To continue the celebrations of some of our favourite black artists, we’ll be talking about the legend that is Mr Booker T. Jones on today’s Artists in Focus blog.

That Bluesy Riff

Memphis born Booker T. Jones was an incredible genius even from childhood! A player of literally ALL the instruments, including oboe, saxophone, trombone, double bass, piano and organ, Jones even hung out with fellow songwriter Maurice White, who would become one of the faces of Earth, Wind & Fire.

After getting some of his first gigs with Stax Records at the age of 16, he soon became a member of the label’s house band, giving him the opportunity to play with some huge artists like Bill Withers and Otis Redding (yes, that does include “(Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay”!). It would also be where he met his fellow future band mates, Steve Cropper, Lewie Steinberg and Al Jackson Jr. All house band members, they were once jamming during some downtime. Someone heard the bluesy organ riff and pressed the record button…

They released this catchy tune and knew it would become an instant success when it was sent to radio DJ Reuben Washington, who upon receiving the record, played it FOUR TIMES in succession! For the rest of the day, the line was ringing off the hook with people wanting to know, “what WAS that song?!”. It wasn’t long until the song that became known as “Green Onions” reached the top spot of the Billboard R&B chart, and number 3 on the Hot 100. It gained some serious popularity in the UK after being featured on the soundtrack of Quadrophenia in 1979.

"Green Onions" X Rockschool

“Green Onions” has subsequently been included in a couple of our Rockschool Graded Music syllabi. In Bass Debut, candidates learning this tune can get an amazing introduction to the 12-bar blues style of playing: a fundamental structure in contemporary music and no doubt essential knowledge for any bass player. It’s very important to make sure this line is delivered evenly but with enough gravitas to drive the track along. “Green Onions” features again in the Electric Guitar Grade 1 syllabus, featuring similar techniques but this time with a little more involvement for the player in the form of melody!

Before long, Booker T. and the M.G.’s became one of the most prolific and respected groups of their era, and they really helped to shape and define the sound of Southern Soul and Memphis Soul. By the mid-60s, folk on both sides of the Atlantic were doing all they could to be like Booker T. and the M.G.’s! Being made up of two black men and two white men also made them one of the most racially integrated rock groups of their time. Booker T. himself earned a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement, and we think it very well deserved!

Booker T. and the M.G.’s are joined by some other incredible black artists on the Rockschool syllabi, including Beyoncé, Pharrell Williams and James Brown – check them out!