Everyone knows Booker T. Jones, though not everyone realises it. Despite being one of the most influential musicians of the last half century, he is best known as a session man and songwriter, plying his trade in the background, producing tunes that have been in the foreground more times than you could ever recall.
Booker T. was there when you began raiding your parents’ vinyl collection in your teens, blazing loud behind Wilson Pickett on ‘In the Midnight Hour‘. He was there when you fumbled around on the dance floor, wracking up the emotion as Otis hammered home ‘Try a Little Tenderness‘ (yes, that’s him on keyboards in the video). Heck, he was even there when you learnt what soul music meant, defining a genre on the seminal Sam & Dave track, ‘Soul Man‘ (although not at his usual Hammond B3, as we shall see). As a member of the MG’s, the house band at hit-producing Stax Records, Booker T. pumped out classic upon classic throughout the ’60s and ’70s, and in their downtime the band recorded eternal slices of soulful funk – you probably know and adore ‘Green Onions‘, ‘Hip Hug Her‘ and ‘Soul Limbo’ (the latter better known to Brits as ‘Test Match Special‘).
The man himself is taller than expected (early footage makes him look so boyish, you’d almost think he was five foot nothing), and has the manners of a southern gent well into his sixties. He’s almost apologetic when I wonder aloud how I might go about asking questions that he hasn’t been asked before, and he’s unfailingly polite in discussing the music that made him famous 50 years ago, a subject he must have to deal with on a daily basis. In more recent years, Booker T. Jones has been in the studio with the likes of Drive By Truckers and The Roots, laying down two of the most acclaimed albums of his long career, Potato Hole (2009) and The Road to Memphis(2011), and it’s with these recordings fresh in his mind that we sit down in a quiet room beneath Blue Note Tokyo to discuss a career that has, even in some small way, affected most of us.Read More