Booker T. & the M.G.'s

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Booker T. & the M.G.'s
Booker T. & the M.G's.png
Booker T. & the M.G's c. 1967. From L-R: Donald "Duck" Dunn, Booker T. Jones (sitting), Steve Cropper and Al Jackson, Jr.
Background information
Origin Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Genres R&B, Memphis soul, funk, Southern soul, soul jazz, instrumental rock
Years active 1962–71, 1973–77, 1994–present
Labels Atlantic, Stax
Associated acts Mar-Keys, Blues Brothers
Members Booker T. Jones
Steve Cropper
Steve Potts
Past members Al Jackson, Jr.
Lewie Steinberg
Donald "Duck" Dunn
Bobby Manuel
Carson Whitsett
Willie Hall
Steve Jordan

Booker T. & the M.G.'s is an instrumental R&B/funk band that was influential in shaping the sound of Southern soul and Memphis soul. Original members of the group were Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass), and Al Jackson, Jr. (drums). In the 1960s, as members of the house band of Stax Records, they played on hundreds of recordings by artists such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor and Albert King. They also released instrumental records under their own name, such as the 1962 hit single "Green Onions".[1] As originators of the unique Stax sound, the group was one of the most prolific, respected, and imitated of its era. By the mid-1960s, bands on both sides of the Atlantic were trying to sound like Booker T. & the M.G.'s.[2][3]

In 1965, Steinberg was replaced by Donald "Duck" Dunn, who played with the group until his death in 2012. Al Jackson, Jr. was murdered in 1975, after which the trio of Dunn, Cropper and Jones reunited on numerous occasions using various drummers, including Willie Hall, Anton Fig, Steve Jordan and Steve Potts.[2]

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, a the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee in 2008, and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2012.[4]

Having two white members (Cropper and Dunn), Booker T. & the M.G.'s was one of the first racially integrated rock groups, at a time when soul music, and the Memphis music scene in particular, were generally considered the preserve of black culture.[5]

Early years: 1962–1964

All the members of Booker T and the MG's initially met and played together as part of the house band of Stax Records, providing backing music for a variety of singers such as Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding.[6] In summer 1962, 17-year-old keyboardist Booker T. Jones, 20-year-old guitarist Steve Cropper, bass player Lewie Steinberg, and Al Jackson Jr., a drummer making his debut with the company, were in the Memphis studio to back up former Sun Records star Billy Lee Riley. During downtime, the four started playing around with a bluesy little organ ditty reminiscent of Ray Charles. Jim Stewart, the president of Stax Records, liked what he heard and hit the 'record' button. He liked the finished product enough to want to release it.[citation needed] Cropper remembered a riff that Jones had come up with weeks earlier, and before long they had a second song.

Stewart wanted to release the single with the first song, titled "Behave Yourself", as the A-side and the second song as the B-side. Steve Cropper and radio disc jockeys thought otherwise; soon, Stax released Booker T. & the M.G.'s' "Green Onions"[6] backed with "Behave Yourself". In conversation with BBC Radio 2's Johnnie Walker, on his show broadcast on September 7, 2008, Cropper revealed that the record became an instant success when DJ Reuben Washington, at Memphis radio station WLOK, played it four times in succession, this before the track or the band even had an agreed name.

The single went to #1 on the US Billboard R&B chart and #3 on the pop chart. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.[7] It is featured in countless movies/trailers including a pivotal scene in the motion picture American Graffiti.

Later in 1962, the band released an all-instrumental album entitled Green Onions. Aside from the title track, a 'sequel' ("Mo' Onions") and "Behave Yourself", the album consisted of instrumental covers of popular hits.

Instrumental singles and albums would continue to be issued by Booker T. & The M.G.'s throughout the 1960s. However, although a successful recording combo in their own right, the bulk of the work done by the musicians in the band during this era was as the core of the de facto house band at Stax Records.[1] Members of Booker T. & The M.G.'s (often, but not always, performing as a unit) performed as the studio backing band for Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Albert King, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, The Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, Delaney & Bonnie and many others in the 1960s.[1]

They played on and produced hundreds of records, including classics like "Walking the Dog", "Hold On, I'm Comin'" (on which the multi-instrumentalist Jones played tuba over Donald "Duck" Dunn's bass line), "Soul Man", "Who's Making Love", "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)", and "Try a Little Tenderness", among others. Like their Motown contemporaries the Funk Brothers in Detroit, as a backing band to numerous hits, they are thought to have defined soul music—especially southern soul—where "the groove" was most important.

