By James Calemine

Songwriter/guitarist Lowman Pauling fronted the North Carolina group the 5 Royales in the 50s. Steve Cropper always cited Pauling as a major influence. Steve Cropper’s legendary music career spans five decades. He’s collaborated with–to name only a few–The Mar-Keys, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett,  Sam & Dave, The Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Carla Thomas, Aretha Franklin, James Burton, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

Dedicated represents Cropper’s tribute to his hero Lowman Pauling and The 5 Royales.The core band on this recording includes Cropper, David Hood (bass), Spooner Oldham (piano), Steve Ferrone (drums), Steve Jordan (drums), Neal Sugarman (saxophone) and produced Jon Tiven (saxophone). The musical guest list on Dedicated is a formidable one that includes B.B. King, Lucinda Williams, Steve Winwood, Brian May, Bettye LaVette, John Popper, Shemekia Copeland, Dylan LeBlanc, Buddy Miller, Delbert McClinton, Keb Mo and Leroy Parnell.

Almost all of these 15 songs were written by Pauling. The tracks were recorded by Dan Penn at Better Songs & Gardens Studio. Jon Tiven wrote the liner notes to this collection. In an interview, Mr. Cropper told this writer how Lowman Pauling influenced him: “The guy that really influenced me—a guy that played guitar for The 5 Royales—was Lowman Pauling. Duck (Dunn) and I got an opportunity to go to a show they played. We were underage, but we figured out how to get in there. And we got to see Lowman and the 5 Royales and man that changed my whole life.

“That was it for the rest of my life. He had this long strap hanging down to his knees—much like when Chuck Berry lets his strap off and plays down by his knees and dances across the stage. Lowman was doing it, but he had this long strap. And I thought man that was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I could not wait to get home and put two belts together and made me a long strap (collective laughter). I played that way forever. There’s a picture of me playing after we had “Last Night” in 1961 at the Royal Peacock Lounge in Atlanta with my guitar between my legs. That’s my logo for the Play It Steve Record (laughs). That was the summer of 61, so I was still 19.”

Cropper plays guitar on every song. Steve Winwood sings lead vocal on the swinging “Thirty Second Lover”. Back-up vocals, horns and Cropper’s choice guitar licks set the style & tone on this first song for the entire album. Bettye LaVette contributes a sultry vocal on “Don’t Be Ashamed”. On “Baby Don’t Do It”, B.B. King trades licks with Cropper and shares vocals with Shemekia Copeland. This one sounds smooth as molasses…

Lucinda Williams and Dan Penn shine like diamonds on “Dedicated To The One I Love”. What a duo. Delbert McClinton sings lead vocal on Charlie Singleton’s “Right Around The Corner” complete with this band’s wall of sound. Cropper’s instrumental of Pauling’s “Help Me Somebody” counts as a timeless number that pays for the price of this disc.

Brian May’s clean and slicing guitar sounds fit in well with Cropper’s style on “I Do”. Sharon Jones sings “Messin Up” like it may be the last time she ever performs. LaVette renders another tune, “Say It”, that really captures her musical spirit. “The Summer The Slum” showcase fine back-up vocals, amazing guitar work and Buddy Miller’s sly vocal delivery.

“Someone Made You For Me” contends as one of this album’s most distinctive tracks. Dan Penn’s voice sounds emotive, and timeless as ever. Another instrumental, “Think”, opens the portal to another sonic landscape. Lucinda Williams sings the closing song, a Carl Lebow & Otto Jeffries composition “When I Get Like This”, with a knock-down-drag-out honesty.

Steve Cropper’s Dedicated: A Salute To The 5 Royales takes you on a musical journey to old Memphis in search of an brilliant band.

Read my interview with Cropper in Insured Beyond The Grave…