Chance meeting led to groundbreaking Booker T. and the MGs lineup: ‘A complete coincidence’

Booker T. and MGs were pioneers of funky-cool soul and Civil Rights-era forward thinking. But it might not have happened, but for a chance meeting at a local Memphis record shop.

The MGs, of course, originally featured African American musicians Booker T. Jones, Lewie Steinberg and Al Jackson Jr. on keyboards, bass and drums, with Steve Cropper on guitar. Cropper is white. At the time, that kind of racially mixed lineup was simply unheard of, though it didn’t stop the MGs from scoring a huge 1962 hit with “Green Onions.” In 1965 Donald “Duck” Dunn, who was also white, replaced Steinberg — but the MGs never lost a step, eventually performing on literally hundreds of other recordings for what became Stax Records.

“It feels great that we could show people how the races could work together,” Jones tells AXS. “However, it was a complete coincidence.”

Jones, in the early 1960s, lived near a local shop called Satellite Records, which would become the birthplace of the Stax label. It was during a visit there that his own musical future — and, indeed, musical history itself — would be changed forever.

“The clerk was white, and he was one of those kids who was just into the 5 Royales, and he was into blues,” Jones says. “That guy was Steve Cropper. And he had a bunch of friends out of his high school that were into the same thing, so they had a group. They were not the norm in Memphis, you know, but those were the people we ran into. So, it was just meant to be.”

Jackson was tragically murdered in 1975. The MGs continued appearing with various other drummers, including Steve Jordan, Anton Fig and Willie Hall, on their way to a long-overdue 1992 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Dunn played with the MGs until passing in 2012.

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  • Tim

    Another coincidence or happy accident was that Jones, Cropper, & Steinberg were playing their first session at Stax with drummer Al Jackson. They were supposed to be backing Sun Records star Billy Lee Riley, who never showed up. They started jamming, and the head of the company started recording. They liked what they did enough to release it as a single, but needed a “B” side. That’s when they recorded “Green Onions” which got such a reaction from people, that it became the “A” side. Now, they needed a name…Booker T. & the MGs. So, if Billy Lee Riley had shown up, who knows?