Booker T. & the M.G.'s is an instrumental R&B/funk band that was influential in shaping the sound of Southern soul and Memphis soul. Original members of the group were Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass), and Al Jackson, Jr. (drums). In the 1960s, as members of the house band of Stax Records, they played on hundreds of recordings by artists such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla and Rufus Thomas and Johnnie Taylor. They also released instrumental records under their own name, such as the 1962 hit single "Green Onions". As originators of the unique Stax sound, the group was one of the most prolific, respected, and imitated of their era. By the mid-1960s, bands on both sides of the Atlantic were trying to sound like Booker T. & the M.G.'s.
In 1965, Steinberg was replaced by Donald "Duck" Dunn, who played with the group until his death in 2012. Al Jackson, Jr. was murdered in 1975, after which the trio of Dunn, Cropper and Jones reunited on numerous occasions using various drummers, including Willie Hall, Anton Fig, Steve Jordan and Steve Potts.
Having two white members (Cropper and Dunn), Booker T. & the M.G.'s was one of the first racially integrated rock groups, at a time when soul music, and the Memphis music scene in particular, were generally considered the preserve of black culture.
Early years: 1962–1964[edit source | edit]Edit
|"Green Onions", from the album Green OnionsMENU 0:00 The first track from the band's debut album. The tempo, tone and technique in Green Onions make it one of the most recognized soul instrumentals of all time.----|
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The band was formed as the house band of Stax Records, providing backing music for a variety of singers such as Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. In summer 1962, seventeen-year-old keyboardist Booker T. Jones, twenty-year-old guitarist Steve Cropper, bass player Lewie Steinberg, and Al Jackson Jr., a drummer making his debut with the company, were in the Memphis studio to back up former Sun Records star Billy Lee Riley. During downtime, the four started playing around with a bluesy little organ ditty reminiscent of Ray Charles. Jim Stewart, the president of Stax Records, liked what he heard and hit the “record” button. He liked the finished product enough to want to release it. Cropper remembered a riff that Jones had come up with weeks earlier and before long, they had a second song.
Stewart wanted to release the single with the first song, titled “Behave Yourself”, as the A-side and the second song as the B-side. Steve Cropper and radio disc jockeys thought otherwise; soon, Stax released Booker T. & the M.G.'s' “Green Onions” backed with “Behave Yourself”. In conversation with BBC Radio 2's Johnnie Walker, on his show broadcast on September 7, 2008, Cropper revealed that the record became an instant success when DJ Reuben Washington, at Memphis radio station WLOK, played it four times in succession, this even before the tune or the band had an agreed-upon name.
The single went to #1 on the US Billboard R&B chart and #3 on the pop chart. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. It is featured in countless movies/trailers including a pivotal scene in the motion picture American Graffiti.
Later in 1962, the band released an all-instrumental album entitled Green Onions. Aside from the title track, a 'sequel' ("Mo' Onions") and "Behave Yourself", the album consisted of instrumental covers of popular hits.
Instrumental singles and albums would continue to be issued by Booker T. & The M.G.'s throughout the 1960s. However, although a successful recording combo in their own right, the bulk of the work done by the musicians in the band during this era was as the core of the de facto house band at Stax Records. Members of Booker T. & The M.G.'s (often, but not always, performing as a unit) performed as the studio backing band for Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Albert King, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, The Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, Delaney & Bonnie and many others in the 1960s.
They played on and produced hundreds of records, including classics like “Walking the Dog”, “Hold On, I'm Comin'” (on which the multi-instrumentalist Jones played tuba over Donald “Duck” Dunn's bass line), “Soul Man”, “Who's Making Love”, “I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)”, and “Try a Little Tenderness”, among others. Like their Motown contemporaries the Funk Brothers in Detroit, as a backing band to numerous hits, they are thought to have defined soul music—especially southern soul—where “the groove” was most important.
