Roger Kaufman: Memphis (Rhythm ‘n’) Blues Again

Roger Kaufman is old school.

While his peers listened to the Doors and Janis Joplin, the 1966 Staples High School graduate sang doo wop.

His band — Four on the Floor — moved on to jazz, R&B and folk tunes.

Roger Kaufman

Roger Kaufman

Music changed, but Kaufman didn’t. He formed a group called the Old School Revue. Decades later, they still play all around the area. (Old School Music is also the name of Kaufman’s music event production company.)

His old-school roots extend back to ragtime. Back in the day, Mel Kaufman — Roger’s grandfather — was one of America’s premier ragtime songwriters.

Through that ragtime connection, Roger met John Hasse. He’s curator of American music, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Hasse needed help filling a hole in the renowned museum’s collection. He asked Kaufman to find people who’d been involved in the 1960s Memphis rhythm ‘n’ blues scene.

Green OnionsThe Stax label — named for its founders, record store owners Jim STeward and Estelle AXton — was a creative, fertile and constantly evolving home for talented musicians. Black and white, they played together — at a time when the country was convulsed by civil rights conflicts, and integrated music sessions were almost unheard of.

Kaufman — who calls Hasse a “brilliant and wonderful ethnomusicologist” — was happy to help.

For the past 2 years, Kaufman traveled in search of Memphis musicians. He found one who now lives in Nashville. His name: Steve Cropper.

No history of Memphis R&B is complete without Steve Cropper. As guitarist for Booker T. & the MGs — Stax’s house band — he backed artists like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Carla Thomas. He also produced many of their records.

Later, he earned fame as a Blues Brothers founder. Rolling Stone ranked him 39th on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

Steve Cropper and Roger Kaufman

Steve Cropper and Roger Kaufman.

The Smithsonian needs artifacts — letters, photos, Grammy Awards — from the Stax days. Cropper has them.

Now — with Kaufman’s help — he’s donating them to the museum.

At his Nashville home, Cropper showed 3 guitars to Kaufman. One was used on Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” sessions. The others backed Rod Stewart and Tower of Power.

The guitar Steve Cropper played on "Dock of the Bay" is headed to the Smithsonian -- thanks to Roger Kaufman.

The guitar Steve Cropper played on “Dock of the Bay” is headed to the Smithsonian — thanks in part to Roger Kaufman.

Then he pulled out an amp. It was used to record “Green Onions” — the signature song Cropper, just 21 years old, wrote with Booker T.

As they chatted, Cropper talked about his career. He told Kaufman and Hasse how he’d written legendary songs like “Knock on Wood,” “Midnight Hour” and “Dock of the Bay.”

Cropper paved the way for more visits. Soon, Kaufman heads to Macon, Georgia to visit Otis Redding’s widow Zelma. He’ll also talk with Sam Moore, of Sam & Dave.

Kaufman has already met Vaneese Thomas, whose father Rufus wrote and sang “Walking the Dog.” The other day, they had lunch at Longshore.

Roger Kaufman, John Hasse and Steve Cropper form a formidable team. Together, they help — as Kaufman says, quoting Aretha Franklin — Memphis musicians finally get their Smithsonian “propers.”

5 responses to “Roger Kaufman: Memphis (Rhythm ‘n’) Blues Again

  1. Charlie Taylor

    Dan I know slew of these guys including Wayne Jackson, Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham … They could help Roger I’m sure. Charlie Ps also guys in Muscle Shoals where Spooner lives like Rick Hall at FAME

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. In May there is going to be a big Stax
    Records reunion event in Memphis.
    My friend and music associate is doing
    all of the sound for the parties.

  3. WE LOVE OUR ROGER!!!!! And that’s a stone cold fact!!!! ROCK ON ROCKIN ROGER!

  4. Sven Davidson

    The Rock & Soul Museum in Memphis (attached to the Gibson factory) is part of the Smithsonian network. A good place to start?

  5. Steve Emmett

    I’ve been so lucky to be a friend of Roger’s for more than 50 years. His contribution to a deeper appreciation of the history of R& B is a towering achievement!