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(Credit: Carl Lender)

Music

The one song that got Booker T. Jones into music

@TomTaylorFO

The organ infused instrumental gem of ‘Green Onions’ is one of the most iconic melodies in early rock ‘n’ roll. Originally released as the B-side to ‘Behave Yourself’, Booker T. and his MG’s soon recognised the folly of their ways and later re-released the track as an A-side when they realised that the ear-worm was an era-defining groove.

The song’s irresistibly infectious power has been put to good use in a plethora of adverts and film scores, most notably by Quentin Tarantino in the masterful Pulp Fiction. The reason for this, in part, is due to the fact that the sound that Booker T & The MG’s created is an instant portal to the 1960s. 

The song’s captivating rhythm means it’s always impossible to listen to it on the move without affecting at least a bit of a hip-snaking walk. It is a gem that touches upon some primordial dancing energy in the ether, and it became a cornerstone of rock ‘n’ roll as a result. Everyone wanted a piece of the Hammond organ vibe.  

With it, Booker T. Jones’ future in music was assured, as was his happiness, just as he had prognosticated in a car seat as a boy. While the sonic progenitor was picking up some albums at Amoeba Records in Hollywood, he told them about the sound that first got him into music. “I doubt I’d be sitting here today, in Amoeba, if it weren’t for this fellow [Jimmy Smith]. This guy played an instrument called the Hammond B3 organ, and I first encountered one in my piano teacher’s house when I was eight or nine years old,” he said proudly holding Jimmy Smith’s album The Sermon aloft.

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He continued: “I had heard it before on the radio, I heard Ray Charles playing Hammond M3 organ. He was in Quincy Jones’ band at the time, and he played organ on a song called ‘One Mint Julep’ that Quincy arranged, and I heard it on the radio, and I thought what a great sound! If I could do that with my life, then I would be so happy. So, I’m sitting here today, I’m a happy man, because that’s what I’ve done with my life, try to imitate people like him on Hammond organ.” So there we have it, thanks to pioneers like Jimmy Smith and his work on the Hammond organ that was later honed and shaken up into the cocktail bar classic sound of ‘One Mint Julip’ Booker T’s happiness was handed to him on ice. 

The song itself pushes Ray Charles to his versatile limits, and, as ever, he comes out on top, proving he’s the only man who will never require the services of a locksmith because he always finds himself at home. Quincy Jones gave a big band swinging jazz treatment to an old Clovers hit landed him a big hit in 1961. It inspired Booker T. and now the Hammond organ is woven into the musical tapestry of pop culture for good, and I’m sure we can all agree, it’s for the better too. 

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