TITLE: My Life, Note by Note
AUTHOR: Booker T. Jones
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown & Company
Green Onions. That’s all you really need to say. From those two trigger words you should receive a whole host of information. Stax records and their superlative soul/R&B output, the in-house band that he was a major part of called Booker T. & the M.G.’s, backing superstar singers such as Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and the band’s own time in the sun, releasing LPs of their own and finding their own fame.
Jones’ own performance hinged on his organ playing, the Hammond B-3 to be specific. A sound that I personally find quite delicious.
But how about his book? Should you also consider it a bit tasty?
From his first recorded time listening to swing/jazz outfit, Al Jackson Snr’s band play live in the only open space in South Memphis open to blacks, the aptly name Lincoln Park, a time that so overwhelmed him, the seven year old let go of the kite he was carrying and forever lost it to the wind, music dominated Jones’ life. That continued after he played his new clarinet to the waiting room right after he’d had a haircut, down at his local barbers. The applause he received moved him towards a, “nervous bow.” Then again, music was all around. His mother played piano, his grandmother was a piano teacher, even the boy next door played oboe.
Learning the piano, he was an eager student. It was 1954 when he took organ lessons. He was lucky to do that. Hammond B-3s were incredibly expensive. At that time, a two-bedroom house cost $6,000 while a B-3 would set you back $4,000. He didn’t know it then, but even at the age of nine, he was already ‘home’.
The book is a Curate’s Egg. Firstly, it’s very easy to read. Jones’ style is simple in form, with a flowing narrative that is easily digested. His story is told in an object-oriented manner.
In Jones’ case, he will place his central story at the core but he will bounce around times and places to add form and context. It’s a bit like listening to bop-jazz, a genre Jones himself loves. That is, this story is not a straight A-B-C, it’s an A-d-B-m-C-x and so on. It might seem confusing but it tends to work in practice. That said, the book becomes a collection of moments instead of a complete story and I wanted a lot more information.
Hence, Jones can address some issues briefly, possibly too briefly. The band’s initial split, for example. Also, the murder of his drummer, Al Jackson is handled succinctly and, yes, emotionally, but only in two pages. I wanted more. Lots of other issues prompt the same response.
Jones’ style is relaxed and at ease. Some writers almost shriek off the page. In this book, you feel like you’re taking a relaxing walk with the man or sitting on the porch, sharing a beer with the guy as he slowly allows his story to unfold. He likes to recount conversations, even though it’s debatable whether he members any or all of them from so long ago. The thing is, they seem right and you’re more than prepared to suspend reality to enter into his history.
The emergence of the seminal hit, Green Onions – which was intended to be a mere B-side to Behave Yourself – was created during down time in the studio after Jones had been playing with rhythms elsewhere. The rest of the future M.G.’s worked with him, initially declaring the track, “…so funky it smells like onions!” Then “Funky” turned to “Green” and the band was named there and then, after a British MG car was seen sitting outside the studio window at the time, incredibly enough.
Despite the quirks, ‘Time is Tight’ remains a fine book and a fine read by a man positioned right at the centre of music and music history.
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