Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Soul - Potato Hole

It's hard to believe that I started my Sunday Soul feature over a year and a half ago in December of '07. It really doesn't feel like it's been that long. And while not officially titled as such, or even posted on a Sunday, I'd have to say that this post was probably the date of its conception. It seems fitting that it was on Booker T. & The MG's, as I can think of few other groups of musicians so critical to the development of soul music (perhaps Motown's Funk Brothers need to be mentioned here, too, although that was such a shifting group of musicians, it's hard to pin down their heart).

Instead of reinventing the wheel, here's what I said about the MG's back then:
Bring up the name Booker T. & The MG's, and the majority of people will connect it with the instrumental Green Onions (only the second track the members recorded - and actually first intended as the B-side!). What most people don't realize is that the group was the house band for legendary Southern soul label Stax Records. What that means is that if you listen to almost any track recorded by the label in the 60's, whether it's Sam & Dave, Wilson Picket, The Staple Singers, or countless other Stax artists, you're also listening to Booker T. & The MG's.

Notable members of the band included Isaac Hayes (of Theme From Shaft fame - who sometimes played keyboard), Donald "Duck" Dunn, and Steve Cropper (who both can be seen in the 1980 classic The Blues Brothers as members of "The Band"). And while their names have settled into relative obscurity, their influence on Rock & Roll was monumental. Besides being the session musicians that helped their label-mates sound so good, their style of playing (The MG's stood for Memphis Group, and their Memphis sound was what helped defined Southern soul music) was appreciated by many, including The Beatles (John Lennon was a huge Stax fan).
Since writing that, the group was rightfully inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last November, and in April, after nearly two decades, Booker T. Jones released a new solo album, Potato Hole. Backing him up on the album, in place of the MG's, are the Drive-By Truckers AND Neil Young. Yeah, you read that right, Neil Young.

As can be expected, it's an album of instrumentals, 10 of them to be exact. And in typical Booker T. fashion, they're a mix of originals and covers, including Tom Wait's Get Behind The Mule, a Drive-By Truckers song Space City, and most interestingly, Outkast's Hey Ya. What is not typical here is the focus of the instrumentation. While Jones' signature Hammond B-3 organ is present, in many of these songs it's backgrounded behind the guitar work of Young and the Truckers. It's definitely got more of a rock feel to it, albeit with some funkiness mixed in.

And while you're listening, check out the latest issue of Wax Poetics to read a stellar interview with Jones in which I learned a heck of a lot that I hadn't known about him. Things like the first instrument he played was a ukulele, that Bill Dogget's Honky Tonk was his inspiration and without it there'd probably not have been Green Onions, and that he produced Bill Withers debut album Just As I Am.

and some juicy oldies:

Booker T. & The MG's - Harlem Shuffle : Soul Men

Visit Jones' website, his label Anti- Records, and become his friend on MySpace.

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