Booker T. & the MGs
Flukes are cool. Rock ‘n roll flukes are even better. In the case of Booker T. & the MGs, their seemingly sudden success had quite a back story. Keyboardist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Crooper, bassist Lewie Steinberg, and drummer Al Jackson, Jr. were the house band for Stax Records and played on 95% of their recordings through 1969. The foursome backed soul luminaries like Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Wilson Picket, among others. The details of the actual start of Booker T. & the MGs (Memphis Group) are hazy, but the essence is that the four musicians were jamming one afternoon at Stax, and with material the 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had been working on, banged out “Behave Yourself” and “Green Onions.”
“Green Onions” became the title track of one of, if not the, greatest soul and R&B instrumental albums of all time. Not surprisingly, “Green Onions” rocketed to #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962. So, it’s fitting that Stax released a 50th anniversary reissue of Green Onions, complete with 24-bit remastering and two live bonus tracks (long, feisty versions of “Green Onions” and “Can’t Sit Down”) recorded at the 5/4 Ballroom in Los Angeles in 1965. The 50th anniversary reissue coincides with the Library of Congress’ decision to add “Green Onions” for permanent preservation to the National Recording Registry.
Booker T. & the MGs’ debut album features three original tracks (“Green Onions,” “Mo’ Onions,” “Behave Yourself”) and nine assorted covers. “Mo’ Onions” is totally fresh, despite being the same length and using the same chords (albeit in a different order) as the title track. The slow, 12-bar blues of “Behave Yourself” sits smack in the middle of Green Onions. Right before that track is the band’s short and sweet version of “Twist and Shout,” released a year before the Beatles included the song on their 1963 debut Please Please Me. Booker T. & the MGs also covered two Ray Charles songs: a jauntier “I Got a Woman” and the slow, spry “Lonely Avenue.” In addition, they successfully tackled Smokey Robinson’s “One Who Really Loves You” and Jackie Wilson’s “A Woman, a Lover, a Friend.” The sneaky “Comin’ Home Baby” ends Green Onions with a slow whisper that makes you want to listen to the nearly 35 minutes of the entire album again.