Friday, July 13, 2018

CONCERT REVIEW: The Dave Mason and Steve Cropper Rock and Soul Revue

The very best music has always been a melting pot of styles … and guitarists Dave Mason and Steve Cropper have stirred more than a few pots of their own over the years.

Mason, of course, was a driving force in the band Traffic, before forging his own way as a solo artist … his tunes “Feelin’ All-Right” and “We Just Disagree” are part of our universal musical dna … and Steve Cropper was the young white guitarist who helped define Memphis Soul back in the ‘60’s with all his session work with Booker T. and the MG’s as well as virtually every hit to come out of the Stax / Atlantic catalog during that era. (Cropper was forever immortalized in song by just three little words when Sam Moore of Sam and Dave called out “Play it, Steve” on their monster hit “Soul Man” … so much so that when John Belushi echoed that same instruction over a decade later with The Blues Brothers’ remake, it had literally already become an accepted part of the lyric.)

Mason and Cropper have teamed up for a new tour, showcasing their talent in a tour de force concert setting that allows both musicians to shine while still complimenting each other’s style.  I was fortunate enough to catch their show when it made its stop at The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL, Wednesday night.  (July 11th)

After Traffic, Dave Mason did his share of studio work, too, playing with the likes of George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix (that’s Dave playing the acoustic guitar on “All Along The Watchtower’), Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Delaney and Bonnie, Leon Russell, Michael Jackson and more.

Steve Cropper (as either a member of Booker T. and the MG’s or as part of the “house band” at Stax Records, where he appeared on virtually every track the label recorded between 1961 and 1970!) has left his mark on more hit records of this era than we could possibly list in this short space … but among them you’d find “Green Onions,” “Dock Of The Bay” (which he cowrote with Otis Redding), “Soul Man,” “In The Midnight Hour,” “Knock On Wood” and countless others.

When it was first announced that these two legends were teaming up for a tour together, I expected it to be … if nothing else … interesting … but I was NOT prepared for just how incredibly tight and well-oiled this show was, with knock-out punch after knock-out punch served up throughout the evening’s performance.  (I have seen Dave Mason a couple of other times over the past few years and, while it has always been a good show, nothing has ever even come close to measuring up to Wednesday Night’s serving!)

A good percentage of the credit for this well-deserved kudo has to go to The Dave Mason Band who, for starters, is an incredibly talented bunch of musicians in their own right … Johnne Sambataro on guitar and vocals, Tony Patler on keyboards and vocals, drummer Alvino Bennett and female vocalist Gretchen Rhodes have the talent and the power within themselves to deliver a top notch, kick ass show of their own … and that’s exactly what they did Wednesday Night, acting as their own opening act in an effort to warm up the crowd.

And warm us up they did … or, perhaps more accurately, they completely blew us away, playing top notch versions of “Crossroads,” “Will It Go Round In Circles,” Firefall’s “Strange Way” (Sambataro took over lead vocal duties for Firefall for several years in the early ‘80’s), Stevie Nicks’ and Don Henley’s “Leather And Lace” duet along with songs by Bonnie Raitt and a few other gems to prime us for the main event.

After a brief intermission, the headliners took the stage together, performing several key hits from Steve Cropper’s days in Memphis (including “In The Midnight Hour,” two Booker T. and the MG’s tracks, “Green Onions” and “Hip-Hug-Her,” “Knock On Wood,” “Dock Of The Bay,” “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,” “Try A Little Tenderness” and a few others.)  With this much talent on stage, trading off the vocals was the easy part … and everybody got a turn at singing these classic ‘60’s soul hits.

Dave Mason explained that while growing up in England, he listened to all of the music coming out of America, as it was this country who led the Rock And Roll and Rhythm And Blues Revolution … and every young guitarist across the pond aspired to be able to one day join his own rock and roll band.  He has always considered Steve Cropper to be one of the best.

In this regard, Mason did pretty well for himself, joining Steve Winwood in Traffic during their early years (and then returning for a short spell later on.)  As a salute to the Traffic years, they did a brief version of “Rock And Roll Stew” and then a slowed down, guitar-heavy blues jam to “Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys.”  “Dear Mr. Fantasy” was also performed.  As perhaps an additional nod to Winwood, Gretchen Rhodes and Johnne Sambataro performed a beautiful duet on one of my all time favorites, “Can’t Find My Way Home,” a song Winwood recorded while he was with Blind Faith.

One of the highlights of the night for me (and there were several) was when Mason performed his Top 20 solo hit “We Just Disagree” … again, thanks to this impeccable backing, it actually sounded better than the record and at one point brought a few tears to my eyes.  (Yes, it was THAT good.)

Another highlight was the performance of Mason’s “Feelin’ All-Right,” a song he told us had been recorded by over fifty artists, including the best known, definitive version, done by Joe Cocker.  The crowd was up on their feet the whole time he performed it … and on the big screen back-up, it flashed photos of many of these artists who took their crack at this all-time classic … everyone from Three Dog Night to The Jackson Five! … from Gladys Knight and the Pips to Grand Funk Railroad! … to Lou Rawls to Lulu to Isaac Hayes to The Fifth Dimension … now that’s some pretty broad appeal if you ask me!  

Closing out the night we were treated to “Only You Know And I Know,” another Dave Mason song covered most successfully by Delaney and Bonnie and the Bob Dylan classic “All Along The Watchtower,” famously covered by Jimi Hendrix (on whose version Dave Mason played acoustic guitar.)

The encore was quite an unexpected surprise when Mason announced that he was going to take us back to 1954 … and then played a version of “Shake, Rattle And Roll” that had folks up dancing in the aisles.  This was followed by the grand finale, “Soul Man.”

Steve Cropper peppered his performances with a “quick story” before nearly every track … and, after taking their final bows, Dave Mason announced to the audience that they would be out in the lobby signing items at the merchandise table … but then warned, “Just don’t get Cropper going with his ‘quick stories’ or we’ll be here till 4 am!”

This was a GREAT night of music, start to finish … and one of the best shows I’ve seen so far in 2018.

Tour dates for the aptly-named Dave Mason and Steve Cropper Rock and Soul Revue extend thru October … so you’ve still got plenty of opportunities to check it out for yourself … and let me tell you, this is one you’ll want to see if it comes to your area.

photos courtesy of Luciano Bilotti, 
house photographer for The Arcada Theatre