VOL. 127 | NO. 112 | Friday, June 8, 2012
City’s Music Hitting Some High Notes
By Dan Conaway
THE MEMPHIS SOUND HAS A NEW GIG. Memphis has had plenty of superstars, but the beat behind them and underneath and around them, the bass they stood on, the lead they followed, the brass that announced them and made them royalty – that beat was a superstar all by itself.
And, just recently, that beat lost a few beats.
Andrew Love is missing, and he took a sax full of soul with him. Partnering with Wayne Jackson’s trumpet to form the Memphis Horns, they made a mighty, masterful sound that was bigger than the two of them, and big enough to make them giants among the giants of popular music. He took a new gig in April.
Skip Pitts is missing and he took the wah-wah with him, the signature guitar riff that provided the guts to “Theme From Shaft,” Isaac Hayes’ Academy Award winner. I was lucky enough to know Skip. He had a voice like a gravel truck with a bad transmission that made for great radio so I cast him for spots from time to time. He was a joy and a trip to be around, and had a talent with a guitar that doesn’t come around often. He took a new gig on May 1.
From time to time, they would join a few other guys that hung around music history, and made up – in my humble opinion – the greatest house band to ever hit a hot lick.
They were the sound behind hundreds of hits. They had their very own chart buster before they even had a name. When you were listening to Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Al Green, Sam & Dave, Rufus and Carla Thomas – any of the original Stax stars of the ’60s, and other legends to follow – you were listening to Booker T. Jones on organ, Steve Cropper on lead guitar, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass and Al Jackson Jr. on drums. You were listening to the southern-soul-defining groove of Booker T. & The M.G.’s, or, as fan John Lennon called them, “Book a Table and the Maître D’s.” Setting styles and defying stereotypes, they were 50 percent black, 50 percent white, 100 percent soul, and 1,000 percent smooth. When you hear their monster instrumental hit “Green Onions,” you’re hearing something they just knocked out fooling around in the studio one day in 1962. The band they would call Booker T. & The M.G.’s (for Memphis Group) after that day was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
And just a few weeks ago, Duck Dunn took a new gig.
If you could sing a little bit, you could put some or all of these guys behind you and become a legend, and because so many did just that, this city became legendary.
The Righteous Brothers observed, “If there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heaven, well, you know they’ve got a hell of a band.”
Well, the band just keeps getting better, and we know the sound.
I’m a Memphian, and I just heard my iPhone. The ringtone is “Green Onions.”
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.