Monday, June 21, 2021

Time is Tight - Booker T Jones


I know that everyone knows Booker T and the MG's from their massive hits like "Green Onions", "Hip Hug Her" and, of course, "Time is Tight". They were also the house band at Stax and backed up more hits than one can imagine.

Subtitled "My Life, Note by Note", Booker tells his story in a free-wheelin' kind of way, jumpin; around chronologically, but still managing to keep a coherent storyline. Brought up in a loving, musical family, they had enough money to help indulge Booker's passion for music by supplying various instruments, all of which he managed to conquer. After brief, non-serious flings with piano and drums, Booker started learning wind instruments, beginning with clarinet then oboe and saxophone, which is the instrument in which he made he debut as a studio musician! He learned pretty much every instrument available and played most in various bands before committing (more or less) to his beloved Hammond B-3.

I really dig Jones's laid back writing style - intelligent, conversational, fun and informative. Before starting this book I had no idea that Booker was still a teen in high school when he wrote (with the MG's) "Green Onions" and became a hit making machine. Even while juggling the MG's and being part of the Stax house band, backing stars like Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, he graduated high school and went to college in Bloomington, Indiana - commuting to Memphis! - and finished his studies, joined a fraternity, student taught and got married and had a kid! Man, to be young and have that kind of energy again!

By far my favorite part of the book is something that most musicians ignore or gloss over - the details of the studio sessions! Who played what, who wrote, who arranged, how many takes, and the interaction between the musicians. I don't think that it is overdone or too detailed and I would hope that even non-musicians would be fascinated by the stories - I love this stuff and, of course, it makes me go and listen to the songs all over again with a new appreciation.

As with most music related biographies, once the artist is past their prime period, the story loses a bit of its fascination. Booker is an interesting character and he basically became a rancher who occasionally made some music, but had some famous friends that he continued to work with (white and black - moving to LA he fell into the Laurel Canyon crowd), though his family situations were often shakey. A number of chapters are devoted solely to his family'n'children, who he is rightfully proud of, but they do not have anything to do with his musical career, so I pretty much skim those tales. I did like his remembrances of playing for President Obama though!

Well worth it for the enlightening'n'witty stories of his band and Stax at its prime. It turns out that Jones is a fine writer as well as musician. This did make me buy more of his music - more on that soon!