At a young age, Booker T. Jones made a name for himself in music, fronting the 1960s R&B/soul band Booker T. & the MG’s.
But these days? At age 74, Jones may be feeling a bit like he’s swapped the keyboards on his trademark Hammond B-3 organ for one attached to a computer screen.
“I am exhausting myself writing a book,” Jones admitted during a recent telephone interview in advance of Friday’s show at Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden. “I’m writing my memoir, and it’s going over some really old times — going over things that are 50 years old.”
Jones was just a 17-year-old kid from Memphis, Tenn., when he and the MG’s put the local soul music label Stax Records on the map with the 1962 megahit “Green Onions.” That milestone recording started a decades-long career for the bandleader, songwriter, musician and producer that has seen his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the receipt of five Grammys — including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Writing his memoir is severely taxing his memory, according to Jones.
“There are things I haven’t thought about in all that time, songs that I played back then that I haven’t played since,” he said. “It’s an extensive project because I spent all this time working with so many people in so many places that to corral all those things is a challenge.”
Jones is arguably the most famous Hammond B-3 player in the world, and a case can be made that he is largely responsible for both the rise and today’s popularity of modern soul music. In addition to “Green Onions,” Jones produced classic hits like “Hang ’em High,” “Time is Tight” and “Melting Pot.”
As a child, Jones says he heard the Hammond B-3 organ long before he saw one — listening to Ray Charles’ performance of “One Mint Julep” on the radio. As it happened, Jones’ piano teacher had a B-3 in her dining room, and, he admits, “Seeing it just really affected me.”
A young Booker T. Jones was something of a musical prodigy, playing numerous instruments growing up. By the time he reached high school, Jones was already a semi-professional and the most talented musician at his school. He went on to study classical music composition at Indiana University, in between playing with the MG’s and serving as a session musician.
In collecting the stories for his yet-to-come book, tentatively called “Time is Tight,” Jones says one of the things he’s realizing is that while he’s filled a number of musical roles, perhaps his biggest role has been as a sideman.
“I played for a lot of people,” he said. “And I learned from every one of them.”
Some were big stars, others would become big stars. They provided plenty of memorable stories for Jones over the years.
For example, he remembers playing on a studio session for Bobby Darrin shortly after Jones had relocated to California. Unlike many sessions, the music was all written out on paper. And it was music created by influential composer Gene Paige.
“My heart went right up in my throat. I learned some stuff that time,” Jones says, before cheerfully adding: “But I got paid.”
Among the long list of diverse artists Jones has worked with are Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Lee Hooker, Soul Asylum, the Roots, Otis Redding, Mitch Ryder, Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge and Drive-By Truckers.
On the heels of a sold-out concert in Salt Lake City last year, Jones is back in Utah headlining this year’s snOwFOAM, an annual concert put on by Ogden Friends of Acoustic Music. The concert begins at 7 p.m. Friday in Peery’s Egyptian Theater, 2415 Washington Blvd., Ogden. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 day of, at www.smithstix.com or 801-689-8700.
Local legendary saxophonist Joe McQueen will open the show with his quartet.
Now in his 70s, Jones sees these as “the golden years.”
“I’m still just as interested in doing music as I ever was,” he says.
And how have things changed in the music business throughout almost 60 years of writing, recording and playing?
“I wasn’t making any money then, and I’m not making any money now,” Jones quips.
Still, he says he’s fortunate to get to do what he wants to do in life. And these days his guitarist is his son, Ted — which the elder Jones says makes it convenient for rehearsing.
“The only thing I do every day is my (musical) scales,” he says. “I don’t know what would happen if I stopped practicing those.”
Well, that and he should probably be working on his book every day. After all, it’s due out this fall from Little, Brown and Company, and he’s got an awful lot of musical history to condense.
“They’re expecting to put it out this year,” Jones says, before coyly adding, “but I don’t know about that.”