Dave Mason and Steve Cropper – Rock & Soul Revue 

It is surprising this tour didn’t occur years ago. Dave Mason and Steve Cropper are Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitar greats, with an astounding combined pedigree. They had met years ago, but before the show at San Diego’s Balboa Theatre Mason told me he and Cropper were chatting last year in Hawaii and decided a tour together made a lot of sense, so they gave it a go.

And it is a great result.

Mason is at the center of an eclectic Venn Diagram, he is a founding member of Traffic and a consummate road warrior who has performed with Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Fleetwood Mac, Delaney & Bonnie, Cass Elliot and Steve Winwood.

Steve Cropper is a founding member of Booker T. & the M.G.’s, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. As members of the house band at Stax Records during the sixties, Booker T. & the M.G.’s backed up and collaborated with such popular artists of the day as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Bill Withers, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor and Albert King. In all, the band would perform on hundreds of songs that decade, with Cropper producing several albums for the label. After his time with Booker T. and Stax, Steve would go on to be a founding member of the Blues Brothers band (as “The Colonel”) and be ranked in Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitarists list at #39. REM’s Peter Buck stated that Cropper was probably his favorite guitarist of all-time and Keith Richards separately commented, “Perfect, man.” Mojo magazine once proclaimed Steve as “the greatest living guitar player.”

The show in San Diego featured a tasteful opening set featuring Mason’s touring band: Alvino Bennett on drums, Tony Patler on keys and vocals, Johnne Sambataro on guitar and vocals and newest addition singer Gretchen Rhodes. Sambataro provided me an unexpected realization that I had seen him before; in 1977 he was touring as part of Chris Hillman’s band. At the gig in Ithaca, Hillman mentioned to me his back-up band had just signed a record deal and decided to call themselves Firefall. Indeed, in San Diego Sambataro sang “Strange Way,” one of Firefall’s several hits.

Dave Mason Band: clockwise from upper left – Alvino Bennett on drums, Dave Mason, newest addition singer Gretchen Rhodes, Johnne Sambataro on guitar and vocals and Tony Patler on keys and vocals (Photo by Michael Hannigl Photography)

When they took the stage, Mason and Cropper mostly traded songs. Mason took the liberty of reworking “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” a Traffic song originally recorded after he left the band. But he was on board when Traffic recorded “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” one of the evening’s highlights. Also assayed were Mason’s classics “Only You Know and I Know,” “We Just Disagree” and the oft-recorded “Feelin’ Alright.”

Dave Mason (photo by Lightby Dawn Studios)

Cropper provided some great between-song patter, describing first hand insights on songs he originally recorded and then performed: “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” “Green Onions,” “In the Midnight Hour,” “Knock on Wood.” He even discussed the odd spelling of “Hip Hug-Her.”

Steve Cropper (photo by Lightby Dawn Studios)

For an encore, the pair returned for the inevitable pairing of “All Along the Watchtower” and “Soul Man.” Mason described how he came to play acoustic guitar at Electric Lady Studios on the Hendrix re-working of the Dylan classic, and Cropper capped the evening with the Sam & Dave chestnut.

It remains gratifying to see legends like these still in fine form and delivering the goods.

 

 

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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