Booker T. & The MG’s were never looked at as founders of funk, or even pioneers of the style. But what they were, without a doubt, was one of the great bands of all time; both as artists themselves, and as the house band for Stax Records through the 1960s. While they didn’t play on every Stax release, they did back the greats on a lot of those classic sides. Basically, if someone was recording at the old converted movie theater on McLemore Avenue, Booker T. & The MG’s were probably backing them up. Think Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, Johnnie Taylor, and the Staple Singers to name a few.
The group members were Booker T. Jones on organ/keyboards, Steve Cropper on guitar, Al Jackson, Jr. on drums and Lewie (Lewis) Steinberg on bass, replaced by Donald “Duck” Dunn in 1965. The group’s first hit came to be while they were experiencing downtime in the studio. Stax founder Jim Stewart heard the band messing around with a riff and liked what he heard. So he recorded it, along with a second song they came up with. The plan was to release the first song, a tune called “Behave Yourself,” as the single, with the second song on the flip side. Guitarist Steve Cropper and radio disc jockeys thought that it should be the other way around, and so “Green Onions” was released with “Behave Yourself” on the flip side. “Green Onions” became a smash hit in 1962, and the recording career of Booker T. & The MG’s was underway.
As the decade wore on, and the group’s sound was heard on so many records, they began to rival The Funk Brothers, Motown’s famous backing musicians, as one of the great house bands of the 1960’s, at least in terms of sheer impact on so many songs. They may not have called it funk, but by the time the Stax musicians were through, they had their own brand of funk, Memphis-style.
Some more great examples of the great grooves cooked up by Mr. Jones, Mr. Jackson, Mr. Cropper and Mr. Dunn:
By 1970, Jones had left, and Cropper wasn’t too far behind, both fed up with some of the business practices at Stax at the time. Jones did some production work with Bill Withers, Cropper and Dunn both were members of the Blues Brothers band, Jackson worked at Hi Records with Willie Mitchell and Al Green. An attempt to reunite in 1975 was cut short when Jackson was murdered in his home. For their immense contribution to soul music, and Stax Records in particular, Booker T. & The MG’s were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame back in 1992.
I hope you enjoy the Booker T. & The MG’s songs I’ve featured today, and I hope you have a great weekend! Thanks for reading and listening.