Booker T & the MG’s ‘Green Onions’: Still Cookin’

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Green OnionsWe included Booker T & the MG’s 1962 hit, “Green Onions,” in our “10 Greatest ’60s Instrumentals” story and we think many classic rock fans would agree with that call.

It was the Memphis-based group’s first and highest-charting single, peaking at #3 for the Stax label. They were essentially the Stax house band and played on literally hundreds of songs by the Memphis-based label’s artists including Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and so on, as well as nine Stax albums of their own in the ’60s.

The original group, formed in 1962, was keyboardist Booker T Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Lewie Steinberg and drummer Al Jackson, Jr.

Jones and Cropper tell the story of how – along with Steinberg and Jackson – they accidentally created a masterpiece. The quartet was booked to record demos, but the scheduled singer arrived too hoarse to record. Instead of packing up, the band stayed and started noodling on a blues riff.

Jim Stewart, the owner of Stax, was engineering the session that day. He liked what he heard and began recording the band without telling them. When they finished, he liked it so much that he wanted to release it immediately as a single. The group agreed and returned to the studio to write and record a B-side for the new song they named “Behave Yourself.”

Back in the studio, Cropper asked Jones to play a riff he’d played during a recent show. Jones recalls the moment: “I’d forgotten those riffs…so I asked Steve to stand next to the organ and help refresh my memory. I played several licks before Steve stopped and shouted, ‘That’s it!’ He identified the opening notes of what would become ‘Green Onions.’ The song burst to life on the spot.”

The next day, Cropper took the then-unnamed B-side to a local deejay who played it on the air four times in a row. The station’s phones lit up with callers asking where they could buy the song. Naturally, “Green Onions” graduated to the A-side, and the rest is history.

In 1965, Steinberg was replaced by Donald “Duck” Dunn. Jackson was murdered in 1975. Dunn died in 2012.

This may blow you away: when “Green Onions” was released, Booker T was 17 years-old, Cropper was 20, Jackson just 26. Steinberg was the “old” guy at 29.

Cropper turned 82 on October 21, 2023, and still performs live. Jones – the “T” stands for Taliaferro – turned 78 on November 12, 2022, is also still performing, recording and producing.

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Watch them perform the classic at their induction ceremony with several special guests.

Booker T & the MG’s are among those who were inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019, the institution’s 40th induction class. The Library of Congress added “Green Onions” to the National Recording Registry in 2012, and the Grammy® Awards gave it the Grammy® Hall of Fame Award in 1999.

And here’s the classic studio recording…

Best Classic Bands Staff

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  1. 122intheshade
    #1 122intheshade 31 May, 2021, 00:31

    I can’t hear this without thinking of Wolfman Jack’s intro in American Graffiti about keeping the vampires away, and Bob Falfa Ford rolling his ride. AND . . . you can find this in digital stereo now. Rock on!

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