By Dave Pehling
OAKLAND (CBS SF) — As the leader of the Memphis-based instrumental outfit Booker T. and the MGs, organist Jones helped lay the soulful foundation of popular music in the ’60s by writing many of the group’s chart-topping singles as well as providing backing for Stax label mates Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Eddie Floyd.
Jones was still only a high-school student when he penned the indelible Hammond B-3 groove of “Green Onions,” the first of a long string of hits like “Time Is Tight,” “Hip Hug-Her” and “Soul Limbo” that dominated the charts during the decade. Jones and the MGs (guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and drummer Al Jackson, Jr.) also served as the Stax touring band, playing behind the above named artists on the road including Redding’s legendary performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival.
Jones’ extensive experience in the studio paid off in the ’70s when he became a go-to session player (guesting on albums by Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Steven Stills to name a few) and producing classic recordings like Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine and Willie Nelson’s timeless Stardust album. He also recorded a number of solo albums featuring a smooth, soulful vocal delivery he only occasionally unveiled in his earlier work.
During the ’90s, he and MGs Cropper and Dunn provided live backing for Neil Young (on tours of the U.S. and Europe), for the famous Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden in 1991. The keyboard great continues to play periodic reunions with the MGs in addition to leading his own band. In 2009, Jones released his first new solo recording in two decades when Anti- Records issued his Grammy-winning effort Potato Hole.
Pairing Jones with accomplished Southern rock outfit the Drive-By Truckers (who backed vocal legend Bettye LaVette to equal acclaim on her Anti- album Scene of the Crime) and guest guitarist Young, the recording features a vital Jones once again pouring his soul out through the Hammond on a number of hard-grooving original songs as well as covers of tunes by Tom Waits, OutKast and the Truckers themselves.
Two years later, Jones issued the gritty, soulful follow-up effort The Road from Memphis. Described as an autobiographical work that sketches soul music’s family tree from Memphis roots to branches in Philly, Motown, New York City, LA and beyond, the album features Jones backed by stellar hip-hop/funk ensemble The Roots (the album’s production was headed by Jones with The Roots’ drummer ?uestlove and noted producer Rob Schnapf). It includes a rare vocal performance by the organist himself on the stirring “Down In Memphis” as well as guest singers Sharon Jones of the Dap-Kings, My Morning Jacket’s Yim Yames and the late rock legend Lou Reed.
His most recent effort, the 2013 collaboration with production team of brothers Bobby Ross Avila and Issiah Avila Ring the Alarm, puts a decidedly more modern sheen on Jones’ traditional sound while staying true to his R&B roots. He plays classic tracks and more recent tunes when he headlines these three shows at Yoshi’s this weekend.
Booker T. Jones
Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 14-15, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. (7 p.m. only on Sunday), $27-$65