The Oct. 27 edition of Greasy Tracks featured an interview with Booker T. Jones in a program spotlighting music from throughout his career.
Click here to listen to the archive of the show.
The legendary Jones — considered one of the architects of the “Memphis Sound” for his pioneering work as a founding member of Booker T. & the MG’s, through his solo recording career which includes a pair of Grammy Awards — will be appearing at Infinity Hall in Hartford on Nov. 18.
Traditionally known as a Hammond B-3 player, Jones was a child virtuoso, adept at ukulele, oboe, sax and trombone as well as bass guitar as a middle and high school student in Memphis while he often played organ in church.
Jones is invariably name-checked when Stax Records is mentioned. At 16, he did his first paid session on baritone saxophone at Satellite Records — the pre-curser to Stax – on the Carla and Rufus Thomas single, “Cause I Love You” which was a regional hit in 1960.
Willie Mitchell, a Memphis trumpet player, band leader and producer, hired Jones to initially play sax and then bass in his group which also included drummer Al Jackson, Jr. The group regularly played a number of Memphis clubs, but Jones freelanced, playing bass in trumpeter Gene “Bowlegs” Miller’s band and also forming his own group, the Booker T. Washington Combo — named after his high school — which featured alums David Porter and Maurice White who had actually first performed together as six year olds. Porter would later team up with Isaac Hayes to form one of Stax Records’ most potent writing teams while White went on to front Earth, Wind and Fire.
Unlike the music industry today where record labels do not have “house bands,” this was the norm, especially in the 1960s and 70s where groups like The Mar-Keys, Booker T. & the MG’s and the Bar-Kays did the bulk of the sessions at Stax. Other Memphis studios such as Royal had the Hi Rhythm Section; and American Sound Studios featured the Memphis Boys. Motown had a talented pool of players known as The Funk Brothers; The Wrecking Crew did thousands of sessions at studios around Los Angeles; The Swampers were renowned for their work in Alabama at FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and the 30 or so musicians connected to MFSB was closely associated with Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia.
Jones ended up being the link to ultimately bringing Jackson to Stax, a big move for the timekeeper as he was Mitchell’s go-to drummer for sessions Mitchell produced for Hi Records and was taking a risk going across town and potentially losing a steady paycheck.
After meeting guitarist Steve Cropper who was a member of the Mar-Keys along with bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, the MG’s would ultimately form in 1962 as Jones convinced Jackson to join him, Cropper and bassist Lewie Steinberg. In May 1962, they released a single with the track as the B-side to “Behave Yourself” on the Stax sister label Volt. By late summer, it was re-issued as a Stax single and by the end of September, it peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 while hitting No. 1 on the R&B charts. Of the 17 charting tracks the band would release, it was their biggest.
At this point, there was no looking back for the group which was proving invaluable at the young label. Dunn would replace Steinberg in 1965 after the band released its second album, Soul Limbo. The MGs were not only recording their own material, but involved in sessions for much of the label’s roster. Between the time of their debut, full-length album Green Onions in 1962 until Melting Pot in 1971 – by then Jones and Cropper called time on living and recording in Memphis, opting to move to California – the band released 11 albums and was often on the road as a touring act.
A veritable who’s who were backed by the MG’s who were part of some of the biggest hits recorded by artists at the label: Otis Redding, William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Arthur Conley, Johnnie Taylor, Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave to name just a few.
The MGs were inducted into the The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and in 2007, honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Jones focused more on production work, including producing and playing on Bill Withers’ debut record, Just As I Am, in 1971. He signed with Herb Albert’s A&M label where he would release his debut solo album, Evergreen, in 1974.
In all, Jones has released eight solo albums. In 2009, Potato Hole (ANTI-) with Drive-By Truckers and Neil Young backing him in the studio, won a Grammy for best pop instrumental album as would the follow-up in 2011, The Road from Memphis (ANTI-) with The Roots backing.
He is currently at work on a new studio album and is in the midst of writing his memoirs which he hopes to have published in late 2019.