Oct 4, 2014

RhoDeo 1439 Grooves

Hello,

Today 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 and Rufus Thomas and Johnnie Taylor.  ......N'joy

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As the house band at Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, Booker T. & the MG's may have been the single greatest factor in the lasting value of that label's soul music, not to mention Southern soul as a whole. Their tight, impeccable grooves could be heard on classic hits by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Carla Thomas, Albert King, and Sam & Dave, and for that reason alone, they would deserve their subsequent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But in addition to their formidable skills as a house band, on their own they were one of the top instrumental outfits of the rock era, cutting classics like "Green Onions," "Time Is Tight," and "Hang 'em High."

The anchors of the Booker T. sound were Steve Cropper, whose slicing, economic riffs influenced many other guitar players, and Booker T. Jones himself, who provided much of the groove with his floating organ lines. In 1960, Jones started working as a session man for Stax, where he met Cropper. Cropper had been in the Mar-Keys, famous for the 1961 instrumental hit "Last Night," which laid out the prototype for much of the MG's (and indeed Memphis soul's) sound with its organ-sax-guitar combo. With the addition of drummer Al Jackson and bassist Lewis Steinberg, they became Booker T. & the MG's. Within a couple years, Steinberg was replaced permanently by Donald "Duck" Dunn, who, like Cropper, had also played with the Mar-Keys.

The band's first and biggest hit, "Green Onions" (a number three single in 1962), came about by accident. Jamming in the studio while fruitlessly waiting for Billy Lee Riley to show up for a session, they came up with a classic minor-key, bluesy soul instrumental, distinguished by its nervous organ bounce and ferocious bursts of guitar. For the next five years, they'd have trouble recapturing its commercial success, though the standard of their records remained fairly high, and Stax's dependence upon them as the house band ensured a decent living.

In the late '60s, the MG's really hit their stride with "Hip Hug-Her," "Groovin'," "Soul-Limbo," "Hang 'em High," and "Time Is Tight," all of which were Top 40 charters between 1967 and 1969. Since the presence of black and white musicians made them a biracial band, the MG's set a somewhat under-appreciated example of both how integrated, self-contained bands could succeed, and how both black and white musicians could play funky soul music. As is the case with most instrumental rock bands, their singles contained their best material, and the band's music is now best appreciated via anthologies. But their albums were far from inconsequential, and occasionally veered into ambitious territory (they did an entire instrumental version of the Beatles' Abbey Road, which they titled McLemore Avenue in honor of the location of Stax's studios).

Though they'd become established stars by the end of the decade, the group began finding it difficult to work together, not so much because of personnel problems, but because of logistical difficulties. Cropper was often playing sessions in Los Angeles, and Jones was often absent from Memphis while he finished his music studies at Indiana University. The band decided to break up in 1971, but were working on a reunion album in 1975 when Al Jackson was tragically shot and killed in his Memphis home by a burglar. The remaining members were active as recording artists and session musicians in the following years, with Cropper and Dunn joining the Blues Brothers for a stint in the late '70s.

The MG's got back into the spotlight in early 1992, when they were the house band for an extravagant Bob Dylan tribute at Madison Square Garden. More significantly, in 1993 they served as the backup band for a Neil Young tour, one which brought both them (and Young) high critical marks. The following year, they released a comeback album, arranged in much the style of their vintage '60s sides, which proved that their instrumental skills were still intact. Like most such efforts, though, it ultimately failed to re-create the spark and spontaneity it so obviously wanted to achieve. Jones continued with his own musical output through the following decades, often lending his instrumental skills to other artists and occasionally issuing his own albums, such as the 2009 solo effort Potato Hole. Bassist Dunn, intermittently active with festival and tour appearances after the turn of the millennium, had been touring with Cropper and Eddie Floyd in Japan during May 2012 when he died in his sleep in a Tokyo hotel.


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There's not a note or a nuance out of place anywhere on this record, which featured 35 of the most exciting minutes of instrumental music in any category that one could purchase in 1962 (and it's no slouch multiple decades out, either). "I Got a Woman" is the single best indicator of how superb this record is and this band was -- listening to this track, it's easy to forget that the song ever had lyrics or ever needed them, Booker T. Jones' organ and Steve Cropper's guitar serving as more-than-adequate substitutes for any singer. Their version of "Twist and Shout" is every bit as satisfying. Even "Mo' Onions," an effort to repeat the success of "Green Onions," doesn't repeat anything from the earlier track except the tempo, and Jones and Cropper both come up with fresh sounds within the same framework. "Behave Yourself" is a beautifully wrought piece of organ-based blues that gives Jones a chance to show off some surprisingly nimble-fingered playing, while "Stranger on the Shore" is transformed into a piece of prime soul music in the group's hands. Just when it seems like the album has turned in all of the surprises in repertory that it could reasonably deliver, it ends with "Comin' Home Baby," a killer jazz piece on which Steve Cropper gets to shine, his guitar suddenly animated around Jones' playing, his quietly trilled notes at the crescendo some of the most elegant guitar heard on an R&B record up to that time.



