Written by General Jabbo
Fewer rhythm sections are more famous than Booker T. & The M.G.s. As the Funk Brothers were to Motown, so Booker T. & The M.G.s were to Stax, playing on countless soul hits from the Memphis studio during the 1960s. In addition to their session work, the band released 23 singles and 11 studio albums from 1962-1971 for Stax, but their formation was more of a happy accident than anything. While waiting for Billy Lee Riley to show up for a session, the band jammed on a blues riff that Stax owner Jim Stewart happened to like and have the presence of mind to record. That track became “Behave Yourself,” and Stewart wanted to release it as a single.
It was the next track they recorded, however, that made the band legends. Booker T. Jones had a blues riff he had been working on and, after some suggestions from Stewart about Steve Cropper’s guitar lines, “Green Onions” was born. The song became the group’s most popular song and it is one of the best-loved instrumentals in the world. The song also became the title of the group’s first album, now rereleased for its 50th anniversary with bonus tracks.
Fittingly, “Green Onions” leads off the album. The song is instantly recognizable, starting with Jones’ organ and drummer Al Jackson, Jr.’s subtle touches. They are soon joined by Cropper’s memorable guitar flourishes, mixing an edgy guitar tone with the song’s soul groove. It remains a classic 50 years later. The song was so good, the band did a continuation of sorts on the album with the similar “Mo’ Onions.”
Mixed with the album’s three originals are a number of covers. Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” moves at breakneck speed with Jones’ organ covering for Charles’ vocal lines and Cropper delivering some inspired lead playing. The band’s offers an exciting cover of The Isley Brothers’ “Twist And Shout,” well before The Beatles’ version would become popular in the States. The original album ends with two slower numbers—a cover of Jackie Wilson’s “A Woman, A Lover, A Friend” and Herbie Mann’s “Comin’ Home Baby.” The former is an impassioned slow burn while the latter showcases Cropper’s fine, understated lead work.
For the album’s 50th anniversary, two bonus tracks have been included—live versions of “Green Onions” and “Can’t Sit Down”—originally from the Funky Broadway: Stax Revue Live At The 5/4 Ballroom and featuring the late Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass who had replaced original bassist Lewis Steinberg by that point. Cropper in particular shines on “Green Onions,” stretching his guitar lines more so than on the studio version.
Booker T. & The M.G.s still performs occasionally, their musicianship top-notch to this day. Sadly, Dunn passed away recently, making him the second member from the band’s classic lineup that is no longer with us. “Green Onions” as a song and as an album is worthy of all its praise, even 50 years later, as are Booker T. & The M.G.s.