Though it's popularly assumed that Booker T. Jones played on all the above session work, in the mid-1960s Jones was often away from Memphis while studying music full-time at Indiana University. Stax writer/producer Isaac Hayes usually stepped in on the occasions when Jones was unavailable for session work, and on several sessions Jones and Hayes played together with one on organ, the other on piano. However, Hayes was never an official member of the M.G.'s, and Jones played on all the records credited to "Booker T. & The M.G.'s" — with one exception. That exception was the 1965 hit "Boot-Leg", a studio jam recorded with Hayes on keyboards in Jones' place. According to Steve Cropper, the song was recorded with the intention of being released as by The Mar-Keys (another name used to release singles by the Stax house band.) However, as recordings credited to Booker T. & The M.G.'s were meeting with greater commercial success than those credited to The Mar-Keys, the decision was made to credit "Boot-Leg" to Booker T. & The M.G.'s, even though Booker T. himself does not appear on the recording.

Individual session credits notwithstanding, what's indisputable is that the Stax house band (Cropper, Jackson, Jones, and Steinberg, along with Cropper's Mar-Keys bandmate, bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn; keyboardist Isaac Hayes; and various horn players, most frequently Floyd Newman, Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns) would set a standard for soul music. Whereas the sign outside Detroit's pop-oriented Motown Records aptly read "Hitsville U.S.A.", the marquee outside of the converted movie theater where Stax was based proclaimed "Soulsville U.S.A.".

Later success: 1965–1971

Booker T. & The M.G.'s consistently issued singles from 1963 to 1965, but only a few made the charts, and none was as successful as "Green Onions". Bassist Lewie Steinberg, who was from a family of musicians, recorded with the band through 1965, including their second album, 1965's Soul Dressing. While the Green Onions album was cover-filled, every song but one on Soul Dressing was an original. Nevertheless, the chemistry, musically and personally, wasn't quite right. Steinberg stepped aside, and Donald "Duck" Dunn (who was already part of Stax's house band) became the group's full-time bassist.

After a period of commercial decline, Booker T. & The M.G.'s returned to the top-40 with the 1967 instrumental "Hip Hug-Her". Surprisingly, "Hip Hug-Her" was the first single released with Jones on a Hammond B-3 organ, the instrument he is most known for playing (he played a Hammond M-3 on all of the earlier recordings, including "Green Onions"). They also had a substantial hit with their cover of The Rascals' "Groovin'".

Also in 1967, they joined the now famed Stax European tour. Dubbed "Hit the Road, Stax!", they performed and backed up the label's stars. In June of that year, they, along with Otis Redding, appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival, alongside performers like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane. They were also later invited to play Woodstock, but drummer Al Jackson, Jr. was worried about the helicopter needed to deliver them to the site, and so they decided not to play.

The Hip Hug-Her album was followed by Doin' Our Thing and Soul Limbo. The song "Soul Limbo", featuring marimba by Terry Manning, was a big hit (later used by the BBC as their theme for cricket coverage on both TV and, latterly, radio's "Test Match Special"), as was their version of "Hang 'Em High". In 1969, the band scored their second biggest hit with "Time is Tight", from the soundtrack to the movie "Up Tight!", scored by Jones,[8] which reached #6 on the Billboard pop charts.

In 1969, Duck Dunn and Booker T. Jones, in particular, had become enamored with The Beatles, especially their work on Abbey Road. The appreciation was mutual, as The Beatles had been musically influenced by the M.G.'s. John Lennon was a huge Stax fan who fondly called the group "Book a Table and the Maitre d's" (in 1974, Lennon facetiously credited himself and his studio band as "Dr. Winston and Booker Table And The Maitre d's" on his original R&B-inspired instrumental, "Beef Jerky".). Paul McCartney, like Dunn, played bass melodically, without straying from the rhythm or the groove. After being locked away in the Memphis studio, when the Stax acts emabarked on the "Hit the Road, Stax!" tour of 1967, The Beatles sent limos to the airport, and bent down to kiss Steve Cropper's ring.[citation needed] The M.G.'s apparently had no idea until then of the impact they were having overseas. Lennon was quoted as saying he always wanted to write an instrumental for the M.G.'s.[citation needed]

