In the decade he spent at Stax Records, Steve Cropper stayed in the background most of the time. He played guitar (and occasionally bass, piano, or percussion) with practically every vocalist who passed through the company’s Memphis studio. He also supervised numerous sessions and wrote hit songs with Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, and others. His guitar solos with Booker T. & the MGs were models of economy and taste, as were his fills on tunes such as Sam and Dave’s "Soul Man,” which prompted the now-famous spoken response, "Play it, Steve!”
Born in Willow Springs, Missouri, in 1941, Cropper grew up listening to country music but became enamored of rhythm and blues after moving to Memphis with his family at age nine. His influences included Billy Butler, Bo Diddley, and particularly Lowman Pauling of the 5 Royales. The Royal Spades, a white r&b band Cropper co-led with guitarist Charlie Freeman, became known as the Mar-Kays and gave Stax (then known as Satellite) its second national hit with "Last Night” in 1961. He joined Booker T. & the MGs the next year, and the quartet quickly scored with "Green Onions.”
Cropper cut one solo album for Stax, With a Little Help from My Friends, in 1969. He left the company in 1971 and opened his own Memphis studio, where, among other things, he produced and played on an album by an MGs soundalike group called Washrag, billing himself as "Captain Guitar” to avoid contractual hassles with Stax. He went on to produce albums for such artists as Harry Nilsson, the Temptations, and Tower of Power, as well as participating in a number of MGs reunions (including tours backing Bob Dylan and Neil Young) and touring and recording with the Blues Brothers.