“A bedrock of American music”. I could not have put it any better than the MC at the Dakota did last night. No one, save for perhaps blues guitarist Robert Johnson, has had a more profound impact on American music than Booker T. Jones. Hailing from Memphis, Booker T. Jones grew to prominence in the 60’s as the organist for Stax Records’ house band, Booker T. and the M.G.’s. The band would go on to play on records by such greats as Otis Redding, Carla and Rufus Thomas and Albert King, along with an expansive discography of their own music. While he hasn’t released an album since 2013’s ‘Sound the Alarm’, Booker T. has not slowed down his touring, and his show at the Dakota just so happened to fall a day after his 74th birthday!
Every table at the Dakota was full of patrons eagerly awaiting the arrival of the decorated organist. At around 9:30, the legend stepped out onto stage along with his band, consisting of Neal Daniels on drums, Lawrence Shaw on bass, and Booker’s son Ted Jones on guitar. They kicked the show off with the classic M.G.’s song ‘Hip Hug-Her’. After playing a number of classic M.G.’s songs, the elder Jones stood up from his Hammond B3 organ and picked up an electric guitar. “My first instrument was the ukelele, but soon after that I got a silvertone guitar from Sears, which is why I’ve got this [guitar] thing here”. He proceeded to strum a few chords and begin telling us all his life story, from going to Booker T. Washington High School and becoming a session musician for Stax Records, to seeing the Isley Brothers play with their sideman at the time, Jimi Hendrix! This kicked off the next number, Hey Joe, featuring Booker on guitar and vocals.
The most memorable part of the show, however, happened about halfway through, as Daniels and Shaw left the stage, leaving father and son standing with their guitars. The lights turned purple, and they launched into a emotion-filled cover of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’, with Ted singing vocal harmonies on the chorus and the melody on the verses. I believe it is safe to say that I was not the only one with chills running down my spine. The song ended, and the crowd roared their approval. A room full of Minnesotans cheering for their Purple Patron Saint.
The rest of the concert was hit after hit after hit. ‘Green Onions’, ‘Melting Pot’, ‘Soul Limbo’ (which contained a mind-blowing drum solo from Neal Daniels) and ‘Time is Tight’, the theme from the movie ‘Uptight’. He announced his last song, which appeared on his 2009 album ‘Potato Hole’: Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’! At one point, the song seemed over, so we started clapping. But Booker simply stood up from his organ, grabbed his guitar, and launched into a cover of Otis Redding’s ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’. It seemed only fitting to end the night with one of Stax Records greatest hits.
In a year that we’ve lost many a legendary musician, I feel more than fortunate that I was able to see a “benchmark of American music” live and in person. While we must mourn the deaths of great musicians, I think it is only fitting that a heartfelt “thank you” is extended to the musicians who, in their youth, took care of their bodies and their minds so that we, the next generation of entertainers, can see, hear, and learn from them. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you Booker T. Jones, for keeping the history of Stax Records and American music alive.