Produced from 1955 to 1960, The Fender Harvard sits between the lower powered Champ and Princeton, and the higher powered Deluxe in the small to medium tweed pantheon. Two 6V6 valves deliver about 12W to a 10” Jensen speaker providing the Harvard more headroom than Fender’s smaller amps. The ideal studio tweed, it offers classic tweed tones and a sweet drive sound but is not so ferocious as the Deluxe when opened up.
Steve Cropper, one of the finest Fender Harvard players, wrote and contributed to some of the greatest r’n’b hits of the mid to late 60’s. Since then even the Soulman himself has lost count of how many songs he’s produced and featured in. Using a stripped back set-up, a tweed Harvard paired with an early telecaster, Cropper always worked with a simple, clean tone. Cropper's astute sensitivity to dynamics and choppy soulful licks were the trademark that set apart many of the early Memphis r'n'b records. His career started with Booker T and the MG’s, Stax Records in-house band, he had his first hit in 1962 with Green Onions, an instrumental that stormed both the r’n’b and pop charts.
The same year Georgia crooner, Otis Redding, was welcomed into the ranks at Stax Records. Otis’ astounding success was fuelled by his fiery stage performances, tender words and delicately nuanced vocals. By 1967 Otis and the Stax house band became an unstoppable force, widely regarded as the biggest influence on contemporary blues and steadily stealing popularity from the Motown scene hailing from Detroit, the Memphis-Stax sound was anticipated to reign over soul in 1968 with Otis and Cropper and the Stax family at its epicenter.
In December 1967, Otis was taking his new private jet on tour, flying from Cleveland, Ohio, to Madison for an evening performance. On board with Redding were members of his backing band, the Bar-Keys. Only a few miles from Madison Municipal Airport, the plane plummeted into Lake Monono into freezing waters and with colossal force, sparing just one lone survivor, Ben Cauley, Redding’s trumpet player.
Prior to his death, Otis had been working with Cropper on a new song. During one of their many writing sessions, they had managed to lay down vocals alongside the acoustic guitar and horn section but it was far from completion. One verse was whistled by Otis as he had yet to write the words. Following the crash Cropper over dubbed the guitar using his Telecaster through his tweed Harvard. Released posthumously, it’s an unforgettable and timeless song, and it rightfully cemented Redding as one of the greatest talents of a generation. Rolling Stone’s poignant obituary, published January 20th, 1968, ends bitter sweetly with “He was the Crown Prince of Soul, and now the Crown Prince is dead.”
Cropper continued to write and create many more wonderful songs, but this one encapsulates his rare talent for composing effortless soulful licks that sear to the forefront of the arrangement.