In Booker T. Jones, the seed was planted early. Not yet a teenager, he was already hauling his stack of newspapers to Phineas Newborn's front yard where, while folding them for his after-school delivery route, he could listen to the jazz great practice piano. With those notes ringing in his head, he'd set out into the neighborhood, picking up the sound of the streets, the sound of the city, the sound of the citizens—and form new rhythms in his musical mind.
That seed found fertile ground. Wandering to nearby Beale Street, the Harlem of the South, Booker stood outside of Club Handy and listened, tuned to what he was too young to go inside and see: Blind Oscar working the Hammond organ, coaxing new sounds from it like a Delta farmer urging his mule to furrow one more cotton row, to till one more field—getting more from the instrument than can those who don't know it intimately.
Booker's journeys continued, hastening on his bike after school to the nearby Satellite Record Shop that opened in his neighborhood in 1960—there, you could listen to records with no obligation to purchase. More seeds planted in rich, receptive soil. Satellite became Stax and two years later, when the success of "Green Onions" would have assured a flourishing studio life for this studious high-schooler, Booker chose a different path, leaving Memphis and the MGs for Indiana University.
"Who would walk away from a life of stardom, the road, gigs, making money—to go to college?" he asks, and answers himself: "An idiot, or a maverick. Whatever, I was less than popular among my contemporaries for this decision." It made him a better player, a deeper listener—fecund territory in which the seeds could grow.
"Indiana had 24-hour access to their music library and I was always in there listening," Booker says. "I listened to a lot of French music, Claude Debussy. I listened to a lot of Russian music, a lot of Wagner and also British music, Italian music—and explored the politics of Europe. The actual music can mean an emotion, they can be one and the same. A piece like 'Finlandia' by Sibelius, how does a man write that? His country has been taken and belongs to another country. When an artist can put an emotion in a piece of music and a listener feels the same emotion, then it's been transferred. That's just a real true thing that you can't touch."
Booker has made real true things all his life. For more than 15 years at Stax, he explored the potential of soul and R&B with the MG's, both on their own albums and behind vocalists. They were pushing a new direction on their final Stax wax, Melting Pot, grabbing a groove and riding it longer than any pop song, to see where it would go.
Sound the Alarm is the tenth studio album by soul musician Booker T. Jones. It was released in June 2013, and features guest appearances from Gary Clark, Jr., Estelle, Anthony Hamilton and Vintage Trouble. The album marks Jones' return to Stax Records, where he made his name with hits like Green Onions (1960) and his first for the label since Melting Pot in 1971.
Join 92.3 WTTS &
Old SOUL Entertainment as we welcome Indiana University Alumni, Grammy Award Winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Member,
Booker T. Jones to The Vogue.
Friday, April 11th.
Doors at 7pm.
Show at 8pm.
21 & over.
Click here for tickets.