Though it's often assumed that Booker T. Jones played on all the above session work, in the mid-1960s Jones was often studying music full-time at Indiana University. Stax writer/producer Isaac Hayes usually stepped in on the occasions when Jones was unavailable for session work, and on several sessions Jones and Hayes played together with one on organ, the other on piano. However, Hayes was never an official member of the M.G.'s, and Jones played on all the records credited to “Booker T. & The M.G.'s”—with one exception. That exception was the 1965 hit “Boot-Leg”, a studio jam recorded with Hayes on keyboards in Jones's place. According to Steve Cropper, the song was recorded with the intention of being released as by The Mar-Keys (another name used to release singles by the Stax house band.) However, as recordings credited to Booker T. & The M.G.'s were meeting with greater commercial success than those credited to The Mar-Keys, the decision was made to credit “Boot-Leg” to Booker T. & The M.G.'s, even though Booker T. himself does not appear on the recording.
Individual session credits notwithstanding, what's indisputable is that the Stax house band (Cropper, Jackson, Jones, and Steinberg, along with Cropper's Mar-Keys bandmate, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn; keyboardist Isaac Hayes; and various horn players, most frequently Floyd Newman, Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns) would set a standard for soul music. Whereas the sign outside Detroit's pop-oriented Motown Records aptly read “Hitsville U.S.A.”, the marquee outside of the converted movie theater where Stax was based proclaimed “Soulsville U.S.A.”.
Later success: 1965–1971[edit source | edit]EditMelting Pot album from 1971
Booker T. & The M.G.'s consistently issued singles from 1963 to 1965, but only a few made the charts, and none were as successful as “Green Onions”. Bassist Lewie Steinberg, who was from a family of musicians, recorded with the band through 1965, including their second album 1965's Soul Dressing. Where the Green Onions album was cover-filled, every song but one on Soul Dressingwas an original. Nevertheless, the chemistry — musically and personally — wasn't quite right. Steinberg stepped aside, and Donald “Duck” Dunn (who was already part of Stax's house band) became the group's full-time bassist.
After a period of commercial decline, Booker T. & The M.G.'s returned to the top 40 with the 1967 instrumental “Hip Hug-Her”. Surprisingly, “Hip Hug-Her” was the first single released with Jones on a Hammond B-3 organ, the instrument he is most known for playing (he played a Hammond M-3 on all of the earlier recordings, including "Green Onions"). They also had a substantial hit with their cover of The Rascals' “Groovin'”.
Also in 1967, they joined the now famed Stax European tour. Dubbed “Hit the Road, Stax!”, they performed and backed up the label's stars. In June of that year, they, along with Otis Redding, appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival, alongside performers like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane. They were also later invited to play Woodstock, but drummer Al Jackson, Jr. was worried about the helicopter needed to deliver them to the site, and so they decided not to play.
The Hip Hug-Her album was followed by Doin' Our Thing and Soul Limbo. The song “Soul Limbo”, featuring marimba by Terry Manning, was a big hit (later used by the BBC as their theme forcricket coverage on both TV and, latterly, radio's “Test Match Special”), as was their version of “Hang 'Em High”. In 1969, the band scored their second biggest hit with “Time is Tight”, from thesoundtrack to the movie “Up Tight!”, scored by Jones, which reached #6 on the Billboard pop charts.
In 1969, Duck Dunn and Booker T. Jones, in particular, had become enamored with The Beatles, especially their work on Abbey Road. The appreciation was mutual, as The Beatles had patterned a lot of what they did on the M.G.'s.John Lennon was a huge Stax fan who fondly called the group, “Book a Table and the Maitre D's”. Paul McCartney, like Dunn, played bass melodically, without straying from the rhythm or the groove. It was obvious through each of their playing that they admired one another. After being locked away in the Memphis studio, when the company embarked on the “Hit the Road, Stax!” tour of 1967, The Beatles sent limos to the airport and bent down to kiss Steve Cropper's ring. The M.G.'s had no idea, until then, of the impact they were having on the rest of the world. Lennon was quoted as saying he always wanted to write an instrumental for the M.G.'s.
