Rock & Roll legends Dave Mason and Steve Cropper’s “Rock & Soul Review” hit Portland, Oregon on Saturday, September 28, 2019 when they played at “Revolution Hall.” Steve Cropper was the lead guitarist of Stax Records house band “Booker T & the MG’s one of the first racially integrated rock band that backed legends like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, the Blues Brothers and many others. Steve is a bona fide musical genius that coauthored some of the biggest hits of the 1960s. You can read our interview with him from last March here.
Dave Mason was a founding member of the legendary British rock band “Traffic” and then had a successful solo career through the 1970s and beyond. Both Mason and Cropper have been inducted into the “Rock & Roll” Hall of Fame. They played and recorded with some of rock’s greatest stars including the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and dozens of others. Along the way Mason had top forty hits, three gold, and one platinum album and wrote over one-hundred songs, some of which were hits for other artists.
The show began promptly at 8:00 PM when a trio comprised of Johnne Sambataro on guitar and vocals, Tony Patler on keys and vocals along with Alvino Bennett on drums took the stage and opened with Robert Johnson’s 1936 recording of his blues classic “Crossroads” popularized by Eric Clapton and “Cream” in 1968. During Sambataro’s guitar shredding solo I realized that the band didn’t have a bass player, but instead relied on keyboards for the bass line, like the “Doors.” Sambataro explained that he first met and then toured with Dave Mason in 1978 when he was recording on Andy Gibbs Shadow Dancing album. Johnne is a multi-instrumentalist and was lead guitarist and singer for “Firefall” as well as the “Byrds,” Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton and Jimmy Page to name some.
Drummer Alvino Bennett also comes from an illustrious career dating back to the early 1970s when he was on the “Motown” label playing for Stevie Wonder and was a member of L.T.D., as well as touring with Robin Trower, Koko Taylor and Dave Mason along with dozens of others. Keyboardist Tony Patler was Chaka Khan’s music director, where Alvino was drummer at the time and they ended up touring together with Dave Mason in 2009. Patler demonstrated his keyboard skills with Billy Preston’s “Will it Go Round in Circles.” Next came “Strange Way To Say That You Love Me” by “Firefall” with Sambataro singing Ricky Roberts part. Gretchen Rhodes took the stage last and completed what would be the backup band for Dave Mason and Steve Cropper to “kick out their jams.” She sang three songs including Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” with a stellar voice reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt.
After a short break the band came back on stage with Dave Mason this time who told the crowd that it was nice to be in Portland and then began his 1977 radio hit “We Just Disagree” from his Mystic Traveler album. “Rock & Roll Stew” was a “Traffic” tune that Patler sang lead on while Dave throttled his guitar. Mason introduced Steve Cropper as he began singing “Midnight Hour,” which Cropper co-wrote with Wilson Pickett in 1965, “I’m gonna wait till the midnight hour, that’s when my love comes tumblin’ down.” until Cropper took over and demonstrated his guitar prowess. Another Picket hit that Cropper co-wrote was “Knock On Wood” which he explained was simply “Midnight Hour” played backwards, note for note with different lyrics which Gretchen Rhodes beautifully sang. Rhodes then broke into Sam & Daves “Something is Wrong With My Baby” in an enticing voice.
“Black Magic Woman” written by “Fleetwood Mac” founder Peter Green was an underground radio hit in 1968 and later became a top 40 hit for Santana. It was one of the early blues rock creations to come out of the then young English blues scene and gave ample opportunity to both Cropper and Mason to shred their guitars with stratospheric intensity in between Rhodes belting out the song “don’t turn your back on me baby!” “Mr. Fantasy was another killer “Traffic” song that had a stellar dual guitar solo with Mason singing lead. His voice held up well, considering he had to cancel the last two scheduled appearances in Portland due to illness.
“Can’t Find My Way Home” was also connected to “Traffic” since Steve Winwood wrote it when he joined the short-lived world’s first “Supergroup,” “Blind Faith.” It was another guitar raging jam until Cropper changed direction with Otis Redding’s amped up remake of a 1930’s hit “Try a Little Tenderness” with Gretchen spitting out the words “you gotta try a little tenderness, you got to , got, got, got.” “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” is one of the most famous Otis Redding songs that he and Steve Cropper wrote together one night in a motel room along with Donald Duck Dunn thumping out the baseline. “6345789” was one more Wilson Picket hit co-written by Cropper.
“Only You Know and I Know” was a Dave Mason song from 1970’s Alone Together and became his first single as a solo artist to chart on the radio. The set ended with “Traffic’s” “Feeling Alright” which is also the name of Dave’s solo tour and ended the set in a jam with dueling guitars and a bring down the house conclusion. There was a short interlude of clapping and shouting before the band came back and dove into a Hendrix version of Dylan’s John Wesley Harding song “All Along the Watchtower.” Needless to say both Cropper and Mason played to the max as they faced each other and let it rip as Rhodes intermittently alternated on vocals with Mason, “there must be some way out of here said the joker to the thief.” The final song of the night was Isaac Hayes’ 1967 composition “Soul Man” that Sam & Dave with Steve Cropper recorded and made a chart topping hit out of. Keyboardist Tony Patler sang it while Cropper played the familiar lead guitar riffs that concluded in an explosive drum solo.
Review by Bob Gersztyn