How good a musician is Booker T? Along with the rest of the MGs, the house band of seminal soul imprint Stax who had several instrumental hits of their own besides backing Stax's powerhouse roster (Rufus Thomas, Albert King, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding...) throughout the '60s, the Memphis-born master of the Hammond B3 organ was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 at the relatively young age of 48.
The MGs released "Green Onions," possibly the most ubiquitous instrumental of the rock and roll era, in 1962... when Booker T was all of 18 years old. But even such a preternatural talent has people he looks up to, admires and studies. Rocks Off has never met Booker T., and regretfully we've never read Rob Bowman's 1997 book Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records
(yet), but here are our best guesses for the musical minds who have made Booker T the soul man he is today.
Johann Sebastian Bach/Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: After
"Green Onions" was already a hit, Booker T. studied classical composition at Indiana University - commuting back to Memphis from Bloomington to record at Stax on the weekends - so Rocks Off is willing to bet he knows his way around a Bach fugue or Mozart sonata. How cool would it be if he pulled one out at Wired Live Saturday night?
Nat King Cole:
Like Booker T, Cole's knack for a melody and easygoing keyboard flow tended to conceal a serious set of chops - Rocks Off has Warren's jukebox to thank for introducing us to Cole's jazzier side - and he would have been ubiquitous on the radio when Booker was growing up in the '40s and '50s. His influence can be heard on Willie Nelson's 1978 album Stardust, which Booker T. produced. In Rocks Off's estimation, Nelson's version of the title track, with the producer on barely perceptible B3 in the background, is the only one that even comes close to Cole's.
Speaking of chops, any discussion of B3 mastery pretty much begins and ends with Booker T. and Jimmy Smith, who laid the foundation for the "soul-jazz" genre - later explored by the likes of Herbie Hancock on "Watermelon Man" - with a series of Blue Note albums in the '50s and '60s (awesome cover art, too). In particular, we have a feeling that 1958's Six Versions of the Blues
may have especially rubbed off on the young Mr. T. Haha.