Tag 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

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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 #503: Otis Redding – ‘Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul’ (1965)

RITA#503Probably Redding’s most famous of the studio albums he recorded during his short life, this is album number three of six. It earned a little more attention than its predecessors due to its frantic cover of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction which adorns the second side. It therefore finds its way into most rock-centric record collections. It’s usually the only Otis Redding record that appears in top albums of all times lists; and more often than not, it’s one of only a handful of soul albums to appear. In Rolling Stone’s Top 500, the record places at a respectable 75.

The record is mainly a bunch of covers, with only three songs penned by Redding himself. Also covered are songs by BB King, the Temptations, Solomon Burke, William Bell and three Sam Cooke songs.

The album was recorded within a 24-hour period in July, which is a great example of how quickly Stax could produce white hot material in the mid-‘60s. As per Redding’s previous albums, he was backed by Booker T.  & The M.G.s, with horns supplied by a mixture of the Mar-Keys and the Memphis Horns.

Donald “Duck” Dunn’s bass line on Respect has always interested me. It sounds very similar to McCartney’s bass line on the Beatles’ Drive My Car. Almost too similar, if you know what I mean. A cursory look at the dates shows that Redding’s song had been released as a single in August 1965, a full two months before the Beatles recorded Drive My Car.

Ian McDonald in Revolution In The Head, his seminal analysis on the Beatles’ recording career, points out that George Harrison had been listening to Redding’s Respect when they recorded Drive My Car. It sounds like it was Harrison’s urging that they record the song with a heavy bottom-ended, dual bass and guitar riff.

So there was definitely some musical thievery going on with Drive My Car, but it’s impossible to say whether McCartney or Harrison was the chief magpie.

Hit: I’ve Been Loving You Too Long

Hidden Gem: What A Wonderful World

Rocks In The Attic #474: Various Artists – ‘Stax – Number Ones’ (2010)

RITA#474Stax Records: my favourite record label, hands down. Grittier than Motown, a talent pool for Atlantic, and a tale of a rags to riches underdog in a socially conscious and racially integrated framework, Stax has got it all. The 2007 documentary (Respect Yourself: The Stax Record Story) is essential viewing, but I’m waiting for the big budget Hollywood film to tell the story. Idris Elba as Otis Redding, anyone?

Brother and Sister Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton started a country label, called Satellite Records, out of their garage in the late 1950s, but it was when they started recording R&B and changed their name to Stax that they got the attention of Atlantic Records, who picked them up with a distribution deal.

Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Eddie Floyd, The Staple Singers, and of course, the Stax house band Booker T. & The M.G.s.; the label’s roll-call read like a who’s who of ‘60s and ‘70s soul acts. There’s something there for everyone, and a bunch of great number one hit singles, as this collection attests.

The Atlantic partnership proved to be the best and worst thing to happen to Stax though, and this is why it would be great subject material for a film. By distributing their records, and sometimes using the Stax studios to record artists on their own label, Atlantic acted as a protective big brother to Stax; but not for long.

In 1967, Atlantic was sold to Warners, and Stax fell by the wayside. Jim Stewart asked for the return of the Stax masters, but found out that Atlantic’s cuntish lawyers had included a clause in the 1965 distribution contract that gave away the rights to the Stax material to Atantic. Betrayed by his more savvy business partners and by his own naivety, Stewart eventually drove Stax into bankruptcy after a few short years as an independent. Such a shame.

I can’t remember the first time I heard about Stax. It was probably through my Dad, who has a great compilation – Atlantic Soul Classics – which captures (exploits?) a couple of acts from the Stax roster. I’ve since picked up that album on vinyl. After that, it was probably going back and discovering Booker T. & The M.G.s via the Blues Brothers. Good times.

Hit: (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Who’s Making Love – Johnnie Taylor

Rocks In The Attic #365: Various Artists – ‘The Blues Brothers (O.S.T.)’ (1980)

RITA#365On a family holiday when I was around 14, we drove down to Newquay in Cornwall, and stayed in a Bed & Breakfast on the seafront. On our first day, in fact only twenty minutes after we had arrived, we walked around to the parade of shops next to the B&B. In one of the shops was a wall of second-hand cassettes. I bought this album on tape, together with Toys In The Attic by Aerosmith. Both cassettes became not only the soundtrack to that holiday, but they became first favourites that have never left me.

I love the music of The Blues Brothers just as much as I love the film itself. There’s an unfortunate pigeon-holing that seems to go on though, that resigns both the film and the soundtrack to the camp depths of party entertainment; cheesy music for poor people to sing karaoke to. It isn’t seen as the cultural landmark it should be regarded as, which is a shame. The film did so much for African American music, giving it a much needed shot in the arm. Who knows what would have happened had the film not been released – fewer James Brown records on the streets might have meant there wouldn’t have been as much sampling of Funky Drummer when hip-hop hit. That Clyde Stubblefield groove might have been taken up by the drum patterns of some non-funky white drummers instead. What a horrible thing to imagine.

What a rhythm section – Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn on bass, Steve Cropper on guitar (Steve ‘The Colonel’ Cropper as he’s referred to in the film, although I’ve never seen that nickname anywhere else) – both from Booker T. & The M.G.s – and Willie Hall, from the Bar-Kays, on drums. The brass section, from TV’s Saturday Night Live, are also fantastic although it’s a shame the Memphis Horns weren’t part of the band. I guess it might have been a little too Memphis, had that been the case, and while I would have loved it, the SNL horns were an integral part of the band from its earliest days as a John Belushi / Dan Aykroyd skit on Saturday Night Live.

Where else can you hear Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and James Brown singing on the same record? Even if you take these guys out, the songs performed by just the Blues Brothers band are worth the price of admission alone. I could listen to a song like She Caught The Katy all day, preferably while driving around in an old police cruiser. Just fix the cigarette lighter.

Hit: Everybody Needs Somebody To Love

Hidden Gem: She Caught The Katy

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