In 1970, Lennon's wish was granted, in a manner of speaking, as Jones, Dunn, and Jackson recorded McLemore Avenue, named for the street where Stax Records was located. Jones later taught Cropper, who had not heard Abbey Road, what to play. They covered thirteen of Abbey Road's songs, condensing 12 of them into three medleys, and included a cover version of George Harrison's "Something". The album's cover, is indeed an intentional pastiche of The Beatles' Abbey Road "street crossing" album cover; the back cover also mirrors that of "Abbey Road", with the blurred image of a mini-skirted woman walking out of the photo, just as on the back of the Beatles' LP).

During 1970 Booker T & The M.G.'s sat in with Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) for a jam, and were the warm up band for CCR's January 31 Oakland Coliseum gig that became The Concert album. It is often suggested that John Fogerty's interest in putting Hammond B-3 on the album "Pendulum" was a direct nod to Booker T and the admiration the bands had for each other.

They followed up in 1971 with what would be their last Stax single, "Melting Pot", and their last Stax album, also called Melting Pot. "Melting Pot"'s repetitive groove-oriented drumming, loping bass line, and super-tight rhythm guitar made it an underground hit popular in New York City block parties. The song has often been sampled by rappers and techno DJs. The full-length album version of the track is over eight minutes long, and the second - album-only - part features some particularly powerful flourishes from Booker T's Hammond B-3. The Melting Pot album is also home to the highly tuneful Native American-influenced track "Fuquawi", which was also released on a single, coupled with "Jamaica This Morning" (see below).

Before the Melting Pot album was recorded, Booker T. Jones had left Stax. In fact, part of the album was recorded in New York, not the Stax studio. Steve Cropper had also become unhappy with business affairs at Stax and soon left. Dunn and Jackson remained on and did session and production work. Jackson (who had been in Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell's band) played on, and wrote many of Al Green's biggest hits.

Without Booker T., the group (billed simply as The MG's) released a 'final' single in October 1971. Called "Jamaica This Morning", it failed to chart, and the group name was retired for the time being.

1970s reunions


In 1973, Dunn and Stax session guitarist Bobby Manuel recruited B-3 organ phenom Carson Whitsett to be part of a band that was to back up a promising new Stax artist named Stefan Anderson. Later, Al Jackson was brought in. The project, however, did not ultimately yield any results, but the rehearsals were promising, prompting Jackson and Dunn to reform The M.G.'s. This version of the band featured Whitsett in the place of Booker T, so was billed "The MG's" rather than "Booker T. & The M.G.'s".

The 1973 album entitled The MG's, with Manuel and Whitsett replacing Cropper and Jones, was not commercially successful, though it was critically well received. Carson Whitsett would go on to back up Bobby "Blue" Bland, Little Milton, and Kathy Mattea, and have his songs recorded by the likes of Johnnie Taylor, Solomon Burke, B. B. King, Etta James, Conway Twitty, and Lorrie Morgan. Bobby Manuel would become a staple of the Memphis music scene playing with everybody from Al Green to Albert King and later founded HighStacks Records in a tribute to Stax and Hi Records.


After a promising meeting in late September 1975, Jones and Cropper (who were now living in Los Angeles) and Jackson and Dunn (still in Memphis), decided to give each other three months to finish up all of their individual projects. They would then devote three years to what would be renamed Booker T. Jones & the Memphis Group. Nine days later (October 1), Al Jackson, the man Cropper would remember as "the greatest drummer to ever walk the earth", was murdered in his home.


The remaining three members eventually regrouped under the classic name Booker T. & The MGs. Bringing in drummer Willie Hall (a Stax session musician who played on many Stax hits - such as Isaac Hayes's "Theme from Shaft") as an official member, the group recorded the album Universal Language for Asylum Records in 1977. The album didn't meet with either commercial or critical success, and the band once again dissolved.

Over the next decade, Cropper, Dunn and Jones remained very active, producing, writing, and playing with other artists. All three joined The Band's drummer Levon Helm as part of his RCO All-Stars. In 1977, Cropper and Dunn famously became part of The Blues Brothers Band, appearing on the number-one album Briefcase Full of Blues. Cropper and Dunn (along with Hall) also appeared in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Cropper, Dunn and Hall later reprised their roles in Blues Brothers 2000.