In 1970, Lennon's wish was granted, in a manner of speaking, as Jones, Dunn, and Jackson recorded McLemore Avenue, named for the street where Stax was located. Jones later taught Cropper, who had not heard Abbey Road, what to play. They covered thirteen of Abbey Roads songs, condensing twelve of them into three medleys, and included a cover version of George Harrison's “Something”. The album's cover, is indeed an intentional pastiche of The BeatlesAbbey Road “street crossing” album cover.
During 1970 Booker T & The M.G.'s sat in with Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) for a jam, and were the warm up band for CCR's January 31 Oakland Colosseum gig that became The Concert album for CCR. It is often suggested that John Fogerty's interest in putting Hammond B3 on the album "Pendulum" was a direct nod to Booker T and the mutual admiration both bands had for each other.
They followed up in 1971 with what would be their last Stax single, “Melting Pot”, and their last Stax album, also called Melting Pot. “Melting Pot”'s repetitive groove-oriented drumming, loping bass line, and super-tight rhythm guitar made it an underground hit popular in New York City block parties. The song has often been sampled by rappers and techno DJs. The full-length album version of the track is over eight minutes long, and the second - album-only - part features some particularly powerful flourishes from Booker T's Hammond B3. The Melting Pot album is also home to the highly tuneful Native American-influenced track "Fuquawi", which was also released on single coupled with "Jamaica This Morning" (see below).
Before the Melting Pot album was recorded, Booker T. Jones had left Stax. In fact, part of the album was recorded in New York, not the Stax studio. Steve Cropper had also become unhappy with business affairs at Stax and soon left. Dunn and Jackson remained on and did session and production work. Jackson, who had been in Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell's band, played on and wrote many of Al Green's biggest hits.
Without Booker T., the group (billed simply as The MG's) released one final single in October 1971. Called "Jamaica This Morning", the single failed to chart, and the group name was retired for the time being.
1970s reunions[edit source | edit]Edit
In 1973, Dunn and Stax session guitarist Bobby Manuel recruited B-3 organ phenom Carson Whitsett to be part of a band that was to back up a promising new Stax artist named Stefan Anderson. Later, Al Jackson was brought in. The project, however, did not ultimately yield any results, but the rehearsals were promising, prompting Jackson and Dunn to reform The M.G.'s. This version of the band featured Whitsett in the place of Booker T, so was billed “The MG's” rather than “Booker T. & The M.G.'s”.
The 1973 album entitled The MG's, with Manuel and Whitsett replacing Cropper and Jones, was not commercially successful, though it was critically well received. Carson Whitsett would go on to back up Bobby “Blue” Bland, Little Milton, and Kathy Mattea, and have his songs recorded by the likes of Johnnie Taylor, Solomon Burke, B. B. King, Etta James, Conway Twitty, and Lorrie Morgan. Bobby Manuel would become a staple of the Memphis music scene playing with everybody from Al Green to Albert King and later founded HighStacks Records in a tribute to Stax and Hi Records.
After a promising meeting in late September 1975, Jones and Cropper (who were now living in Los Angeles) and Jackson and Dunn (still in Memphis), decided to give each other three months to finish up all of their projects. They would then devote three years to what would be renamed Booker T. Jones & the Memphis Group. Nine days later (October 1), Al Jackson, the man Cropper would remember as “the greatest drummer to ever walk the earth”, was murdered in his home.
The remaining three members eventually regrouped under the classic name Booker T. & The MGs. Bringing in drummer Willie Hall, a Stax session musician who played on many Stax hits (such as Isaac Hayes's “Theme from Shaft”) as an official member, the group recorded the album Universal Language for Asylum Records in 1977. The album didn't meet with either commercial or critical success, and the band once again dissolved.
Over the next decade, Cropper, Dunn and Jones remained very active, producing, writing, and playing with other artists. All three joined The Band's drummer Levon Helm as part of his RCO All-Stars. In 1977, Cropper and Dunn famously became part of The Blues Brothers Band, appearing on the number one album Briefcase Full of Blues. Cropper and Dunn, along with drummer Willie Hall, also appeared in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers starring Dan Aykroyd andJohn Belushi. Cropper, Dunn and Hall later reprised their roles in Blues Brothers 2000.
