Booker Taliaferro Jones is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, record producer and arranger, best known for fronting the band Booker T. and the MGs. He has also worked in the studios with some of the highest regarded artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, earning him a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.
Jones was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1944. He was named after his father and in honour of Booker Taliaferro Washington, or "Booker T. Washington."
As a child, Jones played the oboe, saxophone, trombone, and piano at school and serving as organist at his church. By the time he entered high school, Booker was already a semi-professional, and quickly recognized as the most talented musician in his school. He was appointed director of the school band for four years, and organized the school dance orchestra which played for proms throughout the Mid-South.
In the classroom, he concentrated on the studies of music theory and harmony. ... Booker's multiple activities earned him a coveted honour, that of being listed in the students’ “Who’s Who of American High Schools." Booker's first instrument was the string bass, but he soon switched to the organ.
Jones's first entry into professional music came at age sixteen, when he played baritone saxophone on Satellite (soon to be Stax) Records' first hit, "Cause I Love You," by Rufus Thomas and Carla Thomas. While hanging around the Satellite Record Shop run by Estelle Axton, co-owner of Satellite Records with her brother Jim Stewart, Jones met record clerk Steve Cropper, who would become one of the MGs when the group formed in 1962.
Besides Jones on organ and Cropper on guitar, Booker T. and the MGs featured Lewie Steinberg on bass guitar and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums (Donald "Duck" Dunn eventually replacing Steinberg). While still in high school, Jones co-wrote the group's instrumental "Green Onions," which not only became a hit in 1962, but remains an enduring classic almost 50 years later.
Booker came to the attention of record executive Jim Stewart in Memphis, and while still in high school, he worked as a staff musician for Stax Records, appearing as sideman on many recording dates for the label. Over the next few years, Jones would divide his time between studying classical music composition, composing and transposition at Indiana University, playing with the MGs on the weekends back in Memphis, serving as a session musician with other Stax acts, and writing songs that would become classics.
He wrote, with Eddie Floyd, "I've Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)," Otis Redding's "I Love You More Than Words Can Say," and, with William Bell, Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign." The latter would later be popularized in the cover version by power trio Cream.
In 1970, Jones moved to California and stopped playing sessions for Stax, after becoming frustrated with Stax's treatment of the MGs as employees rather than musicians. While still under contract to Stax, he appeared on Stephen Stills' self-titled album in 1970. The 1971 album, Melting Pot would be the last Booker T. & the MGs album issued on Stax.
Making the charts as a solo artist in 1981 with "I Want You," he produced Rita Coolidge, Bill Withers' debut album Just As I Am (on which he also played several instruments), and Willie Nelson's album Stardust. He has also lent his trademark keyboards to artists ranging in genre from Ray Charles to Neil Young. Jones still plays with Booker T. & the MGs and his own Booker T. Jones Band.
Jones was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and was honored with a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement on February 11, 2007.
In 2009 he released a new solo album, Potato Hole, recorded with the Drive By Truckers, and featuring Neil Young.
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