B3 Hammond Organ King Pays Tribute to His Roots

Thursday, November 17, 2011 14:20

An Interview with Booker T. Jones

by: Casey Pukl

Booker T. Jones. What’s the first thing we think of when we hear that name?

A. “Green Onions”
B. B3 Hammond Organ
C. Stax
D. Booker T & the MG’s
E. Grammy Award winner
F. Musical Genius

Or there’s always G. All of the Above.

Booker T is a living legend. He’s credited with pioneering the modern rock organ. That tone you hear on every late night show? Guess who that’s inspired by? Nord Keyboards— who do they ask to review their latest keyboards? It’s a little overwhelming to prepare to interview him. I’m not going to lie— I’ve been stressing this week— a lot. Where do you even begin to talk about a career than spans half of a century and includes dozens of #1’s, countless accolades, ridiculous collaborations, and more? What can you ask the person who inspired the sound you personally aim for every time you sit down at a keyboard?

I decided to go the simple route. I asked the questions that I wanted to know, and also tried my hardest not to sound like a crazy psycho-fan (I might have just a tad, and for that, I apologize to Mr. Jones). So, without further gushing, babbling, or non-sensical rambling, here is my interview with the humble, gracious, and incredibly talented Booker T. Jones.

CP: I haven’t been able to turn off The Road From Memphis this week. I’m totally in love with the album, and I love that you collaborated with The Roots. Tell me about making it- was this the dream album you’ve always wanted to make? How did it come about?

BTJ: Well thank you. That’s very nice to hear. This album I think is one of the best I’ve ever made. It got started when I was invited to New York City to sit in with The Roots on Jimmy Fallon’s show. I flew out there and we came up with some original music for the walk-ons, and it was just a really nice match. We worked really well together, and it just came together. So, we got Jimmy’s blessing to do the record together, you know, he’s a big music fan. I took about 5-6 months to write it, and then we went in.

CP: What was it like working with ?uestlove as a producer on the album?

BTJ: He’s one of the most creative people out there. He had a lot of input about the overall sound. He had a lot of input about different drum sounds, different micing, that sort of thing. We recorded the album old school- we used the analog tape machine to give it that really fat sound, and we used some old microphones. It was old school. We recorded it live, all of us together in one room.

CP: That’s always so cool to hear. You can really tell that the album was recorded to tape— it has that warmth to it.

BTJ: Cool. I’m glad you can hear that.

CP: So tell me a little bit about some of the other vocalists you worked with on the record. I know Sharon Jones sang on it, and your daughter wrote some lyrics if I understand correctly?

BTJ: Yes, my daughter, Olivia, wrote the lyrics to, “Representing Memphis.” Sharon Jones is a good friend of mine. I met her jamming a while back, and she just blew everyone away. She has an incredible voice.

CP: When you were writing the song, did you have her and Matt Berninger in mind, or did that come afterward?

BTJ: I knew I wanted a duet. I love duets, and I knew I wanted a male and female to sing. They were both available, and they just fit the song perfectly. It came out really nicely. Their voices just fit.

CP: Now, you seem to have a knack for covering some really great current songs. On this album you covered, “Crazy” as well as “Everything is Everything”. How did that come about?

BTJ: Well, I don’t want to put them both in the same category, but they’re both songs that stayed in my head until I recorded them, and well, I guess they’re still in my head. “Crazy” is a really great song. It sounds really simple, but it’s really quite challenging and interesting. The melody is classic, but it’s not at all simple. “Everything is Everything,” is also challenging, but in a very different way. It’s easier to play, but the emotional content is much harder to capture. The song is very intense, and trying to communicate that was the biggest challenge.

CP: And how about “Just A Friend”? Was that also a song that you had in mind?

BTJ: That song has been one of my favorite songs for a long time now. I always wanted to do it, and Matt was willing to do it. He really brought the sessions up in spirit. He’s one of the nicest people in this business. I really think it added to the diversity of the album.

