Two Soul Men, Reunited For The First Time Steve Cropper shaped the Memphis soul sound as a guitarist and songwriter for Stax Records. Felix Cavaliere fronted the hit-making group The Rascals. They ran in the same music circles for decades, but only now have they made their first album together.
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Two Soul Men, Reunited For The First Time

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Two Soul Men, Reunited For The First Time

Two Soul Men, Reunited For The First Time

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This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, writing a sorry tale in the voice of a nine-year-old. First, guitarist and songwriter Steve Cropper co-founded Booker T. & The MGs, and helped shape the sound of Memphis in the 1960s. Staff musician at Stax Records, Mr. Cropper co-wrote "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay," "Knock On Wood," and many other hits. Singer and keyboard player Felix Cavaliere defined what came to be known as blue-eyed soul. He had the voice - he was the voice of the young Rascals on hits like, "Good Loving," "A Beautiful Morning," and "A Girl Like You." Though their music mined much of the same territory, they've never recorded together, until now. Craig Havighurst of member station WPLM reports.

CRAIG HAVIGHURST: Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere's first musical collaboration came at a distance in 1967. The Rascals had recorded a cover version of "In the Midnight Hour," one of Cropper's best-known compositions and a hit for Wilson Pickett. Cropper says he was able to repay the favor after he got hold of a test pressing of a new Rascals record.

Mr. STEVE CROPPER (Guitarist; Songwriter): And on there they had a little song called "Groovin'."

(Soundbite of song "Groovin'")

THE RASCALS: (Singing) Groovin' on a Sunday afternoon.

Mr. CROPPER: I played it over and over and over. I went down, and I played it for the guys. And we went in the studio - without permission, obviously - and cut an instrumental version of it. Their record comes out. It's a hit. It's a smash. And we put out this instrumental, and boom, ours went right up the charts.

(Soundbite of instrumental version of song "Groovin")

HAVIGHURST: Although they recorded for sister record companies and worked with many of the same people, Cropper and Cavaliere didn't actually make music together until just a few years ago. The unlikely matchmaker, Ringo Starr, who puts together touring bands of high-profile musicians to play hits from yesteryear. The songwriter and producer Jon Tiven, who'd hired both artists for separate sessions in the past, lobbied them to get together to work on something more consequential.

Mr. JON TIVEN (Producer; Songwriter): The idea was we've got to do stuff that doesn't sound like that we're just rehashing our past.

HAVIGHURST: Tiven says the artists, one from Memphis and one from Long Island, have vastly different personalities. But their shared musical foundations were more than enough to bridge the gap as they began jamming together. In their first meeting at Tiven's home studio, they finished two songs, including the album opener "One of those Days."

(Soundbite of song "One of those Days")

Mr. TIVEN: If I didn't know these guys, as well as I do, I would have been very intimidated because their accomplishments are just extraordinary. But they're just such easy guys that, you know, the three us together in a room, it's just like Joe Blow and the Schmoes, you know, just trying to write a great song. And we never left a session without coming up with something.

(Soundbite of song "One of those Days")

Mr. FELIX CAVALIERE (Singer; Keyboard Player): (Singing) Saturday morning, Without any warning, I looked over to find you, And you were gone. Long gone.

Mr. CAVALIERE: Remember Nashville is a writing town, so people get together and write all the time, spur of the moment.

HAVIGHURST: Felix Cavaliere says that culture drew both him and Cropper to Music City decades ago. Tiven says nearly all of the keyboard and guitar parts on the album were preserved from those initial writing sessions, capturing, he hopes, the moment of creative conception rather than a performance off a music stand. Cavaliere says they took those tracks to another studio where they were fleshed out with bass, drums, and backing vocals.

Mr. CAVALIERE: And then we realized, hey, this stuff's OK. You know, this stuff is pretty good, let's continue. And then it became an album. Prior to that, it was just songs.

(Soundbite of song "One of those Days")

Mr. CAVALIERE: (Singing) Oh, if ever, when I look, I see all the face. Even in the mirror, All over the place. Just when I think, That I forgot, All of you come right through the top.

HAVIGHURST: Neither artist had released new material under his own name for more than a decade. With years away from writing and recording original music, it wasn't a foregone conclusion that they'd be happy with the results. But Cropper says that they had nobody looking over their shoulder and nothing to lose.

Mr. CROPPER: We started with one, and it was fun. And we continued. And I think we kept saying - thinking, I don't know if we said it, we were thinking that if it doesn't become fun anymore, we'll just quit. But it never stopped being fun.

(Soundbite of song "If It Wasn't For Loving You")

Mr. CAVALIERE: (Singing) Yesterday, you left me standing in the rain. What had I done to make you leave without explaining? I didn't mean to hurt your feeling. And girl I think you know, That when I say I love you, It ain't just for show. If it wasn't for loving you, What would I do?

HAVIGHURST: There's a story in the album's liner notes about Otis Redding poking his head in on a Rascal session in the 1960s so he could convince himself that Cavaliere was in fact a white man. Today, Cropper says Cavaliere still has the voice of a teenage soul singer. All the same, Cavaliere discovered there were times when it was better not to sing.

Mr. CAVALIERE: You know, I mean, sometimes, you write good ones, and sometimes you don't write good ones.

HAVIGHURST: They'd planned an all-vocals album. But Cavaliere didn't like how a song called "Full Moon Tonight" was coming together.

Mr. CAVALIERE: I could not sing that song, and I literally hid. And Tiven went, oh, you know, I think it's a great song. I said, well, you know, you sing it. So, you know, it just shows you how things happen.

(Soundbite of instrumental song "Full Moon Tonight")

HAVIGHURST: In fact, four songs became instrumentals. That helped revived some of the organ and guitar-driven Booker T. & The MGs sound and let Cropper assert his own voice.

(Soundbite of instrumental song "Full Moon Tonight")

HAVIGHURST: All the music on "Nudge It Up A Notch" has one foot in the past and one in the digital now. Cropper and Cavaliere couldn't have recorded an album like this in their hit-making days, layering parts onto a tiny hard drive in different studios. Cavaliere says while he loves those new tools, he is a little bewildered putting a CD out in today's very different music environment.

Mr. CAVALIERE: I have no idea what to expect. I don't even know where it's going to be for sale, literally, because the places that I know of are all gone. So if we're going to be downloaded, so be it.

HAVIGHURST: The artists know it's impossible to recreate the personal, social and political chemistry that made their work of 40 years ago so potent, but it can't hurt that this new album features two artists who vividly remember a music business where work was play and colleagues were family. For NPR News, I'm Craig Havighurst in Nashville.

SIMON: And you can hear full songs from Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere from their new album at

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