The Last Shade Of Blue Before Black By The Original Blues Brothers Band

April 8, 2018

Who knew? Almost 40 years ago the Blues Brothers film starring John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd was released to huge commercial success. The backing band was appropriately called The Blues Brothers band. Now, almost four decades later, The Original Blues Brothers Band, is still touring the world and has just released a new album titled The Last Shade Of Blue Before Black.

The Blues Brothers originally were and remain a band that plays the blues while having some fun along the way. That philosophy remains intact as guitarist Steve Cropper and sax player Lou Marine, along with their old band mates and assorted guests, romp through 14 tracks of original tunes and classic blues covers.

The original band was somewhat limited by Belushi and Ackroyd. Now, some of the best musicians working today are fronted by vocalists  such as Eddie Floyd and joe Louis Walker.

The band burns though Eddie Floyd’s original composition, highlighted by his vocals, “Don’t Forget About James Brown” and then morphs into the Paul Schaffer produced “Sex Machine.”

Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Do To Me,” Delbert McClinton’s “Cherry Street,” and Willie Dixon’s “Don’t Go No Further” continue the band’s trend of introducing new listeners to the blues.

“You Left The Water Running” and the old rock classic “I Got My Mojo Working” plum the essence of the band. Basically recorded live, they are sprawling pieces that one can envision in a smoky bar late at night. The Lou Marini title track album ender is seven minutes of proving that the band is still relevant.

For those of use who were actually around in 1978 when the Blues Brothers debuted as a one-time skit on Saturday Night Live, it’s good to have them still around. And be sure to turn up the volume.

Green Onions by Booker T & The MG’s

October 10, 2012

Booker T. Jones, Lewie Steinberg (replaced by Donald “Duck” Dunn), Al Jackson Jr, and Steve Cropper were some of the finest session players for the Stax label. One day Billy Lee Riley did not show for a session so the foursome began playing in the studio to pass the time. They began improvising and the recording machines were running. And so “Green Onions” was born.

“Green Onions” is one of the more recorgnizable instrumentals of the rock and roll era. It has been used in dozens of movies and television commercials. It reached number three on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart and topped the Rhythm & Blues Chart.

Jackson died in 1975 but Jones, Cropper, and Dunn played together until Dunn’s death in May of 2012. Booker T. & The MG’s were elcted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1992.

Green Onions (Remastered) by Booker T & The MGs

August 5, 2012

Rockabilly singer Billy Lee Riley had booked some studio time and needed a backing band. Little did anyone realize at the time that those musicians would be inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Organist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Lewis Steinberg, (replaced by Donald “Duck” Dunn), and drummer Al Jackson Jr. were respected session musicians when they decided to jam with the leftover studio time from the Riley sessions. The result was “Behave Yourself,” which Stax label president Jim Stewart decided to release as a single. The only problem was that a B-side was needed and so one of the most recognizable instrumentals in rock history was born. “Green Onions” became a huge pop and rhythm & blues hit as Booker T. & The M.G.’s began their journey toward The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Their debut album, named after their big hit, was released during October of 1962. It included both sides of their hit single, another original titled “Mo’ Onions” and nine covers. It remains a seminal instrumental release and a key issue in the brilliant Stax catalogue. It now returns as a part of the Stax Remasters series in a cleaned up form with 24-bit remastering, a nice booklet which presents a history of the band and album, plus two live bonus tracks.

The three original tracks are the highlights of the album as they are a fusion of funk and blues. Steve Cropper’s riff on the title track is both subtle and memorable. One can almost feel the rhythms as the song percolates along. “Behave Yourself” is a lot rawer and has a more jam-like feel to it. “Mo’ Onions” may not be the equal of the first two but it remains a fine, funky concoction in its own right. Cropper’s playing off Steinberg’s bass lines was unique at the time.

It was customary during the late-1950s and early-60s to surround a hit or two with covers of some memorable songs of the day when creating an album. Booker T. & The M.G.s followed this formula but managed to take many of the songs in unexpected directions. Ray Charles ‘ “I Got a Woman” and “Lonely Avenue,” The Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout,” Herbie Mann’s “Comin’ Home Baby,” and Jackie Wilson’s “A Woman, a Lover, a Friend” are twisted and turned all out of shape but eventually return to their basic structure.

