The Hip-Hugger: Booker T. Jones in Woodstock
Last year, for our annual concert by The Catskill 45s, I figured it was time for me to finally lead a song on the Hammond B3, given that we are lucky enough to own one (replete with Leslie rotary speaker). I settled on ‘Hip-Hug-Her’ by Booker T. and the MGs, in part because it was from 1967, our year of reference (2012-1967=45rpm) and also, because, you can’t hear a much better use of the B3 than Booker T. Jones.
I ordered up the sheet music, and I practiced the song, and I got it down. You know, to the point that I could no longer hear it without envisioning my right hand playing the keys. But at the same time, I couldn’t get it down. I couldn’t get inside the melody the way Booker T. got inside the melody. Rehearsing that song, we were – all of us – amazed by the nuances of Booker T.’s performance. We could only figure that he was busy pulling out the stops (literally) with one hand while playing the melody with the other. That, or he was busy dancing on the volume foot pedal, or… God knows, but it was impossible to truly emulate. (The same holds true for Steve Cropper’s guitar lines. The MGs just had it.)
Last Saturday, March 9, Booker T. Jones came to the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock for a solo show during which he gave us the story of his musical life in an hour and forty-five minutes. And of course, he played ‘Hip-Hug-Her.’ It was, in fact, the first song he played on the B3, after a couple of introductory numbers (‘What’d I Say?’ by Ray Charles, and ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,’ as written by his fellow Stax composers Isaac Hayes and David Porter) on a Yamaha. It went something like this.
As the clip intimates, the show was a laid-back affair. All the more so given that the Bearsville Theater was far from sold out, sad to say, and the seated audience was relatively quiet, if attentive. For his part, Booker T. Jones, at 68, is a gentle (old) man, given to easy story-telling as he regales us with his journey from the streets of Memphis to the studios of Stax, and on to a life in Los Angeles and beyond. There’s no sex, no drugs, although there is some rock ‘n’ roll to accompany the soul. It came as a shock to learn that Jones had fancied himself predominantly as a guitarist before he came to Stax (with Cropper as competition, it’s no surprise he switched), and even more of a surprise to discover that he played bass on Bob Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.’ (Even us rock biographers can’t know everything!) That song made it into his set, for which Jones played guitar, and quite beautifully so, using his fingers to pull on the strings rather than a pick to strum them.
The guitar was also used for renditions of “Hold On, I’m Coming,” “Sitting on The Dock of The Bay” and “Take Me To The River.” But it was the songs on B3 that drew the most applause: “Born Under A Bad Sign,” “Green Onions” of course, and the finale, a gorgeous rendition of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” (Booker T. is no Otis Redding, but he can sing as well as he can play guitar, and that’s intended as a compliment.)
Oh, and there were at least two songs from 1968: “Hang ‘Em High” and “Soul Limbo.” Do I dare cover either of them for this year’s Catskill 45s show (2013-1968=45)? And if so, can someone remind me why I didn’t film them? I may need to figure out how the hell he does it.