Unsung heroes abound in the world of music. You might consider Steve Cropper one of the unsung. Yes, he’s gained a hard fought reputation amongst the musically astute but how many folks know that he was instrumental in creating Otis Redding’s posthumous hit “Dock of the Bay?” If it weren’t for Cropper that recording might never have seen the light of day. He’s a superb guitarist who was one of the founding members of Stax Record’s house band, otherwise known as Booker T. and the M.G.s? He co-wrote “In the Midnight Hour” and “Knock on Wood.” A short list of artists he’s played with or produced includes John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, John Prine, and Jose Feliciano.
So now that I’ve established who Cropper is, it’s time to focus on his unsung heroes The 5 Royales who are the dedicatees of this album. During the 1950s and ‘60s gospel music was colliding with secular music to create new sounds like doo-wop, rhythm & blues, and soul. Eventually rock would form from this molten combination. The 5 Royales, a quintet from North Carolina, were instrumental in that potent blend of sounds. The band opened show for Ray Charles and Sam Cooke and scored hits with “Dedicated to the One I Love" "Baby Don't Do It" and "Help Me Somebody.” The band broke up in 1965 but not before an under-age Cropper snuck into a show and was mesmerized by the band, especially guitarist Lowman “Pete” Pauling, who used a long guitar strap and played with the instrument at knee level.
Cropper, who has cited The 5 Royales as one of his biggest musical influence, has pulled a seasoned group of performers together to record 15 of the band’s tracks. Steve Winwood kicks of the disc with a classic R&B take on “Thirty Second Lover” which features Cropper chirping guitar solos. Bettye Lavette, someone who knows a lot about struggles with obscurity, chips in on a couple of tracks, “Don’t Be Ashamed” and “Say It.” Another soul survivor, Sharon Jones, takes on “Messin’ Up, and duets with young Dylan Leblanc on “Come On & Save Me.” Lucinda Williams teams up with Southern soul legend Dan Penn on “Dedicated To the One I Love.” She also wraps up the record with her sultry take on “When I Get Like This.” Shemekia Copeland duets with B.B. King on “Baby Don’t Do It” and both are in superb voice.
As for the gentlemen, Dan Penn comes back for the romantic ballad “Someone Made You For Me.” John Popper of Blues Traveler offers a spunky take on “My Sugar Sugar,” and Delbert McClinton kicks in “Right Around the Corner.” Brian May, the legendary guitarist of Queen, plays on “I Do,” and Buddy Miller offers comic relief on “the Slummer the Slum.” Not to be overlooked, Cropper throws in a couple of instrumentals in honor of his hero Lowman Pauly.
The 5 Royales were nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and 2004 but didn’t make the final cut. They are eligible again in 2012 so perhaps the timing of this release will help them with their profile.