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He’s a ‘Soul Man’: AP profiles Steve Cropper, a low-key musical legend

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Adrian Sainz, AP’s Memphis, Tennessee, correspondent, drew on his deep knowledge of the city’s musical history to tell the fascinating but sometimes overlooked story of Steve Cropper, the 79-year-old guitarist who worked at Stax Records alongside the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and others, and is still doing his thing half a century later.

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From left, Eddie Floyd, Sam Moore, Steve Cropper, Otis Redding, Wayne Jackson and Arthur Conley are shown in a 1967 photo provided by the Stax Museum. – Stax Museum of American Soul Music via AP

At a time when it was common for white musicians to co-opt the work of Black artists and climb to fame from their songs, Cropper kept a lower profile even as he left an indelible imprint on the American songbook. From “In the Midnight Hour” to “Soul Man,” Cropper helped create some of the most memorable songs of his era at the Stax studio near his Memphis home.

With a big assist from video journalist Kristin Hall and photographer Mark Humphrey, Sainz laid Cropper’s story out in rich detail, from the birth of the R&B classic “Knock On Wood” to the guitarist’s last conversation with Redding as they worked on “(Sittin’ On the) Dock of the Bay” — just days before the singer’s death in a December 1967 plane crash.

Humphrey’s striking portraits and Hall’s engaging video,shot inside the Memphis studio where Cropper still makes music, complete the all-formats tour of music history. Watch Cropper describe working with the Blues Brothers, or listen as he plays the first two notes of “Soul Man” — and try to keep from imagining the dance party anthem that surely follows.

For an illuminating,unexpected holiday offering that reveals the low-key man whose music everyone knows, Sainz earns AP’s Best of the States award for the week of Dec. 28.

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