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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.”