1980s to the present

Booker T. & the M.G.'s live in Tunica, Mississippi, 2002

In 1980 the hit feature film The Blues Brothers featured Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn and Willie Hall as part of the primary band which backed up the Blues Brothers.

In 1986, former co-owner of Atlantic Records Jerry Wexler asked the group to be the house band for Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary celebration. The night before the gig, Booker T. Jones came down with food poisoning, so Paul Shaffer stepped in at the last minute. The earlier rehearsals (with Jones, Cropper, Dunn, and drummer Anton Fig of Shaffer's "World's Most Dangerous Band", featured on Late Night with David Letterman) went so well that the group decided to play some dates together.

Over the next few years, they played together occasionally. In 1992, Bob Dylan asked them (with Jim Keltner on Drums) to again serve as house band, this time at the concert commemorating his thirty years in the music business. There they backed up, among others, Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison. While there, Neil Young asked the group to back him up on his world tour the following year.

Also in 1992, Booker T. & The M.G.'s were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[1]

In 1993, Booker T. & The M.G.'s toured with Neil Young, backing him on his own compositions.

In 1994, the group recorded its first album in 17 years, called That's the Way It Should Be. Steve Jordan was the featured drummer on most tracks.

In 1995, when the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame opened its museum in Cleveland, Ohio, the M.G.'s served as the house band for the opening ceremonies, playing behind Aretha Franklin, Sam Moore, John Fogerty, and Al Green, as well as performing themselves.

Jones, Dunn, and Al Jackson Jr.'s cousin, drummer Steve Potts, backed Neil Young on his 2002 album Are You Passionate?. Cropper, along with Isaac Hayes and Sam Moore, welcomed Stax president Jim Stewart into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Cropper and Hayes were later inducted in The Songwriters Hall of Fame. Booker T. & The M.G.'s, usually with Steve Potts on drums, still play select dates. They have been called the most influential stylists in modern American music. In early 2008 they toured with Australian singer Guy Sebastian in Australia on a sold-out tour.

In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the group #93 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time,[9] and in 2007, the group received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.[10] Also in 2004, Eric Clapton featured Booker T., Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn as his house band for the first "Crossroads Guitar Festival". The event was held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and featured many of the legends of various musical genres who play guitar as their primary instrument. Booker T. and the MGs was the back up band for several great acts which Clapton presented "live" for that two-day festival and subsequently on the 2 disc DVD version of the show.

On April 21, 2009, Booker T. released Potato Hole, a new album in collaboration with the band Drive-By Truckers and featuring Neil Young on guitar. And in May 2011, Jones released The Road from Memphis, which won a Grammy Award.

On May 13, 2012, Donald "Duck" Dunn died following two concerts in Tokyo, Japan.

Band name

For many years, the "official" story was that the band name "The M.G.'s" was meant to stand for "Memphis Group", not the MG sports car. However, this has proved not to be the case.[11]

Musician and record producer Chips Moman, active in Stax Records when the band was formed, for many years claimed that the band was named after his MG sports car, and only after he left the label did Stax's publicity department declare that "M.G." stood for "Memphis Group". To lend some credibility to this story, Moman had played with Jones and Steinberg in an earlier Stax backing group called the Triumphs, which was also named after his car.[12]

Jones, in a 2007 interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, confirmed Moman's account of the group name's origins.[13] Jones has re-confirmed this story on several occasions since, most recently on a May 9, 2012 appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Stax historian Rob Bowman has averred that the reason the label obscured the story of the meaning of name "The M.G.'s" (and concocted the "Memphis Group" explanation) was to avoid any possible claims of trademark infringement from the manufacturers of the car.


