Pete Johnson’s Blasts From My Past: Booker T. & the M.G.’s “The Best Of” (Stax/Rhino)

I love instrumentals in music. One of the saddest phenomenon’s in music is that there has not been a instrumental hit of any note (in my opinion) since Harold Faltermeyer did Axel F. for the “Beverly Hills Cop” soundtrack in the 1980s. As, I have stated before, I love history and learning. Reading liner notes have always been a passion of mine. I always like to know who does what, and why. So, across the years by cross referencing things I learn about music, certain names pop up.

One was always Booker T. Jones, or the various members of the band; Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson. It did not matter if it was an interview with an ex-Beatle, or a member of the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers or a producer like Tom Dowd. It did not matter if the interview came from Europe or South America, someone somewhere mentioned Booker T. & the M.G.’s. If I am honest the first real impact came from an unlikely source that coincided with my early teenage years, The Blues Brothers’ “Briefcase Full of Blues”. I loved that record and the movie. There was nothing funnier or weirder at the time than Dan Aykroyd doing Rubber Biscuit. Or Duck Dunn in the movie saying “We had a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline”. The great thing about that song to me was the rhythm of the band and the vocals. It was intense and exciting to my ears Reading the liner notes, I was struck by the name Steve “The Colonel” Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn.

I could relate to both those names for obvious reasons. First was Colonel Tom Parker from the Elvis saga, and second was Donald Duck the cartoon. I said, I must know about these guys. I found out by accident that Steve Cropper wrote the song “Dock of the Bay”, one of my early childhood fave songs. I loved the whistling and I loved the fact Otis made leaving his home in Georgia, watching the sun go down and wasting time seem so pleasant. Then I found out that Steve and Duck had played on the record too. The band that played was called Booker T. & the M.G.’s. I said “Note to self get a Booker T. & the M.G.’s record ASAP “. So I did, and boy was I glad. It was not one of the early original releases. It was a Stax Best of collection. But it had the essentials. As I let the album play, it was a game of recognition.

I realized I’d been listening to Booker T. & The M.G.’s since my birth in 1966. Their music was everywhere; from TV commercials to movies to some tracks being used as bumpers under the DJs on the radio doing their drive time traffic reports. I just did not know it was the same guys, but once I did, I started hearing them in Wilson Pickett’s songs, Otis Reading’s songs, Sam and Dave’s songs. They have a signature sound that is like a fingerprint. Al Jackson, in my opinion, is the greatest unsung drummer there ever was.

I am going to post a video from the 1967 Stax tour of Europe, of the band doing Green Onions. It is a monstrous performance. The gleam in the eye of Booker T. when he does the intro says it all to me. It is like he is saying buckle up, because we are going now. And away they go indeed. Al is right there on the drums. Duck Dunn pounds the simple bass and Steve Cropper plays the coolest guitar licks ever. That description pretty much covers every Booker T. & the M.G.’s recordings ever. Just watch the video, listen to the couple of tracks I will put up and then you will see exactly what I mean. Go buy any Booker T. album, and then thank me later. ;o)

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