Friday, March 9, 2012

Booker T. Jones

Booker T. Jones (born November 12, 1944) is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, record producer and arranger, best known as the frontman of the band Booker T. and the MGs. He has also worked in the studios with many well-known artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, earning him a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.

While hanging around the Satellite Record Shop run by Estelle Axton, co-owner of Satellite Records with her brother Jim Stewart, Jones met record clerk Steve Cropper, who would become one of the MGs when the group formed in 1962. Besides Jones on organ and Cropper on guitar, Booker T. and the MGs featured Lewie Steinberg on bass guitar and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums (Donald "Duck" Dunn eventually replacing Steinberg). While still in high school, Jones co-wrote the group's instrumental "Green Onions", which not only became a hit in 1962, but remains an enduring classic almost 50 years later.

Bob Altshuler wrote the sleeve notes on the first Booker T. & The M.G.'s album released by Stax Records in 1962 and also called Green Onions. He wrote thus:

Booker T. Jones’ (his full name) musical talents became apparent at a very early age. By the time he entered high school, Booker was already a semi-professional, and quickly recognized as the most talented musician in his school. He was appointed director of the school band for four years, and in addition, organized the school dance orchestra which played for proms throughout the Mid-South. In the classroom, he concentrated on the studies of music theory and harmony. ... Booker's multiple activities earned him a coveted honour, that of being listed in the students’ “Who’s Who of American High Schools”. Booker's first instrument was the string bass, but he soon switched to the organ. Booker came to the attention of record executive Jim Stewart in Memphis, and while still in high school, he worked as a staff musician for Stax Records, appearing as sideman on many recording dates for that label. It became obvious that one day Booker would be ready to record under his own name and several months later Booker’s first recording session was set.

Over the next few years, Jones would divide his time between studying classical music composition, composing and transposition at Indiana University, playing with the MGs on the weekends back in Memphis serving as a session musician with other Stax acts, and writing songs that would become classics. He wrote, with Eddie Floyd, "I've Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)", Otis Redding's "I Love You More Than Words Can Say", and, with William Bell, Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign". The latter would later be popularized in the cover version by power trio Cream.

In 1970, Jones moved to California and stopped playing sessions for Stax, after becoming frustrated with Stax's treatment of the MGs as employees rather than musicians. While still under contract to Stax, he appeared on Stephen Stills' eponymous album (1970). The 1971 album, Melting Pot would be the last Booker T. & the MGs album issued on Stax.

Making the charts as a solo artist in 1981 with "I Want You", he produced Rita Coolidge, Bill Withers's debut album Just As I Am (on which he also played several instruments), and Willie Nelson's album Stardust. He has also lent his trademark keyboards to artists ranging in genre from Ray Charles to Neil Young. On March 1, 1995 Booker T. & The MG's won their first Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for "Cruisin'". Jones still plays with Booker T. & the MGs and his own Booker T. Jones Band. Ronnie James and guitarist Troy Gonyea from The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Marc Ford from The Black Crowes toured, to considerable acclaim, with him in England in 2009, with the addition of Darian Gray on drums, as part of the promotion of Potato Hole. Booker's current touring group includes Vernon "Ice" Black (guitar), Darian Gray (drums), and Jeremy Curtis (bass).

Jones was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and was honored with a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement on February 11, 2007.

In 2009 he released a new solo album, Potato Hole, recorded with the Drive By Truckers, and featuring Neil Young. He performed at the Bonnaroo Festival with Drive By Truckers on June 6, 2009, with a set including most tracks from Potato Hole as well as some Truckers tracks. On January 31, 2010, Potato Hole won the Best Instrumental Album award at the 52nd Grammy Awards.

He is featured on the new Rancid album, Let The Dominoes Fall, playing a Hammond B-3 on the track "Up To No Good".

Booker also played his B-3 on the track "If It Wasn't For Bad" from the Elton John and Leon Russell collaboration album titled The Union. The track was nominated at 53rd Annual Grammy Awards for Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals.

In 2011, Jones released The Road from Memphis. The backing band included Questlove (drums), "Captain" Kirk Douglas (guitar) and Owen Biddle (bass) from The Roots as well as former Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey and percussionist Stewart Killen. The album features vocals by Yim Yames, Matt Berninger, Lou Reed, Sharon Jones and Booker T himself, as well as lyrics contributed by his daughter Liv Jones.

On February 12, 2012 The Road from Memphis won at the 54th Grammy Awards for Best Pop Instrumental Album. Booker holds a total of 4 Grammy Awards.

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