By Andy J. Gordon
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame members Dave Mason and Steve Cropper – two prolific songwriters and brilliant guitarists – brought their Rock & Soul Revue show to The Rose in Pasadena, California, on September 28, 2018. The two legends were joined at The Rose by Mason’s band, and together they blew away an appreciative crowd. The band played a greatest hits show that spanned some of the most famous work from both artists.
Before Mason and Cropper hit the stage, Idle Hands played an impressive, but brief set of blues-rock. Dave Mason’s band hit the stage shortly thereafter with drummer Alvino Bennett, guitarist Johnne Sambataro and keyboardist Tony Parker warming up the crowd. Vocalist Gretchen Rhodes joined the trio and belted out a sweet cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “Gypsy in Me.” Johnne Sambataro and Rhodes performed an impressive duet on “Leather and Lace,” a cover of the Stevie Nicks/Don Henley classic.
Dave Mason entered the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the band Traffic and has also had a successful solo career. Cropper is best known for his time with Booker T & the M.G.’s, as an integral part of their prolific session work at Stax Records, the famous recording studio in Memphis, and for his participation in The Blues Brothers Band.
After much anticipation, Dave Mason and Steve Cropper joined the party. The two legends enjoyed thunderous applause from the enthusiastic crowd, before getting to work. They opened with “In the Midnight Hour,” Wilson Pickett’s first No. 1 hit single, co-written by Cropper. They followed that with Mason’s “We Just Disagree.” Mason briefly left the stage as Cropper thrilled the audience with the instrumental classic “Green Onions,” one of the most popular rock-and-soul instrumental songs ever recorded, by Booker T. & the M.G.’s in 1962.
More classics from the Booker T. & the M.G.’s catalog followed, as the band played “Knock on Wood,” a 1966 hit song written by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper. Gretchen Rhodes handled vocals on the Sam & Dave classic “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby.” Mason came back out for a couple of Traffic hits. The band played a rearranged, more blues-influenced version of “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” with Mason and Cropper trading guitar solos. They followed that up with “Dear Mr. Fantasy” as Mason and Rhodes took turns on vocals.
Mason talked about some of his musical inspirations growing up – Cropper, B. B. King, Albert King and other blues, jazz and country artists. He said, “The British invasion and my music would never have happened if it weren’t for American guys like Steve, B. B. and the other legends. We just learned it all, put a spin on it and sold it back to you.”
The band launched into Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” written by Steve Winwood, Mason’s ex-Traffic bandmate. Johnne Sambataro did an incredible job of recreating Winwood’s full-lyric tenor vocals on the tune. Mason took another short break as the band played Cropper’s “Try a Little Tenderness” and “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” made famous by co-writer and singer Otis Redding. Rhodes and Parker handled the vocals while Cropper added some soulful whistling to his magical guitar playing.
Mason returned and sang with Rhodes on “Only You Know and I Know,” a song he wrote that was made famous by Delaney & Bonnie in 1971. For the set closer, surprise guest John McFee from the Doobie Brothers joined the band to perform Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright.” The band only left the stage for a minute before coming back out to roaring applause.
Cropper threw the band a curveball when he told them he wanted to go back to the roots of rock and roll with “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” written in 1954 by Jesse Stone under his songwriting pseudonym Charles E. Calhoun. Bill Haley & His Comets, Elvis Presley, the Beatles and many others have recorded the song over the years.
At the end of that lively tune, Mason talked about his small role in the production of Electric Ladyland, the seminal and final album by Jimi Hendrix, recorded in 1968. Mason played rhythm guitar and provided backup vocals on that album, which included a cover of the Bob Dylan song, “All Along the Watchtower.” Mason and the band proceeded to perform a scorching version of that classic, as Mason and Rhodes took turns on the vocals while he and Cropper exchanged guitar solos.
For the grand finale, Mason said “Crop, play those famous notes!” as Steve Cropper launched into the universally familiar opening notes of “Soul Man.” The 1967 song was written and composed by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, but was initially successful as a No. 2 hit by soul duo Sam & Dave. Cropper performed it with The Blues Brothers as the “cold opener” of a 1978 episode of the NBC comedy/variety show “Saturday Night Live.” The version played by the Dave Mason & Steve Cropper Rock & Soul Revue band in Pasadena had many in the audience dancing exuberantly in the aisles as the amazing show finally came to an end.
The Dave Mason & Steve Cropper Rock & Soul Revue tour ends on October 8, 2018, in Nashville. Mason has shows scheduled through March 2019, while Steve Cropper has solo dates scheduled to begin in February 2019. These two septuagenarian musical legends are going strong, but we’d advise checking them out live every chance they come to play near you.