1980s to the present[edit source | edit]EditBooker T. & the M.G.'s live in Tunica, Mississippi, 2002
In 1980 the hit feature film The Blues Brothers featured Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn as part of the primary band which backed up the Blues Brothers.
In 1986, former co-owner of Atlantic Records Jerry Wexler asked the group to be the house band for Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary celebration. The night before the gig, Booker T. Jones came down with food poisoning, so Paul Shaffer stepped in at the last minute. However, the rehearsals (with Jones, Cropper, Dunn, and drummer Anton Fig of Shaffer's “World's Most Dangerous Band”, featured on Late Night with David Letterman) went so well that the group decided to play some dates together.
Over the next few years, they played together occasionally. In 1992, Bob Dylan asked them (with Jim Keltner on Drums) to again serve as house band, this time at the concert commemorating his thirty years in the music business. There they backed up, among others, Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison. While there, Neil Young asked the group to back him up on his world tour the following year.
In 1993, Booker T. & The M.G.'s toured with Neil Young, backing him on his own compositions.
In 1995, when the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame opened its museum in Cleveland, Ohio, the M.G.'s served as the house band for the opening ceremonies, playing behind Aretha Franklin, Sam Moore, John Fogerty, and Al Green, as well as performing themselves.
Jones, Dunn, and Al Jackson Jr.'s cousin, drummer Steve Potts, backed Neil Young on his 2002 album Are You Passionate?. Cropper, along with Isaac Hayes and Sam Moore, welcomed Stax president Jim Stewart into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Cropper and Hayes were later inducted in The Songwriters Hall of Fame. Booker T. & The M.G.'s, usually with Steve Potts on drums, still play select dates. They have been called the most influential stylists in modern American music. In early 2008 they toured with Australian singer Guy Sebastian in Australia on a sold-out tour.
In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the group #93 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and in 2007, the group received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Also in 2004, Eric Clapton featured Booker T., Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn as his house band for the first "Crossroads Guitar Festival". The event was held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and featured many of the legends of various musical genres who play guitar as their primary instrument. Booker T. and the MGs was the back up band for several great acts which Clapton presented "live" for that two-day festival and subsequently on the 2 disc DVD version of the show.
On April 21, 2009, Booker T. released Potato Hole, a new album in collaboration with the band Drive-By Truckers and featuring Neil Young on guitar. And in May 2011, Jones released "The Road from Memphis", which won a Grammy Award.
On May 13, 2012, Donald "Duck" Dunn passed away following two concerts in Tokyo, Japan.
Band name[edit source | edit]Edit
Musician and record producer Chips Moman, active in Stax Records when the band was formed, for many years claimed that the band was named after his MG sports car, and only after he left the label did Stax's publicity department declare that “M.G.” stood for “Memphis Group”. To lend some credibility to this story, Moman had played with Jones in an earlier Stax backing group called the Triumphs, which was also named after his car.
Jones, in an interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, confirmed Moman's account of the group name's origins in 2007. Jones has re-confirmed this story on several occasions since, most recently on a May 9, 2012 appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.
Stax historian Rob Bowman has averred that the reason the label obscured the story of the meaning of name “The M.G.'s” (and concocted the “Memphis Group” explanation) was to avoid any possible claims of trademark infringement from the manufacturers of the car.
Members[edit source | edit]Edit
- Current members
- Booker T. Jones - organ, piano, keyboards, bass, guitars (1962–1971, 1975–1977, 1994–present)
- Steve Cropper - guitars (1962-1971, 1975-1977, 1994–present)
- Steve Potts - drums (2002–present)
- Former members
- Al Jackson, Jr. - drums (1962-1971, 1973-1975; died 1975)
- Lewie Steinberg - bass (1962-1965)
- Donald "Duck" Dunn - bass (1965-1971, 1973-1977, 1994-2012; died 2012)
- Bobby Manuel - guitars (1973-1975)
- Carson Whitsett - organ, piano (1973-1975; died 2007)
- Willie Hall - drums (1975-1977)
- Anton Fig - drums (1994-2002; substitute - 2002-present)
- Steve Jordan - drums (1994-2002)
- Additional personnel
- Jim Keltner - drums (1992; Bob Dylan show)
Discography[edit source | edit]Edit
- 1962: Green Onions US #33
- 1965: Soul Dressing
- 1966: And Now!
