Booker T. & the M.G.'s

Booker T. & the M.G.'s

Infobox musical artist
Name = Booker T. & the M.G.'s

Img_capt = Booker T. & the M.G.'s live in Tunica, Mississippi, 2002
Img_size =
Background = group_or_band
Birth_name =
Alias =
Born =
Died =
Origin = Memphis, TN, U.S.
Genre = Memphis soul, Southern soul, Instrumental rock
Years_active = 1962–1971, 1977, 1994–present
Label = Atlantic, Stax
Associated_acts =
URL = []
Current_members = Booker T. Jones
Donald "Duck" Dunn
Steve Cropper
Steve Potts
Past_members = Lewie Steinberg
Al Jackson, Jr.

Booker T. & the M.G.'s is an instrumental soul band popular in the 1960s and 1970s. They are most commonly associated with Stax Records and are often placed in the subgenre of Memphis soul. They were also one of the first racially-integrated bands in popular music. [There seems to be a firewall for knowledge about music prior to rock and roll for many contributors to Wikipedia. Benny Goodman led the racially integrated Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet a full quarter-century prior to the existence of Booker T. & the MGs, and integrated jazz bands had existed all through the 1940s and 1950s, times when jazz would be considered 'popular' music. "Racial integration"] They are probably best known for their 1962 hit instrumental "Green Onions" and for being members of the house band for many Stax/Volt performers. ["Association with Stax"'s] 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. ["Booker T & MGs prominent in 60s-70s"]

Original members of the group were Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass), and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). Donald "Duck" Dunn replaced Steinberg on bass in 1965, and has played with the group ever since. Carson Whitsett was the group's keyboard player during a brief 1973 reunion (when the temporarily Booker-less band was known simply as The MG's). Following the 1975 death of Al Jackson Jr., drummers Willie Hall, Anton Fig, Steve Jordan and Steve Potts have joined the group for later reunion efforts. ["Members of the group through the years"]

The exact origin of the band's name is a matter of dispute. Booker T. Jones has stated that it was Jackson who named the group after its youngest member. "M.G." is supposed by many to refer to "Memphis Group," not the sports car of the same name. [ "Origin of band name declared as Memphis Group"] However, musician and record producer Chips Moman, who was active in Stax Records when the band was formed, claims that they were named after his car, and that it was only after he left the label that Stax's publicity department declared that "M.G." stood for "Memphis Group". To lend some credibility to this story, Moman had played with Booker T. Jones in an earlier Stax backing group named the Triumphs, also after his car. [cite book
date=1986 (edition 2002)
title=Sweet Soul Music
isbn =978-1-84195-240-6
pages=p. 128
] Steve Cropper has also endorsed this explanation.


The first hit: "Green Onions" (1962)

In the summer of 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. ["Studio work"] 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, Steve Cropper revealled 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 name.

The single went to number one on the R&B charts and number three on the Pop charts and is now considered one of the most important riffs in rock history. It is featured in countless movies/trailers including a pivotal scene in the motion picture American Graffiti and on TV every year. They soon after released an all-instrumental album entitled "Green Onions". ["Album release, Green Onions"]

As members of the Stax "house band"

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. ["House band at Stax"'s] 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. ["Linked to Otis Redding, Sam & Dave etc."'s] 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. 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, Jones played on all the records credited to "Booker T. & The M.G.'s", and Hayes was never an official member of the group.

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) would set a standard for soul music. Where the sign outside of Detroit's pop-soaked Motown Records aptly read "Hitsville U.S.A.", the marquee outside of the movie theatre where Stax was located proclaimed "Soulsville U.S.A.".

Later success: 1965–1971

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 Dressing" was 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. 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 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 for Test Match Special cricket coverage on both TV and radio), as was their version of "Hang 'em High". In 1969, the band scored their second biggest hit with "Time is Tight", from the soundtrack to the movie "Up Tight!", scored by Jones, ["song "Time is Tight" soundtrack" Up Tight!] 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. And as the story goes, 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 Road"'s 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 Beatles' "Abbey Road" "street crossing" album cover.

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.

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.

1970s Reunions


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. Their drummer was not working out, so they brought in Al Jackson. 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 Jones, 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 and later founded HighStacks Records in a tribute to Stax and Hi Records.


The MG's project was not commercially successful, but various band members thought that there might be interest in a full-fledged reunion. 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 from Al Green's backing band 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, Dunn and Willie Hall famously became part of The Blues Brothers Band, appearing on the number one album "Briefcase Full of Blues", and in the 1980 movie "The Blues Brothers" starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Cropper, Dunn and Hall later reprised their roles in "Blues Brothers 2000".

1980s and 1990s

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 to again serve as house band, this time at the concert commemorating his thirty years in the music business. There, they backed up Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, and even Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. While there, Neil Young asked the group to back him up on his world tour the following year.

Also in 1992, Booker T. & The M.G.'s were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. ["Rock and Roll Hall of Fame"'s]

In 1994, the group recorded its first album in 17 years, called "That's The Way It Should Be". Steve Jordan was the featured drummer on most tracks.

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.

Into the 21st Century

Booker T. Jones, Donald "Duck" Dunn, and Steve Cropper moved into the 21st century as active as ever. 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 all bar Booker T 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] , [cite web| title = The Immortals: The First Fifty| work = Rolling Stone Issue 946| publisher = Rolling Stone| url =] and in 2007, the group received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. [cite web |url= |title=Booker T. & the MGs, Estelle Axton to be honored at 2007 Grammys |accessdate=2007-06-06 ]



* - "Through a period between late 1963 and early 1965, Billboard Magazine did not publish an R&B singles chart."


*1962: "Green Onions"
*1965: "Soul Dressing"
*1966: "And Now!"
*1966: "In The Christmas Spirit"
*1967: "Hip Hug-Her"
*1968: "Back To Back" (live album)
*1968: "Doin' Our Thing"
*1968: "Soul Limbo"
*1969: "Uptight" (soundtrack)
*1969: "The Booker T Set"
*1970: "McLemore Avenue"
*1971: "Melting Pot"
*1973: "The MG's" (released by The MG's)
*1977: "Universal Language"
*1994: "That's The Way It Should Be"

Audio samples

multi-listen item
filename = Green Onions.ogg
title = "Green Onions", from the album "Green Onions"
description = 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.|



*"Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records" By Rob Bowman

External links

* [ Booker T and the M.G.s at the] Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
* [ Booker T. Jones' official homepage]
* [ Steve Cropper's official homepage]
* [ Donald "Duck" Dunn official homepage]

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