Friday, May 18, 2012

No. 748 – Green Onions

Performer: Booker T & The M.G.s
Songwriters: Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Lewis Steinberg, Al Jackson Jr.
Original Release: single
Year: 1962
Definitive Version: None

This is the oldest song on my list—one of two that’s older than I am. For the most part, I’m one of those guys for whom rock and roll didn’t really start until at least the Beatles came to America and more specifically when The Doors’ first album was released.

That isn’t to say I don’t have respect for the old-time rock-n-roll. I grew up on Chuck Berry; he was Dad’s musical hero, and his college band played more Chuck Berry than anyone else. The rest—Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Elvis, and so on—are great, but it’s not something I seek out.

I’ve been familiar with this song since I first saw Quadrophenia in 1980. But it doesn’t really attach itself to a specific time, so I have a disparate memories attached to it.

For example, my sophomore year at Wabash, on MTV’s Saturday night concert, one time the show was essentially Guitar Heroes. I can’t remember the celebration that was attached, but they had all these different guys, such as Dickey Betts from the Allman Brothers and Neal Schon from Journey and Tommy Iommi from Black Sabbath, playing short sets by themselves.

At the end, everyone came on stage, and they did this song. They must have done a 15-minute version, so everyone had a chance to solo—all the while Paul Shaffer played the familiar hypnotic beat over and over until he probably was ready to sue for repetitive-stress injury.

I have a clear vision of sitting on the floor in the living room at Dr. Herzog’s house during this show, and that would be the pre-eminent memory, except that that doesn’t do much justice to Booker bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, who died a couple of days ago.

Fortunately, I saw Booker T & the M.G.s in 2010. They were the warmup act for Mavis Staples, whom Laurie wanted to see. I wasn’t particularly interested to see either, but I went anyway—a free ticket’s a free ticket, right?

At the end of the night, there was no question who was the better performer. Even Laurie, who confessed she didn’t know who they were beforehand, conceded that Booker T & the M.G.s held the honors. Everyone was about the same age—70-plus—but the key is that age can be more of an impediment when your main instrument is your voice, and Mavis, sad to say, didn’t have it that night.

Booker T’s set was mostly instrumentals, including this locomotive standard, and age is less of an issue when all you have to do is get to the stage and wail away, which is pretty much what they did. All of them are fairly ginormous with the exception of Booker himself, and they mostly stood like statues while laying down an hour of some serious Staxian Memphis blues rock.

When they were done, as Laurie wryly noted later, they just put down their instruments and waddled off the stage. But their music held up, lean, muscular and sturdy even if their bodies hadn’t. I suppose that’s as solid a tribute as you can pay a musician.

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