R&B and soul legend Booker T. Jones brings his diverse grooves to SPACE | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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R&B and soul legend Booker T. Jones brings his diverse grooves to SPACE


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Booker T. Jones, most famous for fronting iconic R&B/soul band Booker T. & the MGs, is a much more diverse musician than people give him credit for. A child prodigy who picked up an assortment of woodwinds and keys growing up, he became one of the most accomplished musicians in the Stax Records stable in the 60s, as likely to score a soundtrack as he was to introduce elements of jazz and classical music into Memphis soul. He’s since produced the likes of Bill Withers and Willie Nelson, and has played with the Drive-by Truckers, Kelly Hogan, Rancid, and Stephen Stills. His range extends to his work as a solo artist; his 1974 album Evergreen (Epic), an eclectic singer-songwriter venture, is one of the great overlooked gems of that decade. But it’s the music he made with Booker T. & the MGs between 1962 and ’71 that first cemented his legacy. Along with the Ventures, the group—which started as the house band for Stax—was among the most prominent to keep instrumentals on the charts after they’d largely gone out of fashion. And though Jones is certainly an adept singer, it was his organ work with the MGs that brought him hit after hit, including “Green Onions,” “Hip-Hug-Her,” and “Time Is Tight,” plus the entire 1971 album Melting Pot, where they went for broke with a collection of forward-thinking originals. Jones shines in his studio work with an impressive array of rhythm-and-blues giants, among them Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Albert King, and Sam & Dave, but his live shows can be quite powerful too. Onstage, he shows he’s just as talented on vocals and guitar as he is on keyboards, and it’s likely his talents extend to some instruments many of us wouldn’t associate him with—photos from rehearsal sessions for the 1967 Sam & Dave classic “Soul Man” show him fooling around with a tuba. Though you can’t detect that instrument on the actual record, I’m sure it would have been interesting just to hear him try it out.   v

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