(NORTH ADAMS, Mass.) – Keyboardist Booker T. Jones – best known as the frontman of Booker T. & the M.G.’s — will revive the classic sounds of Southern soul when he performs at MASS MoCA on Saturday, July 22, at 8pm.
If you ask me, the greatest R&B and soul music of the 1960s was not made in Detroit — although Motown certainly produced its share of great music. But the recordings made in Memphis at Stax Records – by artists including Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, Johnnie Taylor, Bill Withers, and, of course, Otis Redding – were the real deal.
The secret sauce of those recordings was the house band – the musicians who played on almost all the recordings that came out of Stax in the 1960s – who on their own were known as Booker T. & the M.G.’s, whose best-known hits included “Green Onions” and “Hang ‘Em High.” Incidentally, with white members guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, the band was also one of the very first integrated groups of the rock era.
From his early days as a Stax Records session player and with the M.G.’s, to his late-career resurgence, Booker T. Jones has remained an ambassador of Memphis soul music for nearly 50 years. A Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Jones developed an interest in jazz as a youth growing up in Memphis. A gig delivering newspapers led him to the front porch of pianist Phineas Newborn, where he would often listen to the jazz great practice piano. As a teenager, Jones immersed himself in the local music scene, sneaking into local R&B nightclubs and becoming a regular at Satellite Record Shop and recording studio. It was through this connection that Jones teamed up with then-emerging (now legendary) Stax Records to form their house band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s.
A huge success during their time, Booker T. & the M.G.’s toured the U.K. and Europe and accompanied many artists, including the legendary Otis Redding. A promising solo career relocated Jones to Los Angeles. He went on to record two albums with his then-wife, Priscilla Coolidge-Jones, while continuing to produce hits for other notable artists, including Bill Withers and Willie Nelson.
In 1978, Jones released “Try and Love,” his first solo album, and continued recording, releasing two more records, “I Want You” in 1981, and “The Runaway” in 1989, while also collaborating with artists including Neil Young and Ray Charles. Booker T. & the M.G.’s were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
In 2008, Jones teamed up with country-rock band Drive-By Truckers and Neil Young to release the album “Potato Hole.” Combining Young’s signature reverb-heavy guitar with Jones’ melodic riffs for undeniable grooves, the album received rave reviews.
In 2011, Jones knocked out another collaboration, “The Road from Memphis,” with the hip-hop/soul group The Roots. The album revitalized soul music with brightened Memphis funk and a crooning voice, and as Consequence of Sound noted, “This kind of thing needs to happen more often.” Both albums snagged Grammy Awards for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
For his most recent solo album released in 2013, “Sound the Alarm,” Jones returned to where it all began, Stax Records, collaborating with a plethora of both new and established artists. The album features everything from contemporary R&B, courtesy of upcoming artists Mayer Hawthorne, Jay James, and Luke James, to the Texas blues styling of Gary Clark, Jr. A conglomeration of Jones’s ventures as an artist, all stemming from Stax Records, the album “resurrects Memphis sound” (LA Times) with innovative rhythmic collaborations.
Lickety Split, MASS MoCA’s café, serves up crisp salads, hearty soups, and lip-smacking pub fare. A full bar serves Bright Ideas Brewing beers and Berkshire Mountain Distillery spirits. Tickets are $16 for students, $20 in advance, $26 day of, and $32 preferred. Tickets for all events are available through the MASS MoCA box office located on Marshall Street in North Adams, open 11am to 5pm every day except Tuesdays. Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 during box office hours or purchased online at MASS MoCA.
About MASS MoCA
MASS MoCA is one of the world’s liveliest (and largest) centers for making, displaying, and enjoying today’s most important art, music, dance, theater, film, and video. MASS MoCA will nearly double its gallery space in spring 2017, with artist partnerships that include Laurie Anderson, the Louise Bourgeois Trust, Jenny Holzer, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, and James Turrell.
Gallery admission is $18 for adults, $16 for veterans and seniors, $12 for students, $8 for children 6 to 16, and free for children 5 and under through May 21, 2017. Members are admitted free year-round. The Hall Art Foundation’s Anselm Kiefer exhibition is seasonal and currently on view. For additional information, call 413.662.2111 x1 or visit MASS MoCA.
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