Birth of Booker T. and the MGs has an intriguing backstory: ‘I only found out later the real reason’

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Turns out, meeting Booker T. Jones — the whole process of getting Jones into what would become Booker T. and the MGs — was a set up, Steve Cropper says. He thought he was going to talk to someone who could round out their fledgling band on the keyboards. What he found was one of the most sought-after multi-instrumentalists in Memphis.

And Floyd Newman was worried about that.

Steve Cropper, it seems, had originally spotted a young — a very young — Booker T. Jones at the Club Handy, playing bass as an under-age prodigy of 15 or so. He’d already asked Robert Talley, a well-known local performer, but Talley was simply too busy to take a regular gig. That’s when Floyd Newman reminded Cropper of Jones.

“He told me where he lived, not too far from Stax, so I went over there, knocked on the door and his mom answered and she sent me through to the den, and he’s sat there playing the guitar,” Steve Cropper told Early Blues. “I thought I’d gone to get a piano player but Booker is multi-talented and he can play anything: Violin, horn, bass and his main instrument — which most people don’t know — was trombone. He started on bass, then keyboards, organ and piano, played some guitar (and still does) but his instrument that got him through school and playing in a marching band was trombone. He’s very accomplished at it.”

And that bothered Floyd Newman, a founding member of the Memphis Horns who was long associated — like Steve Cropper and Co. — with Stax, and with the Mar-Keys.

“I only found out later the real reason why I was exposed to Booker T. Jones,” Cropper added. “Floyd told me many years later, ‘Remember when I told you that there’s this young kid who can really play organ and keyboard? Do you know why I told you?’ And I said ‘No,’ and he said: ‘Because I was afraid of losing my baritone gig, because Booker had come along and played a horn session.’ He thought Booker was so good he would take his horn gig.”

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