’re obviously going to focus on his tone and all that, but you’re really going to wind up listening to that song. You’re going to walk away humming the melody of the song.

When I hear a lot of the riffs and progressions in these songs, they remind me of things I’ve heard, like a Chuck Berry tune or a Little Richard tune. But a lot of these songs actually predated those guys?
Absolutely. All during the overdubbing sessions, they’d be playing the track back and I’d start singing the song with Jackie Wilson or Sam Cooke lyrics. They’d go, “Cropper, would you stop doing that?” There are so many melodies in his music that will remind you of big hits from the ’60s and ’70s. I don’t want to accuse anybody. I would just like to say that they were probably listening to the 5 Royales too, and they were influenced just like I was.

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