Sunday Music – Green Onions

Posted on Sun 07/02/2017 by


Today’s music video is Green Onions and the song is performed here by the American band Booker T. And The M.G.’s

Link to Video at You Tube

This video was posted to You Tube by rocco vl

The history behind this song is so interesting that it’s difficult to know where to start.

When I started doing these Music Posts almost nine years ago now, I posted solely Instrumentals for the first 15 Months or so, and I was certain this song would have been one of them, as it was always a favourite song of mine, but lo and behold, when I went back and looked, I had not posted it at all, which I found a little strange, one of my favourite Instrumentals, and somehow, I missed it.

This clip I have posted today is different from the original, as it is around a minute and a half longer than the original. It is a live version of the song being performed during one of the band’s tours, this one through Europe, I think, and the extra is from some lead guitar work from Steve Cropper. Also, while Booker T plays the organ, Al Jackson Jr. the drums and Steve Cropper on that beautiful white Fender Telecaster he was famous for, the Bass player here is Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, who replaced Lewie Steinberg who played on the original recording of this song.

Okay, so to the history of this song then. Booker T Jones wrote this song when he was still only 17 years old, and it was recorded and released in 1962. When Booker T. entered high school he was already a music prodigy, and could play five musical instruments fluently, and he also plays the organ in Church as well, at 13 years of age mind you. In his first year at High School, he was made the music director for the school orchestra and band, and he arranged all the school formals and Proms not only for his own school, but all throughout the Mid South of America.

During his school years he also became a semi professional musician, and was working at a record company as a session musician, that company later becoming Stax Records. He played backing for a number of the record companies stable of musicians, and he also started writing his own songs as well.

Now, while working at that record company, he got to play one of those beautiful Hammond M3 organs, albeit not one of the huge Hammond B3 organs now becoming so popular with rock bands. Because they were also so expensive, they were mainly the province of record companies, and this is probably where he started to fool around with this song, borne out by something which came up many years later. The timing is different to most music at the time, and Booker T often mentioned that he had to concentrate while playing the song as while it sounds so simple, it was so different, and not anywhere near as simple as it sounds. The now Stax record company used a stable of session musicians, and they got together to for an ‘in house’ band, and now Booker T was the keyboards player, so he got to use that Hammond organ all the time. Some of those Stax artists were Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and Wilson Pickett.

Booker T. Jones is sitting, and behind him (l to r) are Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, Steve Cropper, and Al Jackson Jr.

The original four musicians formed that house band, and here you need to realise, even when looking at the video clip above, that this was in 1962, in the days of segregation, especially in The South, so this was a rare thing for white and black musicians to get together in the one band. While looking for a name, they ended up calling themselves Booker T. And The M.G.’s, and here the band themselves say that they named themselves after that English MG sports car, but when the record company themselves referred to the name, they always said that the MG stood for Memphis Group, and that had more to do with not breaching the copyright of that English car manufacturer.

The worked solely as the house band for Stax records, and between doing recording sessions for all the other artists, they recorded their own music. Working for Stax records, they had the inside running for recording their music, so they recorded one of Booker T.’s own songs, Behave Yourself. When asked what they were going to put on the B Side, Cropper and the company Sound Engineer (and also the owner of that record company) Jim Stewart suggested they do Booker T’s Instrumental the band had often played. It had no title, so when asked, Booker T. said they should call it Green Onions. When asked why that particular name, Booker T. said that it was a throwaway song, not really worthy of actually recording, so he thought, and the thing he thought most signified ‘throwaway’ was green onions, something nasty you wouldn’t really keep, and so that’s how the song got that title. What needs to be realised here that Booker T was still only 17 years old when the song was recorded.

The day after the Single was pressed, guitarist Steve Cropper, who actually thought Green Onions should be the A Side of the Single, took it into one of the local Memphis radio Stations and asked his friend, Reuben Washington, the morning DJ to play it off air to listen to it, but to just play the B Side first. Half way through the track, the announcer took off the song which was playing and played it on air, and then played it three more times, one after the other. The radio station’s phones lit up as people called wanting to know what the song was, and a hit was born.

The record company hastily repressed the Single with the sides reversed, and now Green Onions was the A Side. It was a Number One Hit for four weeks on the National R&B charts and got to Number 3 on both the Billboard and Cashbox National Charts.

In 1969, The band had another big hit with another Instrumental, Time Is Tight.

The song did not become a hit in the UK until 1979, and it got to Number 7 on the National Charts there.

And where I referred earlier to Booker T fooling around with the song on the Hammond M3 in the record studio, years later, Booker T. met the English keyboards player Georgie Fame (who had the smash hit Bonnie And Clyde) and Georgie Fame told him that he thought the Hammond sound on this song was amazing,  and he asked him what the levers on the organ were set to on that Hammond M3 he was playing on the song. Apparently Booker T had been unaware that the settings could be changed and he replied, “What, those things move?”

Booker T is in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

Sometimes, the history behind a song can be more interesting than the song itself, although when the song is this good, the history is just a wonderful added bonus.

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