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Stylish, precise and oh so funky, Booker T. & the MG’s were the premier instrumental soul group of the ‘60s. Booker T. Jones (keyboards), Steve Cropper (guitar), Al Jackson (drums) and Lewie Steinberg (bass), who was replaced by Duck Dunn in ‘65, excelled at tight, understated r’n’b that still feels fresh and vibrant today.
Debuting with “Green Onions,” the biggest seller on The Complete Stax Singles Volume 1 (1962-1967), the quartet went on to churn out a string of tasty 45s that epitomized laid-back cool. While “Green Onions” spotlighted Jones’ luscious Hammond organ riffs and drew on the soul jazz tradition of Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff, subsequent offerings ranged far and wide stylistically in search of that elusive second hit. The likable “Mo-Onions” shamelessly echoed its hit predecessor; the swaggering “Hip Hug-Her” found them hitting a tough, irresistible groove with a more modern vibe. Underscoring the DNA that rock and soul instrumentals shared with easy-listening pop, their deliciously sleepy take on “Groovin’” made the Rascals’ original sound like hardcore punk.
Forged as the Civil Rights movement was gathering steam, Booker T. & the MG’s contained two black and two white players, making a powerful, albeit wordless, statement about equality that was as persuasive as the protest songs of the day. The group’s musical impact also extended far beyond its own records, with members performing as part of the mighty Stax house band on classic hits by Otis Redding, Sam and Dave and a slew of others.
Here’s looking forward to Volume 2!
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