Booker T. Jones’ concerts reflect on his career with Stax Records and his legendary collaborations. (Sean Davey)

Booker T. Jones’ concerts reflect on his career with Stax Records and his legendary collaborations. (Sean Davey)

Booker T. Jones reflects on his career before Edmonds show

For the legendary keyboard player, it all started with his piano teacher in Memphis.

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, Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.

Talk to us

More in Life

Everett comedian Taylor Clark performs stand-up in 2023 at The Triple Door in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mike Bryk)
Comedian Taylor Clark to film first special Friday in Everett

The skateboarding funny-man will record an hour of his stand-up at the Historic Everett Theater.

Local musician Alex Johnston, whose newest album "Daylight Fooldream" pairs with short film he made with help from his partner Mikaela Henderson, sits with his morning coffee on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Folktronica musician shoots 37-minute visual album on iPhone in Everett

Alex Johnston, 31, describes his music as ”if Coldplay and Bon Iver had a love child.”

Flowering knotweed Persicaria amplexicaulis firetail in the morning light.
Save for one infamous variety, fleece flowers are easy to fall in love with

This long-blooming, easy-to-grow perennial comes in many desirable varieties. But watch out: One is an invasive knotweed.

A view of King Street Station in Seattle, Washington from an Amtrak Cascades train to Portland, Oregon from Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Ride the rails on Amtrak Cascades from Everett to Portland

Make new friends and let Amtrak do the driving on this 5-hour trip past sea, city and forest.

From left, Elora Coble, Carol Richmond, David Hayes, Karli Reinbold, Giovanna Cossalter Walters, Landon Whitbread in a scene from Edmonds Driftwood Players' production of "Murder on the Orient Express." (Dale Sutton / Magic Photography)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Edmonds Driftwood Players opens its 65th season with Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Some collectibles are found in nature; some imitate them. If it weren’t for the attached figure, this Royal Dux porcelain vase might pass for a real conch shell.
This shell-shaped vase would make a fine souvenir of summer fun

It may not be a real shell, but this art nouveau piece could still evoke fond memories of days at the beach.

Arlington Garden Club celebrating its 90th anniversary

The club has monthly programs for north Snohomish County gardeners and awards scholarships to area students.

Spouses Franchesca and Don Simpson talk about their baby girl’s “chubby cheeks” and “button nose” as Kelly Fox RDMS RVT performs a live-view 3D ultrasound on the expecting mother Saturday, August 26, 2023, at Wonder Baby Ultrasound Studio in Everett, Washington. The Simpsons are expecting their first child in October. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Glamour shots in utero? Everett studio offers HD ultrasound keepsakes

For curious parents, these glimpses are exciting, but not medically endorsed.

An Oxford White grille with red “BRONCO” lettering signifies the 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Limited Edition model. (Ford)
2023 Ford Bronco Sport has two new Heritage Edition models

Design and paint treatments pay homage to the original Bronco introduced in 1966.

Most Read