BluesWax Sittin’ In With
Booker T. Jones
On The Way Back To Stax!
By Robert Putignano
The man who roasted green onions from a vegetable into a world renowned groove, Booker T. Jones was one of the architects of the Memphis soul sound of the late 1960s as the leader of Booker T. & the MG’s. Booker, along with band members Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Al Jackson Jr., served as the Stax Records house band. He’s nowhere near done as his credits continue to grow onward. As a producer, songwriter, arranger, and instrumentalist he’s worked with an extraordinary variety of artists. With the MG’s, Booker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
I caught up with Booker just as he was about to perform in the New York/New Jersey area in March of 2013.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: Booker T. Jones, great to have you back here to chat with. And you are coming to the New Jersey area.
Booker T: That’s right! I’m bringing my band from Northern California, plus my music from fifty years back, and tunes that I wrote just a few days ago.
BW: Nice! So you are going to cover the gamut.
BT: Yeah, I will be doing a lot of my favorites and we’ll all have a good time there.
BW: I saw you at the Long Beach Blues Fest several years ago and that was a very intense set.
BT: Oh, down on the beach.
BW: In fact, I think you were there the same weekend [but different day] that Bobby Womack was there.
BT: Womack is a good old friend. But right now I am looking forward to coming to New Jersey; it’s going to be fun.
BW: You mentioned to me off-air that you are working on new music for a new album?
BT: That’s right. I’m working on new music and a new album, with some new musicians too.
BW: You don’t sit in one spot too long do you?
BT: I guess that’s true. I’m always looking for a challenge and something new to do.
BW: That’s a great spirit to have. Your album two back had a much different vibe than the current disc, The Road From Memphis. You are always evolving. I suspect that’s it’s not always easy to consistently create as the years go on?
BT: Exactly, but it’s a lot of fun, and a challenge. Besides the worst that could happen is that I’ll fail.
BW: And work with a record company that understands.
BT: The record label Anti was very good for me and to me. However I did move on and I’m back to the label I originally started with fifty years ago, so I’m now back at Stax Records.
BW: Déjà vu all over again, back with Stax via the Concord Music Group.
BW: Good for you.
BT: Thanks. When I grew up in Memphis, Stax was like two blocks from my house.
BW: And Booker T. & the MG’s were the label’s house band for almost every recording in the beginning.
BT: We were. It was a great position to be in, and a lot of fun.
BW: I’m sure those days were a blast and very creative, too.
Booker T. Jones
“Born Under a Bad Sign”
2009 Cambridge Folk Festival
Speaking of Stax/Concord, have you been listening to all those wonderful Stax Remasters series of music they’ve been releasing? That fiftieth Green Onions anniversary release came out real nice. The re-mastering engineer Joe Tarantino is performing magic on those original Stax albums from those special days in Memphis.
BT: For sure! The equipment that’s available these days is amazing, now people can hear good sounds again like they did on vinyl.
BW: I agree. CDs and digital has come a long way recently, but certain engineers are definitely better than others.
BT: It’s an art.
BW: Definitely an art form, Booker, and for my ears Tarantino at Stax/Concord is definitely one of the best. He’s a big fan of music, in fact he told me he still plays guitar, and his main influence for picking up the guitar was/is from your associate Steve Cropper.
BT: Absolutely, Cropper is the best.
BW: I’m on that bandwagon; I’ve always been a Cropper fan. I’ve always been partial to instrumental music, so when I heard Booker T. & the MG’s, I was floored.
So it’s sweet to see Concord/Stax keeping the back catalog alive and in print and available. This is heavenly for me!
BT: It’s wonderful. They are a great group of people.
What’s good in being in music for a long time is that you get exposed to a lot of different music. When I tour I try to play music that I was involved in, that being music I wrote and/or contributed to.
BW: Your royalty checks have to be happening?
BT: Man, I’m so thankful for those checks.
Booker T. & The M.G.’s
BW: I just reviewed a new compilation of Otis Redding tunes titled Lonely & Blue, and of course your name is on at least one of those songwriting credits.
BT: We got together early when he was driving to get food and stuff like that, so we made friends early on and I played on practically everything Redding ever recorded.
BW: Wow! Correct me if I’m wrong, I think I just read that this is Otis’ forty-fifth anniversary of “Dock of the Bay.”
BT: Sounds about right, you are/they are correct as that makes logical sense.
BW: That really sets the clock back, doesn’t it?
BT: It does, it does, but to me it’s just like now. To tell you the truth Bob, I’m still having fun doing what I do.
BW: I’m with you Booker, your latest album, The Road From Memphis, really moved me.
BT: Thank you! These guys, The Roots band from Philadelphia, were just the right ticket for me. They are a hip-hop band but they play real instruments. They don’t use computers or drum machines. So we were able to construct Memphis- and New Orleans-styled music with a hip-hop jump to it. We all went into the studio and did it all at once like we used to. So I thought the album came out with a great sound. It’s an analog recorded album and I was happy with all of it.
BW: Did you utilize the sousaphone that they play the bass parts with when they are on TV and gigs?
BT: No, but funny you mentioned the sousaphone as that’s what attracted me to The Roots band. I thought, “How cool that their bass sounds were played with a sousaphone!”
BW: How many hip-hop bands use a sousaphone for the bottom?
BT: Exactly! Maybe in New Orleans a bit, but no so much.
BW: I’m going to let you go, thank you so much for your time Booker, but before I release you, please choose one track from your current disc that you’d like me to share with my listeners, and please tell us why?
BT: OK, I’m going to pick “Everything is Everything,” Bob. It’s a Lauryn Hill song where I felt like we had a special moment in the studio recording that song. Kind of like those days at Stax where the vibe of the music from the writer is on the same page. It just built up to a glorious climax at least from my estimation.
Booker T. Jones
“Everything is Everything”
BW: Very sweet, an instrumental too.
One last question: Will there be anymore Booker T. & the MG’s gigs in the future?
BT: Well, you know we lost Donald “Duck” Dunn last year, which was very unfortunate. But their might be more gigs in our future. Steve Cropper and I keep in touch and still play together. As you know, we’re the last of the original two still living.
BW: And actually Duck Dunn wasn’t an original MG?
BT: You’re right. Dunn came in a little later after we formed. But there’s still a very good chance that you’ll see other Booker T. & the MG’s shows in the future.
BW: That’s great to hear.
BT: That’s because Cropper is still great sounding, and there’s still a lot of synergy between us.
BW: Alright, it will be great to see you guys keeping on with your historic tradition.
Thank you for your time Booker, I will be looking forward to talking to you again, especially when your new Stax album is released.
BT: Thank you for keeping in touch Bob.
Bob Putignano is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax, a contributing write at Blues Revue, and the heart and soul of Sounds of Blue.
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