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Music

The influential guitarist that turned Jimi Hendrix "on to a lot of things"

@josephtaysom

While it remains an undisputed fact that Jimi Hendrix was the ultimate guitarist, there was one fellow axeman who helped him fulfil the potential of his powers. Although they were different stylistically, Hendrix credited Steve Cropper with switching his mind “on to a lot of things”.

Cropper, commonly known as ‘The Colonel’, is not an artist that has received attention on the same scale as many of his peers. However, Cropper is a Grammy-winning musician that has been backing the greats for close to 60 years, and Hendrix had nothing but admiration for him.

Cropper has worked with an illustrious list of names such as Otis Redding, John Lennon, John Prine, The Jeff Beck Group, and Bob Dylan. When his paths first crossed with Hendrix, however, both were yet to establish themselves as prestigious guitarists, and they were both session musicians.

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In 1964, Hendrix stumbled into the Stax Studios in Memphis, and it was the first page of a beautiful relationship. Cropper recalled to Louder Sound: “I happened to be mixing in the studio that day and didn’t want to be disturbed. But the secretary came in and said: ‘This guy’s driven all the way from Nashville to see you.’ I told her I couldn’t see anybody right now. Eventually, around five, I came out to get a cheeseburger, and he was still standing outside”.

Cropper added: “I don’t know if he was looking for a job or not, but we started talking and he said he’d just played on a Don Covay session for Mercy, Mercy up in New York. I said: ‘Really? That’s one of my favourite licks. Can you show me?’ So I took him into the studio, handed him a guitar and he turned it upside down. I said: ‘Damn, man, I can’t learn it that way!’ Jimi and I became very good friends.”

When it came to the guitar, they bonded over their shared intense love of the instrument and loved nothing more than geeking out together. Hendrix was yet to become the Jimi Hendrix who would conquer the world, and in his perspective, Cropper was a crucial part of his artistic development.

Hendrix’s former bassist Billy Cox spoke about Cropper’s influence in 2014 and recalled: “Jimi was in his infancy at that particular time, Steve and (his band) Booker T and the MGs were (producing many of) the R&B songs being played at that time, and we copied that before we came into our own persona.”

Cox’s message concurs with what Hendrix once said about Cropper. He revealed: “Steve Cropper turned me on millions of years ago and I turned him on millions of years ago too — but because of different songs. He turned me on to a lot of things.”

Their friendship helped both men evolve as artists, and they learned from each other’s remarkable skillset, which Hendrix was forever thankful about. In truth, if it wasn’t for Cropper, he may have never morphed into the mercurial talent who became the name most synonymous with the guitar.

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