Category Archives: Booker T. And The M.G.’s

Rocks In The Attic #776: Booker T. & The MGs – ‘Soul Limbo’ (1968)

RITA#776The front cover of this record has always bothered me for looking a little bit, erm, rapey. The group are stood around under the boardwalk, ogling a pretty girl in a bikini. It gets worse on the back cover as the group are then show following the girl as she walks along the beach. The four cats in the band are all wearing sunglasses, but the poor quality of the photo makes it look like their eyes have been blanked out like on the cover of that AC/DC album. It reeks of a Crimewatch reconstruction.

Thankfully the record itself is very innocent, and chock full of choice instrumental cuts. Eleanor Rigby, Foxy Lady and Hang ‘Em High are the most well known covers, but it’s their original composition Soul Limbo that everybody’s here for. It’s the track that will forever be connected to the most boring sport in the word, but let’s not hold that against it. It’s such a bright and sunny song, a little funk masterpiece.

RITA#776bIn place of liner notes, this album – number seven for the band – includes a jokey multiple-choice test. Six questions with either obvious or amusing answers. My favourite is the first question: WHAT is the name of the number one instrumental group in America for 1967 / 1968 according to the annual BILLBOARD poll? The answers, alongside the real name of the band of course, are ‘Cornbread & The Crumbs’, ‘Jake And The Strawberries’ and ‘Horse And The Harnesses’.

Hit: Soul Limbo

Hidden Gem: Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy

RITA#776a

Rocks In The Attic #756: Various Artists – ‘Stax Does The Beatles’ (2008)

RITA#756This year’s Record Store Day was an embarrassment of riches. Not only did it deliver a bunch of sought-after soundtracks, but the funk and soul fan in me was well looked after too.

First released digitally back in 2008, a now double-LP of Stax artists doing Beatles covers sounds like something I’d make up in my dreams. Two of my favourite musical pillars colliding, the only thing that would beat this would be the unearthing of a secret LP of Stax songs recorded by the Fab Four themselves between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. I’ll keep dreaming about that one.

In fact, it doesn’t take much to imagine what Stax Does The Beatles sounds like. Much of the material collected here is available on the individual Stax releases they’re culled from, with only one or two hard to find tracks included. Probably the most famous cover, Otis Redding’s Day Tripper, is presented as an alternate take that’s just as rocking as the well-known version found on his Dictionary Of Soul from 1966. Another gem is a cover of And I Love Her, a b-side by Reggie Milner who only recorded two singles for Stax.

RITA#756aStax house-band Booker T. & The M.G.s  – once going so far as to record an entire LP in homage to the Beatles – turn in the highest number of performances on the album, responsible for four of its fifteen tracks (five if you include guitarist Steve Cropper’s solo effort of With A Little Help From My Friends, the title-track of his 1969 album).

The album’s liner notes make reference to the little-known fact that Brian Epstein once scouted the Stax studios as a potential place to record the Beatles. His visit to Memphis in March 1966 ultimately led to nothing – Epstein abandoned the idea due to fears over security – and the resulting album, 1966’s Revolver, was recorded back at Abbey Road like the majority of their work. It sounds like a match made in heaven though. “Who knows what it would have sounded like had we recorded it at Stax,” ponders Cropper.  Paul McCartney’s soulful Got To Get You Into My Life, covered here by Booker T. & The M.G.s, remains Revolver’s only glimpse of how close the Beatles came to recording a soul and R&B-influenced album in 1966.

The liner notes do make a glaring omission, however. Of all the records in the world, this really was the place to mention that John Lennon used to jokingly refer to the Stax house-band as Book-A-Table & The Maitre-D’s.

Hit: Day Tripper (Alternate Take) – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Something – Isaac Hayes

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Rocks In The Attic #230: Booker T. & The M.G.’s – ‘The Booker T. Set’ (1969)

RITA#230On paper, Booker T. & The M.G.’s shouldn’t work. If you put their original material to one side, all that is left is a band covering instrumental versions of the hits of the day. I’ve never been a fan of the type of instrumental covers where the lead instrument – in this case, Booker T. Jones’ organ – tends to play the vocal melody. The same goes for guitar groups like The Shadows, where Hank Marvin will play the vocal line on his guitar. It can sound very infantile.

But, it works with Booker T. & The M.G.’s. A couple of songs are close to sounding a little hammy, but on the whole, mainly due to their choice of songs, it avoids the type of pitfalls that trouble a lot of instrumental groups. The skills that each member of the M.G.’s bring to their respective instruments puts them in a much better position than most instrumental groups, which tend to be built around one particular musician.