- 1966: In the Christmas Spirit US #13
- 1967: Hip Hug-Her US #35
- 1967: Back To Back (live album) US #98
- 1968: Doin' Our Thing US #176
- 1968: Soul Limbo US #127
- 1969: Up Tight (soundtrack) US #98
- 1969: The Booker T Set US #53
- 1970: McLemore Avenue US #107
- 1971: Melting Pot US #43
- 1973: The MG's (released by The MG's)
- 1977: Universal Language
- 1994: That's the Way It Should Be
- 2012: Green Onions (Stax Remasters, 50th Anniversary Edition)
|US release date||A-side||B-side||Label||Chart positions|
|US Hot 100||US R&B||UK||Notes|
|08/1962||Green Onions||Behave Yourself||Volt V-102||#3||#1||Also issued as Stax S-127.|
|01/1963||Jellybread||Aw' Mercy||Stax S-131||#82|
|02/1963||Home Grown||Burnt Biscuits||Stax S-134||Also issued with "Big Train" as B-side.|
|06/1963||Chinese Checkers||Plum Nellie||Stax S-137||#78|
|12/1963||Mo' Onions||Fannie Mae||Stax S-142||#97||Same catalog number used for "Tic-Tac-Toe", below.|
|01/1964||Tic-Tac-Toe||Mo' Onions||Stax S-142||#109||#46|
|07/1964||Soul Dressing||MG Party||Stax S-153||#95|
|11/1964||Can't Be Still||Terrible Thing||Stax S-161|
|11/1965||Be My Lady||Red Beans and Rice||Stax S-182|
|07/1966||My Sweet Potato||Stax S-196||#85||#18|
|12/1966||Jingle Bells||Winter Wonderland||Stax S-203||“Jingle Bells” peaked at #20 on Billboard's list of Christmas-related singles in 1966. It did not make the standard pop charts.|
|02/1967||Hip Hug-Her||Summertime||Stax S-211||#37||#6|
|Slim Jenkins' Place||Stax S-224||#70|
|12/1967||Silver Bells||Winter Snow||Stax S-236|
|05/1968||Soul Limbo||Heads or Tails||Stax STA-0001||#17||#30|
|10/1968||Hang 'Em High||Over Easy||Stax STA-0013||#9||#35|
|02/1969||Time Is Tight||Johnny, I Love You||Stax STA-0028||#6||#7||#4||“Johnny I Love You” features vocals by Booker T. Jones.|
|05/1969||Mrs. Robinson||Stax STA-0037||#37||#35|
|Soul Clap '69||Stax STA-0037||#35|
|07/1969||Slum Baby||Meditation||Stax STA-0049||#88||#46|
|06/1970||Something||Sunday Sermon||Stax STA-0073||#76|
|02/1971||Melting Pot||Kinda Easy Like||Stax STA-0082||#45||#21|
|10/1971||Jamaica This Morning||Fuquawi||Stax STA 0108||A-side credited to The M.G.'s; B-side to Booker T. and The M.G.'s|
|1973||Sugarcane||Blackside||Stax STA 0169||#67||Release credited to The M.G.'s|
|1973||Neckbone||Breezy||Stax STA 0200||Release credited to The M.G.'s|
|1977||Sticky Stuff||Tie Stick||Asylum E-45392||#68|
|1977||Grab Bag||Reincarnation||Asylum E-45424|
|1979||Green Onions||Soul Limbo||Atlantic||#7|
|1994||Cruisin'||Just My Imagination||Columbia 38-77526||Cruisin' won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance|