How Steve Cropper failed to stop Elvis Presley’s karate-chop disaster

Steve Cropper’s visit to Melissa’s Basement premieres on Tuesday 1/17 on VOLUME (Ch. 106)!

Caitlin Carter
January 13, 2017

Guitarist Steve Cropper has made his mark on some of rock’s greatest songs. The beginning of Sam and Dave’s Soul Man, the ornamental guitar fills in Otis Redding’s (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay and the powerful bent notes of Booker T.’s Green Onions all feature his handiwork.

As a session guitarist at Stax Records and a member of The Blues Brothers has collaborated with countless musical luminaries including Neil Young, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Jeff Beck and John Lennon. Naturally, the dream collaboration for the Memphis native was none other than The King, Elvis Presley.

Although that wish never came true, growing up that close to Graceland had its perks! During an interview with Melissa Etheridge for Melissa’s Basement, Cropper recalled a dramatic incident at Presley’s house. While it didn’t involve music, it was still as epic as The King’s too-racy-for-TV swinging hips.

As he tells it, some of Presley’s young bodyguards were dating girls at Cropper’s high school and he, being a friend of these girls, would be invited along on outings with Elvis and his crew.

“They’d get invited to go Elvis’ house, to Graceland, go to the movies, go to the roller rink,” he explained. “So we tagged along because we had a band, The Mar-Keys, which, you know, played all of the correct dance music, and they would bring our seniors to our dances on the weekends. And the next thing you know, we’d be out at Elvis’ house. So I did see him.”

Things got interesting one night when Presley, who famously practiced martial arts, decided to demonstrate some of his karate moves for a small audience.

“I was in the kitchen one night when Elvis was putting on a little show for the guys and breaking boards and all,” Cropper recalled. “And I’m an old farm boy from Missouri — what do I know — but I was in woodshop, and I know that a knot in a cross-grain board, you ain’t going to go through it. That’s like hitting solid marble.”

After the first failed attempt, Cropper tried to step in: “So, I’m waving him off. And he just went at it a little harder. And I said, ‘Don’t hit it again,’ and he hit it again and broke his hand in three places. I was right. Wish I hadn’t have been right.”

Cropper shares the full story and performs a few snippets of Otis Redding’s These Arms of Mine, In The Midnight Hour, Knock on Wood and I’ve Got Dreams to Remember as well as Rufus Thomas’ Walking the Dog alongside Etheridge in his episode of Melissa’s Basement.

Melissa’s Basement with Steve Cropper debuts Tuesday 1/17 at 7 pm ET on VOLUME (Ch. 106).

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