He is a songwriter, guitarist and producer born Stephen Lee Cropper in Dora, Mississippi, on a farm. He moved to Memphis, Tennessee, with his family in 1950 and within a year was learning to play the guitar.
After getting his own guitar when he was 14 he began playing locally and before too long he and the guitarist Charlie Freedman had formed The Royal Spades which would later evolve into The Mar-Keys with the additional Wayne Jackson on trumpet and Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass and release the hit single “Last Night” in 1961.
Stax took notice of him and after Chips Moman left the company he became their A&R man working alongside Jim Stewart who was the president. This led him to becoming a co-founder of Booker T & The MGs who had many hits including “Green Onions” and “Time is Tight” and soon he became sought after to perform with many of the day’s artists including Otis Redding where his production and performance on some of his largest hits made him known throughout the music world on an international level and Lennon & McCartney both expressed an interest at collaborating with him. Sir Paul McCartney later stated that they based “Drive My Car” on the bass line of “Respect”.
His songwriting became widely known when his collaborative efforts began to hit the charts in songs such as “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” with Otis Redding which is estimated to be the sixth most often played song in history, “Knock on Wood” with Eddie Floyd, “In the Midnight Hour” with Wilson Pickett and “Soul Man” and on the back of the enormous success he was now seeing he released the album With a Little Help From My Friends.
In 1970 he left Stax and formed Trans-Maximus (TMI) with Ronnie Stoots and Jerry Williams and would produce and perform with such acclaimed acts as Jose Feliciano, Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band , Yvonne Elliman, Jeff Beck, Tower of Power. Still working with others in the industry he played on recordings with John Lennon and Ringo Starr and then he moved to Los Angeles where he, Booker T. Jones, “Duck”Dunn and Alan Jackson were going to put Booker T & The MGs back together, but the murder of Alan Jackson put a stop to this.
Still in the 1970s he and “Duck” Dunn joined the RCO All-Stars and then moved on to head The Blues Brothers Band, which resulted in two movies, many tours and album releases. The group disbanded but reunited in 1988 and they have both been with them ever since as well as appearing often together on many other recordings.
Never ceasing continuing to record and perform with other artists and as a solo musician, Mojo magazine in the UK named him the “greatest living guitar player” and “second greatest player of all time behind Jimi Hendrix” in 1996.
It is impossible to name all the albums that he has worked on but they include his own Dedicated, Playing My Thang, Night After Night and Play It! Steve as well as Ringo and Goodnight Vienna by Ringo Starr , Rock ‘n’ Roll by John Lennon , For My Love, Memphis Menu and Compartments by Jose Feliciano, Universal Language and Time is Tight by Booker T & The MGs, Blue Night by Percy Sledge, We Came to Play by Tower of Power, Jeff Beck Group and Beckology by Jeff Beck, Nothing Matters and What If It Did by John Cougar Mellencamp, Blue Brothers, Made in America and Briefcase Full of Blues by The Blues Brothers, Hot Water and Boats, Beaches Bars & Ballads by Jimmy Buffett , 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration by Bob Dylan , Gold by Etta James, The Preacher and the President by Joe Louis Walker, Foot Loose & Fancy Free by Rod Stewart, Fairwell Fairbanks by Randy Edelman, Southern Star by Alabama , Mercury Smashes…and Rockin’ Sessions by Jerry Lee Lewis and Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding and Love Songs by Otis Redding.
In 2005 he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 2010 the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Here he is on his guitar with Booker T & The MGS on their “Hip Hug Her”…