Although best known for a series of tight, funky instrumental hits released in the 1960s, Booker T. & the MGs exerted a far greater influence as the house band for all Stax/Volt recording artists. In addition, two members—keyboardist Booker T. Jones and lead guitarist Steve Cropper—handled key songwriting (Cropper wrote such hits as Otis Redding’s "Dock of the Bay," Wilson Pickett’s "In the Midnight Hour," and Aretha Franklin’s "See Saw"), arranging, and production duties for the label.
The band’s core members—which included, in addition to Jones and Cropper— drummer-guitarist Al Jackson, Jr. and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn—coalesced around the Stax studios in Memphis as backup musicians during the early 1960s. One of the informal jam sessions led to a decision to record "Green Onions," jointly composed by Booker, Cropper, Jackson, and drummer Lewis Steinberg. The single (Stax 127; 1963) would reach number one on the R&B charts, then crossing over to pop (#3). Booker T. & the MGs continued to produce best-selling singles, including the Top Forty hits ""Hip Hug-Her" (Stax 211; 1967), "Groovin’ (Stax 224; 1967), "Soul-Limbo" (Stax 0001; 1968), "Hang ‘Em High" (Stax 0013; 1968), "Time Is Tight" (Stax 0028; 1969), and "Mrs. Robinson" (Stax 0037; 1969). The group’s LPs were also commercially successful, eleven of them—including Green Onions (Stax 701; 1962), Hip Hug-Her (Stax 717; 1967), Back To Back (Stax 720; 1967), Uptight (Stax 2006; 1969), The Booker T. Set (Stax 2009; 1969), and Melting Pot (Stax 2035; 1971)—making the pop album charts.
The Booker T. & the MGs’ first phase ended with Jones’ decision to relocate to Los Angeles in 1970 following a dispute with Stax. He would record albums in the 1970s with his wife, Priscilla Coolidge, and do production work for Rita Coolidge, Earl Klugh, Willie Nelson, and Bill Withers. In the meantime, Cropper became in-house producer at TMI Studios. The band reorganized as the MGs in 1973 around Jackson and Dunn; new members included Bobby Manuel and Carson Whitsett. When Stax went out of business in 1975, plans were made to reconstitute the original quartet. Eight days later, however, Jackson was killed in a shooting incident. The others decided to go ahead with the reunion, bringing in drummer Willie Hall, a Stax alumnus who’d worked with the Bar-kays and Isaac Hayes. Over the years, the band has continued in a low-key mode, combining recording and performing as a group with separate activities by individual members. [Stambler. 1989]
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