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STEVE CROPPER (The Robin, Bilston)

23-08-2008

Steve Cropper

Dave Woodhall reports on the curious visit of soul legend Steve Cropper to the Black Country. Cropper appeared with British R n’ B veterans The Animals, but in this case, two into one didn’t go.

I should stick to writing about football. It’s easier that way – the teams that scores the most goals is the winner. No argument. Gigs, though, confuse me. I’ve enjoyed some that critics have hated and been to a few that had me mentally walking out halfway through when all around have been screaming their heads off.

Thursday at the Robin was, if I can slip into a sporting metaphor, a game of two halves. If you ignore the first band on, a blues-rock act I never did find the name of, first up were the latest Animals.

Featuring John Steel from the classic line-up, plus Micky Gallagher who joined in 1965, they ran through a reasonable set of their lesser-known numbers before the unmistakeable opening bars of Time Is Tight saw the arrival on stage of a bona-fide great. Steve ‘The Colonel’ Cropper receives an ovation that’s part welcome, part thanks for everything he’s given the audience over the past forty years and more.

We’re dancing, clapping along, cheering his every move. We’re loving it, he’s delighted at the response he’s getting.

Midnight Hour follows, and into Dock of the Bay. Here was a truly spine-tingling moment as one of the greatest songs ever recorded was played by the man who wrote it - and on the day Otis Redding was killed had to go into the studio to finish its recording.

What started as a singalong became a whistlealong. By now, we’re aware we’re witnessing something special. The band were as tight as could be, the sound came through crystal-clear and the audience were doing their bit to help things along.

Everyone’s loving it, whether they be on the stage or watching. There really wasn’t that much difference - they were all part of the show. If the evening had carried on like this we’d have witnessed one of the great nights in the Robin’s history.

Unfortunately, this was the highpoint. Animals bassist/singer Peter Barton took over for 634-5789 and a routine version of the Booker T tune Hip-Hug-Her followed. Cropper took a back seat while the band ran through a few more of their own songs, a cover of the Ray Charles classic Hallelujah I Love Her So showing how Barton’s voice can emulate Eric Burdon.

The Colonel returned to centre stage, but the spell had been broken. "Name that tune...I hope y'all can name this in two," was the intro to Soul Man, and as another classic Stax tune ended he was gone.

Steve had been on stage for 50 minutes, leading the band for maybe 35. They were, it has to be said, filled for the main part with some of the greatest music ever written and the audience loved them. But I for one had turned up expecting to see Steve Cropper as a headline act, not a guest.

The Animals performed a few more numbers, finishing with a storming We Gotta Get Out of this Place, and they too, were off.

Back they all came and kicked into Green Onions, rushed and lacking the dramatic Hammond overtones this tune can provide (listen to the version on Stax Live vol 3 for an example). Boom Boom is a great song, and the twin guitars of Cropper and John Williamson let rip nicely. It wasn’t what I expected to hear, though.

Can’t Turn You Loose was a bit of a shambles without a horn section while House of the Rising Sun finished the show. Again, it was well-performed, with the passion you’d expect and it went down well. But (all together now) it’s not a Steve Cropper song.

And so the evening ended. I’d heard some great songs. I’d seen a legend. The Robin is still the best venue I know of to watch a show like this. But whose show was it? If I hadn’t known, I’d have said it was the 2008 version of the Animals with special guest Steve Cropper. It should have been the other way round.

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