The New York Times once referred to Booker T. Jones as “soul’s ultimate sideman.”
That may be. But on the resume of the legendary musician, composer, performer, producer, author, activist – and, yes, sideman – compiled over a career spanning seven decades, it’s a drop in the bucket.
Booker T. & the M.G.’s broke big-time in 1962 with “Green Onions,” earning recognition as the architect of the Memphis Sound while still in high school.
His current band, which includes son Ted on guitar, will play at the Admiral Theatre Jan. 20 in Bremerton.
“Green Onions” is one of the most universally beloved instrumental tracks of all time, cutting across genres and earning radio airplay not just on soul stations, but Top 40 and middle-of-the-road playlists as well.
It wasn’t a bad effort from a 17-year-old who hustled to Stax’s Memphis headquarters to perform his playing, writing and producing duties only after the school bell rang, and he had completed his paper route.
“I remember hearing it on the radio in my dad’s car,” Jones told NPR’s Deepa Fernandes during a “Here and Now” interview aired Dec. 29. “I thought it sounded good, but it was also a little unreal.”
The song’s enduring popularity over more than half a century, though, “never would have entered into my imagination. At that time, I was a 17-year-old, trying to prepare to go study music at Indiana University.”
Funny thing about “Green Onions:” It was written to be a “B” side. “Behave Yourself” was supposed to be the hit single. “Green Onions” was based on a 12-bar blues line Jones had been storing in his head. The single was quickly reissued, with “Green Onions” promoted to “A” side, and the rest is million-seller history.
In their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction years later, they were praised as “the foundation of what was to become known as the Memphis Sound.” And “Green Onions” was the cornerstone of that foundation.
But Booker T. and the M.G.’s and Jones were just getting started. Though “Green Onions” was their only song to hit No. 1 they continued to produce hits with “Hip Hug-Her” (1967), “Hang ‘Em High” (1968) and “Time Is Tight” (1969).
He and the M.G.’s were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, and he entered the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville the same year. He’s a multiple Grammy award-winner, including a Lifetime Achievement award (also in 2007).
Michael C. Moore is the Arts and Entertainment reporter for The Admiral Theatre Foundation.