Booker T. & The MG's - Green Onions (flac 139mb)

01 Green Onions 2:55
02 Rinky-Dink 2:40
03 I Got A Woman 3:33
04 Mo' Onions 2:54
05 Twist And Shout 2:11
06 Behave Yourself 3:57
07 Stranger On The Shore 2:21
08 Lonely Avenue 3:27
09 One Who Really Loves You 2:24
10 Can't Sit Down 2:50
11 A Woman, A Lover, A Friend 2:33
12 Comin' Home Baby 3:15

Booker T. & The MG's - Green Onions (ogg 62mb)

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This album is like one terrifically funky soundtrack to a great movie. If you want a dose of early MGs, this their second album, is the place to go. Their first album came about after they had an unplanned number one smash, the immortal "Green Onions". This really is their first cohesive release as a band. Because this was released in 1964, it is a collection of tracks recorded over a two-year period. This was before their fellow Stax Records studio rat Isaac Hayes would become a solo star and revolutionize the album market. Every track, save one, here is an original, and you have surely heard some of these gems in movies, including the home grown sounds of "Home Grown", the very memorable "Chinese Checkers", and "Can't Be Still" (probably original bassist Lewie Steinberg's finest moment). The album's tone is largely set by the young Steve Cropper, whose guitar is a blazin' throughout. Especially on the title track, the "Green Onions" rework "Jellybread", and the fabulous "Plum Nellie", which is also highlighted by great organ and trombone work by the multi-talented Jones. This album is a great trip back to a more soulful time.



Booker T. & The MG's - Soul Dressing (flac 102mb)

01 Soul Dressing 2:24
02 Tic-Tac-Toe 2:30
03 Big Train 2:30
04 Jellybread 2:27
05 Aw' Mercy 2:34
06 Outrage 2:31
07 Night Owl Walk 3:12
08 09 Chinese Checkers 2:25
10 Home Grown 2:39
11 Mercy Mercy 2:32
12 Plum Nellie 2:03
13 Can't Be Still 1:57

Booker T. & The MG's - Soul Dressing  (ogg 54mb)

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Still riding high years after the success of "Green Onions," Hip Hug-Her is another 11-song solid session of Southern soul delivered by one of the best bands in the business. In an attempt to appeal to the up-and-coming mod movement, the cover features an alluring model flanked by fashionable faceless people. But not to judge the album by its cover, Hip Hug-Her finds the group diving deeper into soulful territories, no doubt aided by the addition of bassist Duck Dunn to the fold. The title track is clearly one of the stronger cuts on the album, but other tunes such as the midtempo Motown anthem "Get Ready" and the group's interpretation of "Groovin'" make this one of the strongest full-lengths in the Booker T. & the MG's catalog.



Booker T. & The MG's - Hip Hug-Her (flac 172mb)

01 Hip Hug-Her 2:26
02 Soul Sanction 2:38
03 Get Ready 2:50
04 More 2:52
05 Double Or Nothing 2:56
06 Carnaby St. 2:19
07 Slim 2:26
08 Pigmy 3:57
09 Groovin' 2:43
10 Booker's Notion 2:26
11 Sunny 3:26

Booker T. & The MG's - Hip Hug-Her  (ogg 75mb)

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Just about everything Booker T. and the M.G.'s recorded is worth hearing, but this is an often overlooked masterpiece. The "Ode to Billie Joe" starts off as a dirge/march and then swings uptempo. "You Don't Love Me", recorded by the same rhythm section with Albert King, has a neat arrangement, as does "Let's go Get Stoned". "Blue on Green" is straight ahead organ-combo blues done the way it should be--no one player is trying to do all the work. Ten of the eleven songs were knocked out in one day. That's almost unheard of these days with today's production standards, artists' egos, and simply, time and money. This shows what a well-oiled machine Booker T. & the MGs were and how creative and explosive the four of them had become.



Booker T. & The MG's - Doin' Our Thing  (flac 181mb)

01 I Can Dig It 2:44
02 Expressway (To Your Heart) 3:00
03 Doin' Our Thing 3:55
04 You Don't Love Me 2:52
05 Never My Love 2:45
06 The Exodus Song 2:35
07 The Beat Goes On 2:32
08 Ode To Billie Joe 3:56
09 Blue On Green 2:29
10 You Keep Me Hanging On 4:47
11 Let's Go Get Stoned 2:51

Booker T. & The MG's - Doin' Our Thing (ogg 81mb)

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For those eager to get all four in one go-just this once..

Booker T. & The MG's - Green Onions, Soul Dressing, Hip Hug-Her, Doin' Our Thing  (flac 596mb)

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gr8 stuff, thanks very much!