Sunday morning coming down

Rod Stewart performed Friday night at Xcel Center in St. Paul and Jon Bream was on hand to memorialize and review the show for the Star Tribune. Having seen Stewart in one of his first Twin Cities shows, at the old Minneapolis Auditorium in July 1971, I am an old fan of his early music. Unfortunately, Deep Purple opened for Stewart that night. I thought whoever paired Stewart with Deep Purple was a torture artist, but Stewart put on a good show and has been back many times since.

I wondered where Jon was on Thursday night when Booker T. Jones appeared for two shows at the Dakota. I thought the event was at least equally historic. I was snapping photos (including the one below), but I wasn’t taking notes. I didn’t keep a setlist. I didn’t take down the names of his current band members. I wasn’t planning on writing about it. Rather than bitch about the lack of attention, however, I only want to memorialize the show and briefly remind readers of Booker T.’s place in the firmament with an abbreviated set of videos this morning. I apologize in advance for the cursory nature of these notes.

To understand the Stax story I refer readers to Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music and Robert Gordon’s Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (with a terrific foreword by Jones). Booker T. looked back to tell his own story in the 2019 memoir Time Is Tight: My Life, Note By Note. Preston Lauterbach tipped me to Jones’s memoir in an informative Wall Street Journal review.

Jones wrote and recorded “Green Onions” with the MG’s at age 17 (below). It became a hit in 1962. Jones has been a working artist now for 60 years. To borrow the title of Mel Tormé’s memoir, however, it wasn’t all velvet.

“Green Onions,” by the way, was originally released as the B side of “Behave Yourself.” It didn’t take them long to turn things around. However, this isn’t too shabby either.

The classic Booker T. and the MG’s instrumental outfit — Booker T. Jones (organ), Steve Cropper (guitar), Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass), and Al Jackson (drums, murdered in 1975) — was the house band of Stax Records and therefore the group that backed Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Albert King and the other great Stax artists at the heart of the sixties soul awakening. In the live performance captured in the video below, for example, they are backing Sam and Dave on the Hayes/Porter number “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.” Booker sang this Thursday evening.

Booker T. and the MG’s performed at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967. In the incredible video below (from D.A. Pennebaker’s film of the festival) they back Otis Redding on “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.”

The original group is captured onstage in Oakland performing “Time Is Tight” in the rare 1970 video below while Creedence Clearwater Revival looks on from the wings.

In August 2007 Booker T. and the MG’s stopped off in the Twin Cities for two nights at the Dakota on their way to the Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth. All four shows were sold out, but I made it to the first. Local drummer Gordy Knutson expertly filled in for Anton Fig, who was late arriving because of bad weather in New York.

Seeing Booker T., Steve Cropper, and Duck Dunn perform together that night was a thrill. They lit up the stage in an intimate venue with a set that brought their old hits to life with verve and passion.

The set opened evocatively with “Serve Somebody” and “Hang ‘Em High” before turning up the intensity with “Summertime,” “Hip Hug-Her,” an uptempo “Green Onions,” a smoldering “Born Under a Bad Sign” (with Booker T. taking a vocal turn), “Behave Yourself,” and a smashing “Time Is Tight.” Cropper stayed onstage after the rest of the band exited to make a simple announcement that applied to the group as a whole: “Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, everybody, the greatest!” Dunn died on tour in Japan in 2012.

The estimable Mr. Jones is a multi-instrumental threat. He plays just about every instrument used in pop music. I don’t recall him getting out from behind the organ during the 2007 set at the Dakota. On Thursday night he recalled Bob Dylan — his Malibu neighbor — coming over to his house to work on “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by running his guitar through Jones’s tape deck. Jones strapped on the guitar for this one (my photo is above) and remembered Dylan asking him, “Do you think it’s any good?”

Jones wrote the classic “Born Under a Bad Sign” at home in Memphis with William Bell the night before Albert King recorded it. Everyone seemed to sit up and take notice when it was released in 1967. I found his performance of it on Thursday incredibly moving. He wrote the song! The second he began singing I thought I could hear the church in his voice. In the video below he performs the song with Daryl Hall and Hall’s band.

He played “Hang ‘Em High” Thursday night. I think he mentioned that it was composed by Dominic Frontiere (for the Clint Eastwood movie, of course). Booker T. and the MG’s turned it into a hit in the annus horribilis of 1968.

He closed the show Thursday evening with Lauryn Hill’s “Everything Is Everything.”

I found the show enthralling. If you have a taste for the music and have a chance to see him, I highly recommend it. You won’t be disappointed.

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