“I’ve always been an on-the-one guy, and I knew I could count on Pops to be there every time”: Robert “Pops” Popwell’s basslines rivaled any of his session bass peers – and few are better than The Crusaders’ Sweet ’N’ Sour

Pops Robert Popwell playing the guitar, 1977.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

During his peak powers, from the late ’60s to the mid ’80s, the late Robert “Pops” Popwell rivaled the creative output of any session bass guitar peer, thanks to his soulful, Southern-rooted finger-funk feel and his uncanny command of slap bass in the early days of the technique – a period during which he also grew as a jazz musician with The Crusaders. 

The Houston-born Crusaders (originally The Jazz Crusaders) – keyboardist Joe Sample, saxophonist/bassist Wilton Felder, drummer Stix Hooper, and trombonist Wayne Henderson – were the pre-eminent pioneers of groove jazz, covering R&B and pop tunes upon their 1960 arrival in L.A. 

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Chris Jisi was Contributing Editor, Senior Contributing Editor, and Editor In Chief on Bass Player 1989-2018. He is the author of Brave New Bass, a compilation of interviews with bass players like Marcus Miller, Flea, Will Lee, Tony Levin, Jeff Berlin, Les Claypool and more, and The Fretless Bass, with insight from over 25 masters including Tony Levin, Marcus Miller, Gary Willis, Richard Bona, Jimmy Haslip, and Percy Jones.