Inside Booker T. and the MGs’ stirring ’90s-era comeback: ‘It went by like a rocket’

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Booker T. and the MGs’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 15, 1992, earned them more than long-deserved recognition. Suddenly, they were performing with some of rock’s biggest names again.

As the house band for Stax Records in the ’60s, Booker T. and the MGs were often-uncredited jacks of all trades, appearing with a dizzying array of artists as sidemen, backing groups and ace producers. (And, of course, this was all while they held down their own standout career.) Thirty years later, Hall of Fame trophy in hand, it was as if everything had come full circle.

Later in 1992, on October 16, they served a similar role as the house band for a huge multi-artist tribute concert at Madison Square Garden held in recognition of Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary in the music business. Surviving MGs Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn and Booker T. Jones were joined by Anton Fig and Jim Keltner on the date.

“I think Duck and I played on 27 different songs. There was more in the show, but we played on 27 different songs,” Steve Cropper tells James Calemine, with a laugh. “It went by like a rocket. We were just tossing chord changes and go on to the next song. What came out of it was pretty good. We’ve always been fans with Bob. We never really worked with him. He came to us. We were playing in Europe and he came backstage, and he said, ‘Hey, they’re going to celebrate my 50th birthday and I’d like the MGs to be my back-up band.’ We said give us a call and he did. We decided to do it and we had a lot of fun.”

By the next summer, Booker T. and the MGs could be found backing Neil Young on a sprawling world tour, which kicked off on June 26, 1993 and continued into that November. “Duck and I were on tour in Australia with the Blues Brothers when we got the call from Booker,” Cropper remembered, “and he said, ‘I talked to Neil’s manager Elliot Roberts and … he wants to go out on the road. He wants us to go out to his ranch and rehearse for two weeks.’”

That relationship, too, was sparked at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, when Neil Young and the MGs collaborated on an update of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Months later, in 1994, Booker T. and the MGs had released their first studio effort in 17 years, That’s the Way It Should Be, which featured a cool update of Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

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