I'm pretty sure this is the coolest thing we've ever done behind the Tiny Desk. There was a bit of furniture-moving and finagling, but when all the heavy lifting was done, there it was: A Hammond B3 organ and its sturdy wooden Leslie speaker cabinet sat waiting for its star performer, Booker T. Jones.
Jones is synonymous with the Hammond B3. At 17, he recorded the instrument's anthem, "Green Onions," with his band Booker T & The MG's. On this day at NPR, he played the song all alone — and with such joy, you'd swear he just discovered it. I was standing just a few feet from him shooting video, watching his beaming face and his hands as he flipped switches, making that Leslie speaker spin and creating that swirling sound.
I asked what it's been like to perform that song so many times since its creation at Stax Studios in the summer of 1962. Jones said he's never grown tired of his signature song, and then told us his story of hearing the organ for the first time at the home of his piano teacher in Alabama.
There's more to Booker T. Jones, of course, than "Green Onions." His collaboration with William Bell down at Stax also gave us "Born Under a Bad Sign," a song he also performed behind the Tiny Desk. And now, all these years later, Jones has a new album, The Road From Memphis, with new friends like Lou Reed, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Sharon Jones and Matt Berninger from The National. Jones closed his Tiny Desk Concert with a song from that record, "Down in Memphis," and it's great to hear him not only playing the Hammond, but also singing. After all these years, he remains so soulful, and so good.
- "Green Onions"
- "Born Under A Bad Sign"
- "Down In Memphis"
Michael Katzif and Bob Boilen (cameras); edited by Bob Boilen; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Erin Schwartz