Current members
  • Booker T. Jones - organ, piano, keyboards, bass, guitars (1962–1971, 1975–1977, 1994–present)
  • Steve Cropper - guitars (1962–1971, 1975–1977, 1994–present)
  • Steve Potts - drums (2002–present)
Former members
Additional personnel


Studio albums

Other releases

  • 1967: Back To Back (live album) US #98
  • 1968: The Best of Booker T. & The MG's (Atlantic SD 8202) (compilation)
  • 1973: The MG's (released by The MG's)
  • 1998: Time is Tight (Box Set - 3 Discs) (Released on Stax - October 20 of 98)[14]


US release A-side B-side Label US R&B UK AU Album
August 1962 "Green Onions" "Behave Yourself" Volt 3 1 73 Green Onions
January 1963 "Jellybread" "Aw' Mercy" Stax 82 Soul Dressing
February 1963 "Home Grown" "Burnt Biscuits" Stax Soul Dressing
June 1963 "Chinese Checkers" "Plum Nellie" Stax 78 Soul Dressing
December 1963 "Mo' Onions" "Fannie Mae" Stax 97 Green Onions
January 1964 "Tic-Tac-Toe" "Mo' Onions" Stax 109 46 Soul Dressing
July 1964 "Soul Dressing" "MG Party" Stax 95 Soul Dressing
November 1964 "Can't Be Still" "Terrible Thing" Stax Soul Dressing
April 1965 "Boot-Leg" "Outrage" Stax 58 10 The Best of Booker T. & the MG's
November 1965 "Be My Lady" "Red Beans and Rice" Stax non-album track
July 1966 "My Sweet Potato" "Booker-Loo" Stax 85 18 And Now!
December 1966 "Jingle Bells" "Winter Wonderland" Stax In the Christmas Spirit
February 1967 "Hip Hug-Her" "Summertime" Stax 37 6 Hip Hug-Her
June 1967 "Groovin’" "Slim Jenkins’ Place" Stax 21 10 Hip Hug-Her
December 1967 "Silver Bells" "Winter Snow" Stax In the Christmas Spirit
May 1968 "Soul Limbo" "Heads or Tails" Stax 17 30 10 Soul Limbo
October 1968 "Hang 'Em High" "Over Easy" Stax 9 35 98 Soul Limbo
February 1969 "Time Is Tight" "Johnny, I Love You" Stax 6 7 4 10 Up Tight (soundtrack)
May 1969 "Mrs. Robinson" "Soul Clap '69" Stax 37 35 35 57 The Booker T. Set
July 1969 "Slum Baby" "Meditation" Stax 88 46 non-album track
June 1970 "Something" "Sunday Sermon" Stax 76 McLemore Avenue
February 1971 "Melting Pot" "Kinda Easy Like" Stax 45 21 Melting Pot
October 1971 "Jamaica This Morning" "Fuquawi" Stax non-album track
February 1973 "Sugarcane" "Blackside" Stax 67 The MG's
November 1973 "Neckbone" "Breezy" Stax The MG's
March 1977 "Sticky Stuff" "Tie Stick" Asylum 68 Universal Language
December 1977 "Grab Bag" "Reincarnation" Asylum Universal Language
June 1979 "Green Onions" "Soul Limbo" Atlantic 7 The Best of Booker T. & The MG's
January 1994 "Cruisin’" "Just My Imagination" Columbia That's the Way It Should Be
  • Note: Through a period between late 1963 and early 1965, Billboard Magazine did not publish an R&B singles chart. R&B chart figures for this era are from Cashbox magazine.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Booker T & The MG's Discography at Discogs". Retrieved 2011-07-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Booker T. and the MGS". 1975-10-01. Retrieved 2011-07-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Ronnie Lane Interview #1," Archived April 8, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  4. "Booker T. and the M.G.'s". Retrieved 2011-02-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Racial integration Note also that in jazz, Benny Goodman led the racially integrated Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet a full quarter-century prior, and integrated jazz bands had existed all through the 1940s and 1950s.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 51 – The Soul Reformation: Phase three, soul music at the summit. [Part 7] : UNT Digital Library" (audio). Pop Chronicles.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 143. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Song "Time is Tight" soundtrack Up Tight!
  9. "The Immortals: The First Fifty". Rolling Stone Issue 946. Rolling Stone.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Booker T. & the MGs, Estelle Axton to be honored at 2007 Grammys". Retrieved 2007-06-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "''Origin of band name declared as Memphis Group''". Retrieved 2011-10-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Guralnick, Peter (2002) [1986]. Sweet Soul Music. Edinburgh: Canongate. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-84195-240-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Fresh Air from WHYY. "Booker T. Jones: A Life in Music". NPR. Retrieved 2011-07-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Time is Tight (box set) - Booker T. & the M. G.'s at

External links