Booker T. & The MG's Biography

Formed in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, in 1962 as a spin-off from the Mar-Keys, this instrumental outfit comprised Booker T. Jones (12 November 1944, Memphis, Tennessee, USA; organ), Steve Cropper (b. Stephen Lee Cropper, 21 October 1941, Dora, Missouri, USA; guitar), Lewis Steinberg (b. 13 September 1933, USA; bass) and Al Jackson Jnr. (b. 27 November 1934, Memphis, Tennessee, USA, d. 1 October 1975, Memphis, Tennessee, USA; drums). ‘Green Onions’, their renowned first hit, evolved out of a blues riff they had improvised while waiting to record a jingle. Its simple, smoky atmosphere, punctuated by Cropper’s cutting guitar, provided the blueprint for a series of excellent records, including ‘Jellybread’, ‘Chinese Checkers’, ‘Soul Dressing’, ‘Mo’ Onions’ and ‘Hip Hug-Her’. Pared to the bone, this sparseness accentuated the rhythm, particularly when Steinberg was replaced on bass in 1964 by Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn (b. 24 November 1941, Memphis, Tennessee, USA). Their intuitive interplay became the bedrock of Stax Records, the foundation on which the label and studio sound was built. The quartet appeared on all of the company’s notable releases, including ‘In The Midnight Hour’ (Wilson Pickett), ‘Hold On I’m Comin’’ (Sam And Dave), ‘Walking The Dog’ (Rufus Thomas), and a creative partnership with Otis Redding. Although Jones divided his time between recording and studying at Indiana University (he subsequently earned a BA in music), the MGs (Memphis Group) continued to chart consistently in their own right. ‘Hang ’Em High’ (1968) and ‘Time Is Tight’ (1969) were both US Top 10 singles, while as late as 1971 ‘Melting Pot’ climbed into the same Top 50. The group split that year; Jones moved to California in semi-retirement, recording with his wife, Priscilla, while his three ex-colleagues remained in Memphis.

In 1973 Jackson and Dunn put together a reconstituted group. Bobby Manuel and Carson Whitsett filled out the line-up, but the resultant album, The MGs, was a disappointment. Jackson, meanwhile, maintained his peerless reputation, particularly with work for Al Green and Syl Johnson, but tragically in 1975, he was shot dead in his Memphis home after disturbing intruders. Cropper, who had released a solo album in 1971, With A Little Help From My Friends, set up his TMI studio/label and temporarily seemed content with a low-key profile. He latterly rejoined Dunn, ex-Bar-Kays drummer Willie Hall and the returning Jones for Universal Language. Cropper and Dunn also played musicians’ roles in the 1980 movie, The Blues Brothers. During the late 70s UK R&B revival, ‘Green Onions’ was reissued and became a Top 10 hit in 1979.

Jones, Cropper and Dunn completed some British concert dates in 1990. They were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1992, and performed with Bob Dylan and Neil Young. In 1994, Jones, Cropper and Dunn recorded their first album in seventeen years, That’s The Way It Should Be. They featured heavily on Young’s Are You Passionate? in 2002.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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