” Hey Ya! ” – Booker T. Jones at the Soiled Dove Underground

Booker T. onstage at SDU

Booker T. , the Master of the Hammond B3, strokes the keys at SDU

Concert review- Booker T. Jones- Soiled Dove Underground, Denver, CO 6/12/15

” I saw him later at the Monterrey Pop Festival. Only this time, he wasn’t playing the Isleys’ music. He was playing his music. And we all poured out of the dressing room to go see him .”

That’s Booker T. Jones, talking about Jimi Hendrix, whom he had first seen playing in a club in Indianapolis with the Isley Brothers. At that time, Booker was at the world-class school of music at Indiana U. in Bloomington on a full scholarship. This might have been a daunting course of study for a humble kid out of Memphis, except this kid had already made great records as the keyboardist for the Stax Records house band behind the likes of Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Rufus Thomas, as well as writing and recording the hit  ” Green Onions ” with  Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Al Jackson, Jr. as Booker T. and the MGs. Oh yeah, and that was while Booker was in high school. The gig at Monterrey was immortalized in the Hendrix/Redding LP, ” Live at Monterrey Pop “, with Otis upstaging rock’s royalty – the bill included The Who, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin – with his unforgettable version of Chris Brown’s ” Try A Little Tenderness “.

Fast forward to 2015, and Booker is an elder statesman of music history, with a roster of LP appearances, songs crafted, and production ( who knew he was at the boards on Willie Nelson’s ” Stardust ” ? ) rivaling anyone on this side of the grass today. The Soiled Dove show was a veritable tour through a Mount Rushmore of rock and R and B, with Booker in the role of docent, guiding the cognoscenti and newbies alike with snippets of memories and back stories galore. Beginning with the organ intro from the soundtrack to  the Clint Eastwood classic ” Hang Em High “, Booker oozed relaxed confidence as he shared the first of many remembrances: the hit single for the MGs, a cover of the soundtrack version by Hugo Montenegro,  was written by then-Los Angeles Rams owner Dominic Frontierre, apparently moonlighting in the movie biz. Next up was blues legend Albert King, and  ” Born Under A Bad Sign “, famously covered by Cream. Booker has said that he and songwriting partner William Bell crafted this R and B standard the very night before Albert showed up in Memphis for his session. Talk about deadline pressure! Booker stayed with Albert on the latter’s ” Pretty Woman ” ( decidedly not the Roy Orbison tune of the same title ), noting that he played his original instrument, the upright bass, on King’s recording of the song.

Booker T. and Ted

Booker takes center stage on guitar, with son Ted in background. Photo courtesy of SuziQ

Nicely pacing the set with covers and originals, Jones sandwiched Hendrix’ bluesy ” Hey Joe ” between the MGs’ ” Green Onions ” and ” Hip Hug-Her ” . Then on to ” one of the most unusual men I’ve ever met “, the prehistoric  rocker Ellas McDaniel, a/k/a Bo Diddley, with an obscure tune that Jones left unnamed.  Jones would later swing back to the 50s blues legends with Muddy Waters’ ” Mannish Boy “. One could almost follow Highway 61 along the banks of the Mississippi River with Booker as he sampled the sweeping range of musical genres that came through Memphis during his formative years.

Ice and Ted Jones

( l-r ) Vernon ” Ice ” Black, Ted Jones, and Melvin Brannon, Jr.

That exposure to a wide variety of styles leads Booker to places you wouldn’t expect. Referencing an award ceremony in Minneapolis, he recounted the appearance of local eminence Prince, and deftly segued into a lovely version of ” Purple Rain ” with his son Ted. To see father and son alone together onstage, trading heartfelt verses in a gentle, almost quiet arrangement, was a touching moment and a musical treat.

Booker and Ted

Who woulda thought? Booker and Ted pay tribute to Prince Rogers Nelson.

Booker’s hits have all been instrumentals, but his voice is surprisingly supple and his phrasing is relaxed. He stayed within his range, and his sincere delivery was at times compelling. Stepping out to center stage on guitar, he showed a disciplined musicianship befitting a guy who directed his high school band and orchestra from the day he showed up as a freshman.

(l-r) Melvin Brannon, Jr. on bass, Ted Jones on guitar, Booker T. on guitar and vocals

(l-r) Melvin Brannon, Jr. on bass, Ted Jones on guitar, Booker T. on guitar and vocals. Photo courtesy SuziQ

Jones closed the set with the MGs’ ” Soul Limbo ” ( our late Harry Gebippe’s favorite Booker tune ), and ” Hey Ya ! ” from his Grammy-winning collaboration with the Drive-By Truckers and Neil Young, Potato Hole . Booker took pains to thank his outstanding band     ( Vernon ” Ice ” Black and Ted Jones on guitars, Darian Gray on drums, and Melvin Brannon Jr. on bass ), and stepped offstage only briefly . Almost in thanks to the crowd, Booker launched into his most familiar hit, ” Time Is Tight “.  Booker has said that the song was  written as he gazed upon the Seine River in Paris, and the gentle but pulsing tempo coupled with Booker’s feathery chords by  gave the feel of a watery current beneath the floor of the Soiled Dove. Time for another musical giant? Another cohort from Booker’s past? Yes, back to Otis Redding and the hit written with Jerry ” The Iceman ” Butler ,          ” I’ve Been Loving You Too Long “. Too long to stop now, indeed, Mr. Jones.

Booker T. at the SDU

Booker T. Jones sharing the wisdom of the musical ages.

— Nanker Phledge

The editors would like to welcome back our intrepid mountain correspondent Mr. Phledge from his extended ” vacation ” at an undisclosed location.

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