SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – It’s hard to believe that Booker T. Jones originally wanted to be a doctor. That's right – it was only after Jones realized he was not proficient enough in chemistry and biology to work in medicine that he decided to pursue his love of music.
Jones’ decision has earned him four Grammys, an induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the opportunity to perform in many different places, including South Orange, which he remembers as “a beautiful place.” He said he looks forward to returning on Saturday, March 2 when he brings his music to the South Orange Performing Arts Center.
“My music means an inestimable amount (to me) at this point in my life and also earlier in my life,” Jones said. “It means more to me now because it seems to mean something to other people as well. It’s just something that has defined my life from the time that I decided I wasn’t good enough to become a doctor.”
What makes Jones’s music different from most other performers’ is its timelessness. The songs of Booker T. and the M.G.s have been enjoyed by people from the 1960s through 2013, and they have even been sampled by popular modern artists (Jones’ favorite is Jay Z and Kanye West’s take on Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” which featured Booker T. and the M.G.’s as background musicians). Jones said the reason his work is still appreciated today is its accessibility.
“The music comes from a place that people can relate to no matter what age they are,” he said. “It’s simple and easy to listen to.”
According to Jones, the music of Booker T. and the M.G.s came to be almost by accident. While still in high school, Jones was a member of the Stax Records house band with the M.G.s. When an artist either finished a session early or never showed up (Jones cannot remember which), the group took advantage of the empty studio and recorded the song “Behave Yourself,” which Stax wanted to release. “Green Onions” followed, and a hit album was born.
But for Jones, “Green Onions” was much more than a successful album – it provided the means to achieve his goal of a college education. Though he said many people asked him not to attend Indiana University following the success of the album, Jones is grateful that he did.
“I think my music career was enhanced as the years went by,” Jones said. “As I studied composition at Indiana, and as I studied conducting and orchestra and theory, those elements went into the songs I recorded at Stax and with the M.G.s.”
Jones said his proudest accomplishment was when his alma mater presented him with an honorary doctorate degree. For Jones, who remembers how much trouble he had just getting accepted into the university, speaking at the same school where he was a student was like coming full circle.
“That symbolized that I’m a person who knows a lot about music, and that’s really gratifying to me,” Jones said.
His SOPAC show will feature songs from Booker T. and the M.G.s, his solo career, his time in the Stax house band and his years as a producer. Of course, audiences will also most likely get to hear Jones' favorite – “Green Onions.”
“Hopefully I’ll be able to give them an experience that they won’t be able to get anyplace else,” he said. “They’ll hear music that’s sincere and unique and enjoyable, and hopefully it’ll be a good evening for them to relax and let go of some troubles… and just listen to some good music.”
Tickets are $35 and $45 for the general public and $30 and $40 for SOPAC members. They can be purchased by calling 973-313-2787 or going to http://www.sopacnow.org/509/booker-t-jones. For more information on Booker T. Jones visit http://www.bookert.com/.
The reporter is participating in a hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.