Sunday, May 17, 2009

Booker T

Last Sunday evening, Ron and I drove to the Pacific Coast to hear Booker T perform at the Caspar Inn. Best remembered historically as the house band for Stax-Volt Records during the 60s, Booker T and the MGs created the "Memphis Sound" that backed up hit recording artists such as Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, and Sam & Dave. They were one of the first racially integrated bands (that was not a vocal group) of the rock music era and are probably best known for their 1962 instrumental hit Green Onions. Booker T didn’t perform on Sunday with the MGs, of course, but he had an excellent band with him and he was phenomenal. On the drive over, Ron filled me in on some of the remarkable aspects of the Booker T story. One day during a recording session at Stax, the musicians decided they needed a baritone sax in the piece and they didn’t have anyone in the studio who could play the baritone sax. One of the musicians said, "I know this kid over at the high school who could do it." So they went and took Booker T out of school to sit in on the session. He blew them away, so to speak, and the rest is history. When he was still only 16, he wrote Born Under a Bad Sign for blues great Albert King. On Sunday, after the concert, Ron had the opportunity to meet Booker T, since it was such an intimate small venue. Ron told him, "When I discovered that you were only 16 when you wrote Born Under a Bad Sign, I said to myself, ‘ok, this cat is bad’." Where bad means exceptionally good, Booker T is it. He put on an exceptional show. I loved his modesty and graciousness. He wrote, played, produced for (and with) some of the greatest musicians ever. Rita Coolidge’s sister Priscilla (also a singer) is his wife. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Yet he is humble, approachable, and warm. He allowed half a dozen rather tipsy ladies to have their pictures taken with him. He talked to Ron and other folks who came up to him after the show. Well, for goodness sake, he played the itty bitty Caspar Inn! In his early 60s these days, he looks fit and healthy with clear skin and a winning smile, unlike many of the dissipated stars who allowed sex, drugs, travel, and wealth to ruin their lives. It was refreshing to experience a genuine person like Booker T as he simply shared his gift of musical ability with an appreciative little audience. Lovely.

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