CP: I don’t think anyone can argue with that. On top of all of that, you also sang on this album. Tell me about that! It’s not something we usually get to hear from you! Did you write “Down In Memphis” knowing you’d be the one singing it?

BTJ: Yes. That song was something I wrote for me to sing. I always loved to sing, and I was always really a singer. I grew up singing in church and school, but we always resisted the singing once we got to Stax. We were really pushed to be instrumental— that was what we were known for. But I always sang in my live shows and things like that. All the songs on this album are personal to me, but this one I had to sing. I could’ve sung the others, but it just wasn’t the right thing for them. This song was a good fit for me to sing. I may start doing a little more of that in the future.

CP: Tell me a little bit about how over time your writing process has changed as technology has changed. I know you’ve done some testing with Nord organs and studio set ups. What’s the writing process like now?

BTJ: It’s much easier to get more material out. I probably write more music now than I ever did. I used to have a tape recorded, you know, just a simple two track that I think could hold 15 minutes or something like that. Now I can use Ableton Live to record lots of ideas. Then I can compare, listen, it’s much easier now. It just used to be cumbersome with the larger equipment. Just last week, I took my digital recorder down to Nashville and was able to record some writing down there.

CP: I know you have something that isn’t all that common in this business- a degree in music from Indiana University.

BTJ: Yes. It was very important to me.

CP: You’ve said previously that it allowed you to do more than just play, particularly at Stax. You mentioned that it opened you up to arrange and produce. Do you still feel like you draw from it all the time?

BTJ: I draw from that all the time, but not just the technical skills. I listened to so much music in the library there. I listened to composers like Sibelius, Beethoven, and Bach, some French composers, American composers. It gave me more of an insight into the soul of music. You get to feel the pain and the joy and all of the emotions that go into it. It gave me a broader base for my music emotionally. The skills were helpful to write those things down.

CP: Absolutely- it gives you an edge. I feel like I talk to so many people who can’t write their ideas down, and then they lose them.

BTJ: Well, I’ll tell you about my philosophy on that. Learning is part of the game. I get ideas for music when I’m driving, when I’m sleeping, when I’m eating. I get them all the time, and I can’t always get them down. I have to compromise. That’s what I’ve learned. I’ve lost some of my best ideas. I feel fortunate for the ideas I didn’t lose. You can’t hang onto them all, although I probably remember more than I forget.

CP: Well, we’re certainly thankful for that!

BTJ: (Laughs) This is true.

CP: Is there anything else about the album or your writing process that you’d like to share or comment on?

BTJ: You know, it was just so gratifying to finish the album. It’s always a really nice moment when you have someone say that they’ve listened to it or that they like it. I really enjoy that. I enjoy that people have access to it. I want them to have access to it. I want it to be a part of their lives. It’s really rewarding.

CP: Tell me a little bit about what our audience here at Anthology can look forward to this Sunday.

BTJ: Well, I’m really looking forward to playing. I’ve heard wonderful things about the venue, and I am excited to see it and play. As far as the show goes, I really like to mix it up on stage. There’s so much music from my past that I love, and the most recent songs from Potato Hole and Road From Memphis. I love playing the new stuff like, “Walking Papers,” and, “Harlem House,” and then I also like to play my favorites like, “Green Onions,” and some of the MG’s material. I also love to play tunes that I’ve played bass or guitar on for Elvis King and Bob Dylan. My band gets frustrated with me sometimes because I like to switch it up, and I change my mind all the time. (Laughs) I have a great band. They’re very talented, and it’s going to be a great show.

Don’t miss this show. For real. Don’t do it. Get off the couch and get down to Anthology this Sunday, November 20th for the show of a lifetime. Be sure to check out my Spotify playlists of favorites as always, as well as Booker T. Jones’ latest release The Road From Memphis.

Booker T. Jones Favorites
The Road From Memphis

WHAT: Booker T. Jones
WHEN: Sunday, November 20, 2011, 6:00pm & 8:30pm
TICKETS: $10-$38 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile

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