With the M.G.'s, he had hits in the 1960s with instrumentals including the timeless "Green Onions," "Hang 'Em High" and "Time Is Tight." The band also backed an amazing collection of artists on the legendary Stax Records, such as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Albert King.
Jones also co-wrote notable songs for other artists including "Born Under a Bad Sign," "I Love You More Than Words Can Say" and "I've Never Found a Girl (to Love Me Like You Do)." Moreover, he produced records by Willie Nelson, Bill Withers and Rita Coolidge, and he played with musicians including Stephen Stills and Bob Dylan. Booker T. & the M.G.'s were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and Jones received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 2007.
This Friday night at the Granada Theatre, Jones will be joined by The Bar-Kays and singers William Bell, Jean Knight and Eddie Floyd for an event billed as the Memphis Music Fest. It's time to get your groove on! Tickets and more information are available by clicking here.
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Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming concert in Santa Barbara?
Booker T. Jones: I'm doing the concert with the bandleader who is someone who I was practically a baby with, James Alexander. He was a member of the original Bar-Kays, who were sort of our proteges at Stax in Memphis. We've worked together maybe over a 50-year period, since the early '60s.
What I really like to do is to do a gamut of music from the beginning to the current. I have a new album out that's called Sound the Alarm, and I want to do a couple of songs from that. Plus, I love the original standards that I did with the M.G.'s — "Green Onions," "Time Is Tight," those kinds of things.
JM: When you look back on the many recordings that you played on for Stax Records, are there a few that stand out to you?
BTJ: Yeah, there are many that stand out to me. There were dynamic experiences, for lack of a more descriptive word, with Otis Redding recording "Try a Little Tenderness," "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay." A super dynamic moment with Albert King recording "Born Under a Bad Sign." My initial Stax experience with Rufus and Carla Thomas when I was playing baritone sax on their song "Cause I Love You." And the first time I played Hammond organ at Stax, with William Bell on his song "You Don't Miss Your Water." Those were special moments for me.
JM: How did the song "Green Onions" come together?
BTJ: That was a song that I had played on piano. But you know, as a young boy taking piano lessons I became enamored and enthralled with the Hammond B3 organ, which was sitting in my teacher's dining room. I was able to get some lessons, but I never dreamt I would get to play it at a recording studio. But I took lessons anyway, and got a paper route to pay for the lessons. Of course, there was a pipe organ at the church. But I became an organ fan when I heard Ray Charles playing "One Mint Julep" on the radio. I heard that sound, and I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if I could do that with my life, ff I could make a sound like that?"
So it just turned out that there was a Hammond M3 organ in the studio on one particular Sunday afternoon when we had some free studio time. Of course, we were the session band, the backing musicians. And we played a blues on that little instrument, the Hammond organ, and needed a B-side for the blues. And the B-side ended up being "Green Onions." It just turned out that way.
JM: You mentioned Otis Redding. Could you tell me a little bit about performing with him at the Monterey Pop Festival?
BTJ: The Monterey Pop Festival — that was a culmination for us of a tour that we had done in Europe. We had done a number of successful dates, and had surprised ourselves and surprised our audience with the intensity. But it was also the beginning of Otis and us being accepted in America by a wider audience, that night in Monterey. A very special night, and an emotional moment.
JM: Can you reflect on the legacy of Stax Records?
BTJ: Stax had its place in society, like Motown had its place, I feel. It was an equal influence. The music was so important, I don't think you could even measure it. Songs like "I'll Take You There" from The Staples Singers, songs like Johnnie Taylor's "Who's Making Love," songs like my "Green Onions" and Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," the blues from Albert King.
Those became a soundtrack for a whole generation of people to live by for 10 years. Or, actually let me make that 15 years because it went on with The Soul Children, and it went on with Isaac Hayes. It was huge, and I think it was necessary for the society to grow and to have its definition.
Stax played a huge role, not only with the music but with the financial donations that it made to the communities all over America, in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Memphis, and cultural donations in terms of how people talk, and how people dressed. I just don't think it was measurable, to tell you the truth.
JM: You mentioned your new album, Sound the Alarm. Can you tell me a little more about that?
BTJ: Sound the Alarm is modern Booker T. If I had stayed at Stax, I think this is what I would've evolved into. I think we would've brought in people like Luke James, and Anthony Hamilton, and Estelle.
Ben Harper would definitely have been a signing if I had been running the label at the time. Well, I basically am [laughs]. Along with some old traditional music that I played. My son Ted is playing blues like I played when I was his age, at age 18 down on Beale Street in Memphis. And Gary Clark Jr. is someone I would've brought in, because he's just a great talent from Austin, Texas. So yeah, it's Stax rejuvenated. It's Stax the way I would have it.
JM: Any thoughts you'd like to share?
BTJ: When I get to speak to the public, the main thing I want to tell each individual and each person is thank you for paying attention to my music, and for being interested in Booker T. and what I have to play and what I have to say. Because I couldn't do this if people didn't pay any attention to it. So, it's basically thank you for all the 50 years that people have spent their money on my product, and just listened. So my message is, thank you.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.