This is the group’s last album from the ‘60s. Their next album would be an entire cover of The Beatles’ Abbey Road, but this wouldn’t see the light of day until April of the next decade.

Hit: Lady Madonna

Hidden Gem: The Horse

Rocks In The Attic #125: Booker T. & The M.G.’s – ‘Green Onions’ (1962)

Rocks In The Attic #125: Booker T. & The M.G.’s - ‘Green Onions’ (1962)I have the 1966 Atlantic repressing of this album, in mono. The sleeve isn’t in great condition, but it’s holding together. I’d like to get my hands on the original 1962 Stax pressing – as this album, the band’s debut, was the very first album released on the Stax label (the three previous offerings of the label were distributed on the Atlantic label).

I love Stax. I recently bought the 7” box-set they brought out for Record Store Day this year, and even though that covers the kind of tracks that most people have never heard, that “lesser” material they were producing is still sweet to listen to 40 years later.

As far as instrumentals go, you really can’t beat Green Onions. It’s got a slightly menacing sound, which I think is why it still sounds fresh today. With that sort of tempo and bass line, it should sound poppy and dated, but they approach it without overcooking it. Booker T. Jones may ham it up on the organ when they play it live, but in the studio he remains composed and gives the track chance to breathe.

Hit: Green Onions

Hidden Gem: Behave Yourself

Rocks In The Attic #76: Otis Redding – ‘Live In Europe’ (1967)

Rocks In The Attic #76: Otis Redding - ‘Live In Europe’ (1967)In terms of music gifted to me, this has to be up there with the best of them. A birthday present from my good friend Moo, this is one of the gems of my record collection – a March 1967 recording of Otis Redding, backed by Booker T. & The M.G.’s, in Paris. The record was released in December of that same year, exactly five months before his death, making this the last Otis Redding release while he was still alive.

I think the reason I like this album so much is that it’s two of my favourite Stax artists – Otis and Booker T. & The M.G.’s – all for the price of one. It’s like that time I went to see AC/DC and The Wildhearts were the support band.

Hit: Try A Little Tenderness

Hidden Gem: Day Tripper

Rocks In The Attic #29: The Bar-Kays – ‘Soul Finger’ (1967)

Rocks In The Attic #29: The Bar-Kays - ‘Soul Finger’ (1967)Thanks to my Dad, I have this in my collection – an original version of The Bar-Kays’ debut on Volt Records – Stax’s sister label – with the cover held together with a couple of strategically placed pieces of sellotape.

Soul Finger is a great soul record, drawing comparisons to label-mates Booker T. & The M.G.’s, mainly as they’re both organ-driven instrumental groups. The Bar-Keys are a little less organ-heavy compared to the earlier group, but with a brassier sound due to their compliment of saxophone and trumpet.

The band was cut down in its prime as a result of being picked up by Otis Redding as his backing band. Four of the six original members died in the same 1967 plane crash that took his life (only the trumpeter survived the crash, and the bass player was on another flight). The Bar-Kays were then repopulated with replacements, and went on to back many other Stax artists – most notably playing on Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul album – and released records all the way into the 1980s.

The Blues Brothers play a great version of the song Soul Finger, as the opening to their Made In America live LP. It’s fitting that Cropper and Dunn play that version, as the M.G.’s were instrumental (no pun intended) in cultivating The Bar-Kays through the ranks at Stax / Volt.

Soul Finger and one of The Bar-Kays’ later songs, Too Hot To Stop, also feature on the soundtrack to 2007’s Superbad.

Hit: Soul Finger

Hidden Gem: Pearl High

Rocks In The Attic #16: Booker T. & The M.G.’s – ‘McLemore Avenue’ (1970)

I bought this only last Sunday, from Real Groovy in Auckland. Got it home, put in on the turntable and while it’s on its first listen I turn on the internet and find out that Duck Dunn has passed away.

The music world has lost a lot of good people in the last couple of weeks – Levon Helm, The Beastie Boys’ MCA, Duck Dunn, and as of the day before yesterday, Donna Summer. That’s be a nice little band right there – an odd band, but something worth listening to.

McElmore Avenue, as the front cover might suggest, is Booker T. & The M.G.’s doing Abbey Road. Released only a few months as The Beatles’ swansong, it’s missing a few songs (my favourite, Oh! Darling is noticeably absent), but this gives the M.G.’s a bit of room to improvise on the songs chosen.

It’s a great little album, with the band on top form, working their way through a largely instrumental and heavily re-ordered version of Abbey Road.

Hit: Come Together

Hidden Gem: I Want You (She’s So Heavy)