Booker T. Jones to Play at Laxson
By Phil Reser
Photos courtesy of www.bookert.com
Multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and music arranger Booker T. Jones began working for Stax Records in Memphis as a session player in 1960, when he was 16 years old.
Stax would place more than 167 hit songs in the Top 100 on the pop charts and an astounding 243 hits in the Top 100 R&B charts. Jones ended up playing on some of the label’s most important records, including “Born Under A Bad Sign,” “Hold On I’m Coming” and “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” and with acts like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Eddie Floyd. Jones played trombone on “Skinny Legs and All” by Joe Tex and baritone sax on “Cause I Love You” by Rufus and Carla Thomas. He also became one of the label’s most successful songwriters and was behind a lot of the horn and string arrangements.
It was at Stax that Jones joined with studio musicians, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Lewie Steinberg and drummer Al Jackson, to form the MGs, sometimes referred to as “the greatest backing band in the universe.”
“It all came about by accident, jamming in the studio, while we were waiting for Billy Lee Riley to show up for a recording session,” Jones says.
Booker T. and the MGs, with Donald Dunn replacing Steinberg, released “Green Onions,” which sold a million copies and climbed to number one on the R&B charts. “Having been sucked into that Memphis vortex of music,” he says, “we didn’t know that it was becoming important to others than ourselves. Then we started noticing ourselves in the charts and later we traveled to Europe and got a huge reception.”
“Green Onions” was followed by six other Top 40 hits over the next decade, including “Hip Hug-Her,” “Groovin’” and “Hang ‘Em High.” Besides his busy schedule with session work and the band, Booker committed himself to attending classes at Indiana University, which eventually earned him a Bachelor of Music Education degree.
“I had just graduated from high school and I didn’t know how to do a lot of things in music. I didn’t know how to conduct. I didn’t know how to orchestrate. I was not confident in the area of music theory, and it was so good for me to get that practice and that personal instruction from those instructors. And I think it made the music better.”
The band released a grand total of 23 singles and 11 albums between August 1962 and October 1971. “There haven’t been any hit instrumentals in the past few years that I know of,” says Jones. “It seems to be quite a feat to hold the attention of the mass listening audience with music only. Instrumental music hits were more prevalent around the time that we got started playing. There were big instrumental bands in the decade before us. So we had a better building block than there is now.”
By the early 1970s, the recording industry was changing and Jones headed to California, where he produced and arranged songs and records, including Willie Nelson’s “Stardust,” Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Rita Coolidge’s version of “Higher and Higher.” He also released five solo albums over the next two decades.
After reuniting in the mid-1980s for Atlantic Records’ 25th anniversary concert, the MGs were the house band for the famous tribute concert for Bob Dylan in 1991 at Madison Square Garden featuring George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Sinead O’Connor.
In 1992, Booker T. and the MGs were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. “I was amazed,” Jones recalls. “It meant that they felt that we were part of the first important elements of the rock ‘n’ roll movement. I think we helped achieve acceptance of racially integrated rock, when black and white people could come to our concerts and see a mixed group playing together.”
Jones released an album backed by the hip-hop band the Roots in 2011, which won the Best Pop Instrumental Album at the 54th Grammy Awards to bring his total to four Grammys. The year 2013 brought about the birth of his 10th album, “Sound The Alarm,” on Stax Records after originally leaving the label more than 40 years previously in 1971.
His current touring show is called Booker T’s Stax Revue, a presentation of his hits with the MGs and many of the classics recorded on Stax Records by other legendary artists, while he also acts as master of ceremonies and shares personal anecdotes with the audience.
Booker T. Jones • Saturday, January 21
Laxson Auditorium, Chico State University