You don’t become the godfather of the rock-soul organ without a little help.
For Booker T. Jones — a Grammy Hall of Famer and a pioneer of Southern and Memphis soul as the frontman for Booker T. & the M.G.’s. — that nudge came from his no-nonsense piano teacher. Jones is playing at a sold-out show Saturday at the Edmonds Center for the Arts.
A 12-year-old Jones was in a piano lesson when he asked his teacher about the other instrument in her living room.
“Oh, you don’t want to know what that is,” she replied.
His teacher knew Jones didn’t have enough money to afford $15 lessons on her Hammond B-3 organ.
But he was intrigued. So Jones picked up a job as a newspaper boy for the Memphis Press-Scimitar and the Commercial Appeal in his hometown of Memphis until he could afford organ lessons.
At 17, Jones wrote what is considered one of the most famous instrumental rock-and-soul songs on the organ — “Green Onions,” released in 1962.
“It was the first song I heard myself play on the radio,” Jones said. “That was a feeling I’ll never forget. It gave me a place in the world — somebody to be and something to do.”
Jones, 74, is revered for his contributions to soul and pioneering sound on the organ, as well as for many collaborations with well-known artists. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and won a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2007.
In his nearly 60-year career, Jones helped record, produce and write many hits while working for Stax Records, the Memphis label that helped propel Booker T. & the M.G.’s to stardom in the early 1960s. Notable songs include “Knock on Wood” by Eddie Floyd and “Born Under a Bad Sign” by Albert King.
“The time at Stax Records defined my career,” Jones said. “There’s no way to put the importance.”
Jones was already a semi-professional musician by the time he was a student at Booker T. Washington High School. He played baritone saxophone on Stax Records’ first hit, “Cause I Love You” by Carla and Rufus Thomas, when he was 16. (Jones was named after his father, Booker T. Jones Sr., who was named in honor of famed educator Booker T. Washington.)
He was the label’s house keyboard player when he improvised the now-famous riff in “Green Onions” — a song that topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1962. Over the years it has been sampled in reggae, hip-hop and R&B songs (and also was this reporter’s favorite song from the baseball movie “Sandlot.”).
In addition to featuring an organ in a way that had rarely been heard before, Jones’ 12-chord progression in “Green Onions” also became a staple for chord arrangements in modern pop music.
His other hits include “Time Is Tight,” “Hang ‘Em High” and “Mrs. Robinson.” After he left Stax Records in 1970, Jones became a solo artist and sessions player. His collaborations over the next 50 years included the likes of Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
He also produced, arranged and played keyboard for Bill Withers’ album, “Just as I Am,” featuring the hit single, “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
His two most recent albums, 2011’s “The Road from Memphis” and 2013’s “Sound the Alarm,” included collaborations with the hip-hop band the Roots, British singer Estelle and Grammy Award-winner Anthony Hamilton.
Jones caught up with his childhood piano and organ teacher a few years before she died. She told him how proud she was to tell friends that she was the one who taught him to play.
“I was proud about that,” Jones said.
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.