Born November 12, 1944, in Memphis, TN; son of a teacher; second wife's name Priscilla (a singer). Education: University of Indiana, B.A. in applied music, 1966. Addresses: Record company-- MCA, 1755 Broadway, 8th floor, New York, NY 10019.

Booker T. Jones is best known as the leader of the instrumentalist group Booker T. and the MGs. In addition to providing background music for the other rhythm and blues recording stars of Memphis, Tennessee's Stax and Volt Records, Jones and his MGs had solo hits of their own, including the 1962 smash "Green Onions." They were a key element in what became known as the "Memphis sound" during the 1960s, a bluesy-sounding music that Geoffrey Stokes called in his book Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll "spiritually ... midway between New Orleans and Detroit." After leaving the MGs in 1970, Jones produced records at A&M; released albums with his second wife, Priscilla, and as a solo act; and continued to work with other artists.

Jones was born into a middle-class family on November 12, 1944, in Memphis, Tennessee. He showed his considerable musical talent early; his mother recalled for Phyl Garland in Ebony that he was always playing with the family's old upright piano. "He would get up there with these two fingers and actually make harmony. When I got rid of [the piano], Booker's heart was broken." To cheer the young musician, his parents provided him with musical toys and later with instruments and lessons. He received occasional instruction on the piano and organ and took clarinet lessons when he was ten. By the time Jones entered high school, he was good enough to serve as pianist and organist for a group that performed at the school's dances.

Barely two years later, Jones auditioned with Stax, a local Memphis recording company, and won a spot as a studio musician. In addition to providing backup music for the likes of Carla Thomas and her father, Rufus Thomas, Jones and some of the other studio players, including drummer Al Jackson, guitarist Steve Cropper, and bass guitarist Donald "Duck" Dunn, formed their own group, Booker T. and the MGs--MG stood for Memphis Group. Their first major effort, 1962's "Green Onions," became a huge hit when Jones was only 18, first reaching Number One on the rhythm and blues charts and then climbing the pop lists, an extremely rare accomplishment for an instrumental record.

Notwithstanding such early success, Jones faithfully persisted in his musical education, enrolling at the University of Indiana to study applied music. While there, he served as trombonist for the university's symphony and made the dean's list. When he graduated in 1966, Jones had several offers to play with professional symphonies, but he turned them down to concentrate on his work with the MGs full time.

With the band, Jones continued to produce hits, not only backing acts like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Sam and Dave, but scoring with instrumental singles, including 1967's "Groovin'," 1968's "Soul Limbo" and "Hang'em High," and 1969's "Time Is Tight." The latter song represented a more personal triumph for Jones, because it came from the soundtrack of his first composed film score, for the motion picture Uptight. The soundtrack of Uptight was also the first album to feature Jones's vocal performance.

With the onset of the 1970s, Jones left the MGs and Stax/Volt to head for California, where he settled with A&M Records as an arranger and producer. He had already honed these skills while with Stax, and during his tenure with A&M, he supervised the recordings of such stars as Bill Withers and Rita Coolidge. Coolidge was related to Jones by marriage, being the sister of his second wife, Priscilla, and Jones produced Priscilla's recordings as well. He also made some duet albums-- Booker T. and Priscilla, Home Grown, and Chronicles-- with his wife for A&M during the 1970s.

Jones released a solo album on Epic Records, Evergreen, before having a brief reunion with the MGs--minus Al Jackson, who was tragically shot and killed while talk of the reunion was still in its early stages. Together they released Universal Language in 1977. Afterwards, Jones both continued with his solo career--recording albums that included Try and Love Again, The Best of You, and Booker T. Jones for A&M--and loaned his expertise to other recording artists. Another late 1970s project with Cropper and Dunn involved recording an album with Levon Helm, formerly drummer for the Band; in the 1980s Jones toured as organist for John Fogerty's band after the success of the latter musician's Centerfield album.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 15, 1992, Booker T. and the MGs played a celebratory gig at the Lone Star Roadhouse in New York City on the following night. "From the one-heartbeat groove they unleashed in the opener, 'Green Onions,'" Rolling Stone' s Steve Futterman observed, "it was obvious that whatever bond united Jones, Cropper and Dunn in the Sixties still coursed through their veins." Commenting on the group's momentous musical contribution, Futterman declared, "Their stripped-down sound was an inspiration to pragmatic rockers like the Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival; their insistence on funky substance over empty flash remains the essence of pure soul." Not one to rest on his laurels, however, Jones, according to Rolling Stone in July of 1992, was hard at work laying down keyboard tracks to enhance the usually "guitar-saturated" sound of the Minneapolis alternative-rock band Soul Asylum. Said Dave Pirner, the band's singer, "This record has a broader outlook on music. It's pretty all over the place. Booker T. kind of acted as the glue on a lot of the songs."

by Elizabeth Wenning

Booker T. Jones's Career

Rhythm and blues organist, pianist, clarinetist, trombonist, singer, arranger, composer, and producer. Played piano and organ at school dances as a teenager; studio musician for Stax/Volt Records, Memphis, TN, beginning c. 1961; member of instrumental group Booker T. and the MGs, beginning in 1962; arranger and producer for A&M Records, beginning c. 1971; recorded with second wife, Priscilla, 1971-73; solo recording artist, 1974--. Composed film score for Uptight, c. 1969.

Booker T. Jones's Awards

(With the MGs) Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1992.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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