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Booker T. and the MG's

Jones Reflects on Band's Hit, 'Green Onions'

cover of 'The Best of Booker T. and the MG's' hide caption

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Poster of Booker T. and the MG's. courtesy of Detroit SRV Fan Club hide caption

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courtesy of Detroit SRV Fan Club

When it comes to R&B music and what's known as the "Memphis sound," Booker T. Jones has been delivering smooth, soulful, gospel-tinged music for over 40 years. Jones experienced success early when he and his band, the MG's, reached number one with the song "Green Onions." On The Tavis Smiley Show, Jones talks about that 1962 hit and about his music career.

Born on Nov. 12, 1944, in Memphis, Tenn., Jones began playing the piano at a very early age. His parents encouraged his musical pursuits, providing him with instruments and lessons. Booker began playing his family's piano, but later moved on to other instruments, playing the clarinet, oboe, trombone and saxophone in high school.

It didn't take long for Jones to break into Memphis' music scene. As he tells NPR's Tavis Smiley, he began working for a local recording company as a session player when he was just 16, for musicians such as Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett.

"Otis was one of the premier acts at Stax (Records)," Jones says. "It was one of the most exciting experiences in the studio... because it was so spontaneous. It was just a wonderful experience working with him."

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It was at Stax Records that he joined with other studio musicians — guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Lewie Steinberg and drummer Al Jackson — to form the MGs. Jones explains the meaning of the name:

"The drummer, Al Jackson, looked and said, 'Well, why don't we call it Booker T. and the, uh...' and he looked outside and saw the MG (sports car) and said, 'MG's.' But we contacted (the company) and we wanted them to sponsor us and they wouldn't do it. So we decided that it would be Booker T. and the Memphis Group, the MG's."

When Jones was 17, Booker T. and the MG's (with Donald Dunn replacing Steinberg) released "Green Onions," which sold a million copies and climbed to number one on the R&B charts. The song was followed by six other Top 40 hits over the next decade, including "Hip Hug-Her," "Groovin" and "Hang Em' High."

By the early 1970s, the recording industry was changing, and the band split it 1971.

"The atmosphere changed, we started getting memos down from the top as to how to run the business — it just changed in a way that made it hard for us to work," Jones says. "I just decided to take off for Hollywood and see what I could do out there."

Jones headed to California, where he produced and arranged songs and records, including Willie Nelson's Stardust, Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine and Rita Coolidge's "Higher and Higher." He also released five solo albums over the next two decades.

In 1992, Booker T. & the MG's were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Speaking of the band's performance, one critic observed that the bond between the band members, "still coursed through their veins."