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Booker T. and the MGs

Booker T. and the MGs

Booker T. and the MGs, best remembered historically as the studio band for Stax/Volt Records during the 1960s, the band created the so- called Memphis Sound, illustrated in the hit recordings of Carla and Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding, and Sam and Dave, among others. Membership: Booker T. Jones, kybd., gtr., bs. (b. Memphis, Term., Nov. 12, 1944); Steve Cropper, lead and rhythm gtr. (b. Willow Springs, Mo., Oct. 21, 1941); Donald “Duck” Dunn, bs. (b. Memphis, Tenn., Nov. 24, 1941); Al Jackson Jr., drms. (b. Memphis, Tenn., Nov. 27, 1935; d. there, Oct. 1, 1975).

Perhaps the last rock band to issue albums comprised entirely of instrumentais, Booker T. and the MGs featured cohesive yet spare sound on hits of their own, such as “Green Onions,” “Hang ’Em High,” and “Time Is Tight.” They were also one of the few multiracial bands, with two black men (Jones and Jackson) and two white.

In 1962 Booker T. and the MGs (for Memphis Group) formed as the house band for Memphis’s Stax Records. Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn had been members of the Mar-Keys since the late 1950s, and both played on the group’s 1961 instrumental hit “Last Night.” Dunn remained with the Mar-Keys until 1964 while also playing as part of the MGs. In the early 1960s Booker T. and the MGs provided the instrumental backing for hits by Carla Thomas (“Gee Whiz”) and her father Rufus Thomas (”Walking the Dog”). Their reputation as a band in their own right was established in 1962 with the smash instrumental hit “Green Onions.”

Over the next seven years Booker T. and the MGs recorded independently and backed various Stax/Volt artists while individual members pursued solo projects. Booker T. Jones cowrote with artist-producer William Bell the oft-recorded blues classic “Born under a Bad Sign.” In 1966 Jones received a degree in music from Ind. Univ. In the meantime, Steve Cropper supervised the recordings of Otis Redding and cowrote hits by Wilson Pickett (“In the Midnight Hour”), Eddie Floyd (“Knock on Wood”), and Redding (“[Sittin’ on the] Dock of the Bay”). Al Jackson produced recordings by blues guitarist Albert King. Booker T. and the MGs also served as the backing band for Sam and Dave’s two biggest hits, “Hold On! I’m Coming” and “Soul Man.” On their own, Booker T. and the MGs scored major hits with “Groovin”’ and “Soul Limbo” and near-smashes with “Hang ’Em High” and “Time Is Tight,” the latter from the soundtrack to Uptight, scored by Booker T. In 1969 Steve Cropper recorded the album With a Little Help from My Friends, as well as Jammed Together with Albert King and gospel patriarch “Pop” Staples.

By 1970 Booker T. and the MGs had abandoned their role as Stax house band, officially disbanding in 1972. Booker Jones moved to Calif, and joined A&M Records as a staff producer. There he supervised recording sessions for Rita Coolidge, his wife Priscilla (Rita’s sister), and Bill Withers. In the early 1970s Jones recorded three albums with his wife, plus the solo album Evergreen. Cropper continued with session and production chores at Stax/Volt Records until 1975, when Stax/Volt folded. He then moved to Los Angeles.

The original members of Booker T. and the MGs were planning a reunion when Al Jackson was shot to death in Memphis. The band reunited, with Willie Hall (formerly of the Bar-Kays) succeeding Jackson on drums, for the album Universal Language. In 1977 Jones, Cropper, and Dunn recorded and toured with Levon Helm’s RCO All-Stars. Also in 1977-1978, Cropper and Dunn re-created their distinctive 1960s sound behind the Blues Brothers (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) on tours and albums, as well as in the popular 1980 movie The Blues Brothers. In 1988 Booker T., Steve Cropper, and Duck Dunn reunited and joined drummer Anton Fig to perform at Atlantic Records’ 40th anniversary show at Madison Square Garden; that lineup subsequently stayed together for several years to perform as Booker T. and the MGs. In October 1992 Jones, Cropper, and Dunn, with session drummer Jim Keltner, served as the house band for the four-hour Bob Dylan tribute staged at Madison Square Garden. In 1994 Booker T., Cropper, and Dunn recorded their first album in 17 years, That’s the Way It Should Be, with session drummers.

Discography

The Mar Mi-keys:Last Night (1961); Do the Pop-Eye (1962); The Great Memphis Sound (1966); Damifiknew (1969); The Memphis Experience (1971); Damnifiknew/The Memphis Experience (1994). booker t. and the mgs/the mar- keys:Back to Back (1967). Various Artists:The Complete Stax-Volt Singles, 1959-1968 (1991). booker t. and the mgs:Green Onions (1962); Soul Dressing (1965); And Now! (1966); In the Christmas Spirit (1966); Hip Hug-Her (1967); Best (1968); Doin’ Our Thing (1968); Soul Limbo (1968); The Booker T Set (1969); Uptight (sountrack; 1969); Greatest Hits (1970); McLemore Avenue (1970); Melting Pot (1971); Universal Language (1977); Free Ride (1978); Groovin’ (1993); That’s the Way It Should Be (1994); Very Best (1994). steve cropper:With a Little Help from My Friends (1969); Playin’ My Thang (1981); Night After Night (1982). steve cropper/albert king/ “pop” staples:Jammed Together (1969). priscilla jones:Gypsy Queen (1971). booker t. and priscilla jones:Booker T and Priscilla (1971); Home Grown (1972); Chronicles (1973). the mgs:The MGs (1973). booker t. jones:Evergreen (1974); Try and Love Again (1978); The Best of You (1980); Booker T. Jones (1981); The Runaway (1989). levon helm and the rco all-stars:Levon Helm and the RCO All- Stars (1977). the blue brothers:Briefcase Full of Blues (1978); The Blues Brothers (sountrack; 1980); Made in America (1980); Best (1981); The Definitive Collection (1992); Red, White and Blues (1992).

—Brock Helander

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