Tag Archives: Roger Kaufman

Roger Kaufman’s Stax Of Smithsonian Wax

Race relations — the gulf between black and white — have been a defining feature of American history ever since our founding. Today, much of our politics is viewed through a racial lens.

The arts have sometimes imitated our troubled legacy. Sometimes they’ve countered it.

More than 50 years ago, for example, Steve Cropper was part of a vibrant Memphis music scene. As a white guitarist with Booker T. & the MGs — Stax Records’ house band — he backed black artists like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett and Carla Thomas. Cropper also produced many of their records.

Roger Kaufman is a longtime Westport musician. He’s old school — Old School Music is also the name of his music events production company —  and he’s long been fascinated by that era when black and white artists played together, at a time and in a city convulsed by civil rights conflicts.

Steve Cropper (left) and Roger Kaufman.

Steve Cropper (left) and Roger Kaufman.

Kaufman knows Cropper — a Blues Brothers founder, ranked 39th on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists ever. He also knows John Hasse, curator of American music at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Kaufman convinced Cropper that Americans need to know the story of Stax, and that important era in our musical history. He urged his friend to donate the Fender Telecaster guitar he played on “Dock of the Bay.”

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 now in the Smithsonian — thanks to Roger Kaufman.

Today (Thursday, December 1) there’s a special ceremony at the Smithsonian. Using their original instruments, Cropper’s band will play “Green Onions,” “Midnight Hour,” “Soul Man” — and “Dock of the Bay,” which he co-wrote with Redding.

Tomorrow Cropper’s guitar goes on exhibit, in the museum’s American Jazz and Blues section.  On February 1 it moves to the highly trafficked American Stories area, adjacent to Judy Garland’s ruby red slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.”

Kaufman will be there today. So will Booker T. Jones, Sam Moore, Eddie Floyd, and members of the Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas and Isaac Hayes families.

Roger Kaufman won’t perform. But he’s played a crucial role in bringing this great story of black and white music to the broad museum-going public.

“After 50 years of striving for peace, equality, human and civil rights, let’s keep the faith and enjoy the music,” he says.

Amen.

 

It Really Is The “Class” Of ’66

Staples High School’s Class of 1966 has always been special.

Growing up in postwar Westport, then coming of age in high school as a turbulent decade picked up steam, they were an active, accomplished bunch.

The Class of ’66 included 14 National Merit semifinalists, 29 All-State musicians and 5 All-State actors. The Orphenians traveled to the Virgin Islands; student government brought the Beau Brummels and Animals to Staples, and as a gift to the school — a tradition that unfortunately has disappeared — the class donated a handsome sign for the entrance on North Avenue.

John Lupton (left), Class of 1966 president, shakes hands with '67 president Dick Sandhaus at the sign's dedication ceremony. Principal Jim Calkins looks on.

John Lupton (left), Class of 1966 president, shakes hands with ’67 president Dick Sandhaus at the sign’s dedication ceremony. Principal Jim Calkins looks on.

But in the 50 years since graduation, the Class of ’66 has really stepped up its game. A few years ago they paid to refurbish the exterior of the Lou Nistico Fieldhouse at Staples, and added lighting to the current North Avenue entry sign. They’ve also organized their own special scholarship fund through Staples Tuition Grants.

Over the years I’ve become friends with many of the members, who I knew only by name and legend as a kid growing up in town. They’ve accomplished amazing things — in music, the arts, journalism, religion, education, even modeling and wine importing — but for half a century they have remained tight and loving. (Very, very fun-loving too).

A number of them remain — or became — reconnected to their hometown through “06880.” I’ve been honored to be a guest at their 2 most recent reunions.

This year’s 50th was fantastic. It began Friday night at the VFW (with kick-ass music from, among others, Rob Carlson, Jon Gailmor and Roger Kaufman). It continued with a lobster dinner last night at the Westport Woman’s Club (and a moving memorial to the 65 classmates who have died). It ended this afternoon at the beach.

Jon Gailmor, Steve Emmett and Rob Carlson reprised the famed Triumvirate group at the VFW. Gailmor replaced the late Chris Avery.

Jon Gailmor, Steve Emmett and Rob Carlson reprised the famed Triumvirate group at the VFW. Gailmor replaced the late Chris Avery.

There were many highlights for me, as I mingled with so many heroes and heroines from my youth. But the coolest came as I was leaving.

Each class member received a goody bag. In every one was a stone — collected, over a long time, from Compo Beach. They were stamped “Staples High 50th reunion, Class of 1966.”

Class of 66

And wrapped around them were these words:

Each stone carries memories created by the gentle and loving spirit of Compo Beach — our playground, our retreat, the safe haven of our youth. Compo loves us unconditionally. It is the beautiful link that will — like each stone and echoes of friendships — last forever.

While they were growing up, the members of the Class of 1966 — like most teenagers — probably did not realize the gifts they were gaining from their school, and town. I did not realize it several years later, and kids today don’t either.

The passage of time does something powerful and good. But it takes a special group of people to actually stop, think about and honor that time.

Well done, Class of ’66. Very, very classy indeed.

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.”