The two bonus tracks are live versions of “Green Onions” and “Can’t Sit Down,” recorded at the Ballroom in Los Angeles during 1965 with Duck Dunn on bass. While they have been released previously, they are always welcome.

In many ways, Green Onions is a trip back in time but one well worth taking as it catches one of the best instrumental groups in American rock history at the beginning of their career. Booker T. & The MG’s have created a lot of good music during the last 50 years, but Green Onions remains one of their best works of art.

Article first published as Music Review: Booker T. & The M.G.s – Green Onions [Expanded and Remastered] on Blogcritics.

McLemore Avenue by Booker T. & The MG’s

May 2, 2011

The Concord Music Group is launching the Stax Remasters Series. It will consist of individual albums originally issued by Stax Records, which given the caliber of the artists who recorded for the label and the quality of their work, should make for an excellent set of releases. The first three artists to appear are The Staple Singers, Johnnie Taylor, and the subject of this review, Booker T. & The MG’s.

Booker T. & The MG’s was formed during the early 1960’s by members of the Stax house band. Keyboardist Booker T. Jones, bassist Lewie Steinberg, who was quickly replaced by Donald “Duck” Dunn, drummer Al Jackson, and guitarist Steve Cropper, would back such artists as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King, The Staple Singers, plus dozens more.

In between backing gigs, they began recording together. Their first hit was 1962’s “Green Onions,” which topped the American R&B charts and reached number three on the pop charts. Seventeen more chart singles followed as would millions of albums sold.

The Beatles released Abbey Road October 1, 1969 in the United States. Booker T. Jones bought the album shortly afterward and decided to issue a soulful and instrumental interpretation of the music. He immediately had Jackson and Dunn lay down the rhythm tracks with Cropper adding his guitar parts a couple of weeks later. McLemore Avenue was released during January of 1970 and remains one of the more creative, excellent, and fascinating interpretations of Beatles music ever released. The title comes from the street where the Stax label was located.

The original album consisted of three extended medleys and one stand-alone song. “Something” was the only individual track and was released as the album’s only single. It begins traditionally but then goes off in a soulful, improvisational direction.

The first medley clocks in at close to 16 minutes, combining most of Abbey Road’s best known tracks, “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End/Here Comes the Sun/Come Together” into one long, meandering and funky ode to The Beatles. While Booker’s keyboards are the dominant instruments, Cropper’s guitar work on “The End” and “Come Together” is pure Memphis R&B and gives the songs a very different flavor from their British rock origins, as he bends the notes far differently than did George Harrison on the originals.

Side two of the original vinyl release began with the seven-minute fusion of “Because” and “You Never Give Me Your Money.” This is my least favorite of the four tracks, probably because it is the least creative. Jones’ organ is somewhat overbearing and takes the overall sound a little too close to being easy listening.

Most interesting of all is the 10-minute union of “Sun King/Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came In Through The Bathroom Window/I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” The connectors that fuse the songs together are short, brilliant bursts of energy by Cropper and Jones, proving that which is brief can also be highly creative.

If you are keeping track, four songs — “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Octopus’s Garden,” “Oh! Darling,” and “Her Majesty” — are not covered.

The CD comes with requisite bonus tracks, which are all Beatles covers taken from different periods of Booker T. & The MG’s career. “Day Tripper,” “Michelle,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Lady Madonna,” and two versions of “You Can’t Do That” complete the band’s Beatles catalogue.

The sound is clear as the music has undergone 24-bit remastering. The liner notes are excellent as they provide a nice history of the music and recording process.

McLemore Avenue is a soulful delight and an essential listening experience, as it takes the music of The Beatles in a unique direction. Best of all, as an instrumental album, the music stands on its own, even though it has been moved from its original form. This CD is a worthwhile addition to any music collection.

Article first published as Music Review: Booker T. & The MG’s – McLemore Avenue on Blogcritics.