Grammy-winner Booker T. Jones grateful music is his livelihood
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Musicians Hall of Fame inductee Booker T. Jones is considered one of the architects of the soul that emerged from Memphis in the 1960s.
He and his band, Booker T. & the MG’s, served as the Stax Records house band and he has performed with artists as diverse as Willie Nelson, Soul Asylum and The Roots.
Park City will see why Booker T. Jones is a multi-Grammy Award winner when he plays the Egyptian Theatre from April 15 to April 17.
"I’m going over six or seven sheets that I have on my desk trying to pick out the songs we’re going to play in Park City," Jones told The Park Record during a telephone interview from his home in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. "It’s nice having a variety because some of the songs keep coming back, you know, ‘Green Onions,’ ‘Time Is Tight,’ ‘Hip Hug Her.’
"Then I’ve also recorded some new albums with the Drive Truckers, The Roots and recently Sound the Alarm, and some of those songs are ending up on the sheets," he said with a laugh. "A song I recorded for Universal called ‘The Cool Dude’ will be played up in Park City. So, you can see that I try to mix it all up."
Scrambling set lists comes naturally to Jones, who is also a multi-instrumentalist.
He remembered when he first started playing music seriously when he was a preteen. His first instrument was the oboe.
"Of course, I had toy drums when I was a little kid, but I had a neighbor whose dad was a band director in Memphis," Jones said. "They would drive up in the summers from Florida and he was an excellent oboist and his room was across the driveway from my room and I heard him play."
While Jones was too young to get into the school band, he still took up the oboe.
"I still love the sound of that instrument," he said. "Hopefully one day I can write something for it."
Jones said the oboe opened the door to his career.
"It eventually got me into the school band and it got me out of the house and started me playing with other people, really," he said.
Jones also had some other musical influences growing up.
"I had accomplished musicians for a mother and grandmother," he said. "My mother played Debussy, Liszt, Shostakovich and Chopin when I was really young. So, I like to think that I got my music bug from her."
While developing as a musician, Jones tried to imitate his mother’s musical sentiments, but it wasn’t until he started taking classical lessons when he was 10 that he really discovered the magic of music.
"I started out playing by ear, so, I didn’t really know music intellectually until I started taking lessons," he said.
In addition to the lessons and his mother, Jones was influenced by the budding Memphis music scene.
"I like to think of that city as the Home of the Blues," he said with a laugh. "B.B. King, Rosco Gordon and all of those amazing guys lived there."
Then there was the city’s jazz scene.
"Everyone from Hank Crawford and Ray Charles and those guys were there, too," Jones said. "They all melded into my development."
Jones, who some considered a prodigy, began playing the nightclub circuit while he was still in high school.
"That’s when I really learned all of those chord changes of those songs including the ones I would eventually do with Willie Nelson, like ‘Stardust’ and ‘Moonlight in Vermont.’"
Being a young buck in the local music scene wasn’t always fun and games.
"You know, I would get people yelling at me to get the [expletive] off the stage," he said with a laugh. "They would tell me that I couldn’t play and all that stuff.
"They were people like Frank Strozier, Fred Ford and Jack McDuff, and they were all accomplished musicians so there was a standard. I was kind of like there for their amusement."
Still, the criticism and ribbing lit a fire under Jones, who continued to strive to be a better musician and, eventually, a bandleader himself.
"That happened by accident, because I saw myself as a sideman in Memphis and I played mostly in other people’s bands," he said. "However, I did have my own idea and we recorded one of them in June, 1962, when I was a senior in high school."
Jones was offered a free day in the studio and that’s how Booker T. & the MG’s came about.
"That actually launched me as a bandleader and solo artist," he said. "I mean, I had led a few bands in the clubs in Memphis when I was in high school, but nothing significant like that."
Jones didn’t let being a bandleader get to his head, and continued to offer his other musical services around town.
"I was one of the few young, affordable musicians who could write music down on paper, so, I got hired to do the lead sheets for Stax Records, because I was cheap," he said with another laugh. "Other people would charge $5 and I would charge $2.50."
The more Jones wrote the lead sheets, the more people began to realize that he could write arrangements for strings and horns.
"I became an arranger in high school and when I moved to California, arranging really meant that I could produce in a lot of ways," he said. "So, I fell into that as well."
These days Jones enjoys playing live and writing music, but he is always the student.
"I’ve been pretty ambitious musically and I’m still studying classical music," he said. "I also love dance music and am working on new music in both areas. So, hopefully I will be recording a new album soon."
Jones knows he is lucky to play, write and arrange music for a living.
"There are probably a lot of musicians who make their living as physicians or lawyers and other professions who can’t do this every day," he said. "I want to thank everyone for their support, because I couldn’t do this if no one came to the shows and listened. So, I’m grateful to that."
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Booker T. Jones on Friday, April 15 through Sunday, April 17. Friday’s and Saturday’s concerts will begin at 8 p.m. Sunday’s performance will start at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $35 to $55 and can be purchased by calling 435-649-9371 or visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com .
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