May 14, 2011


A Son of Memphis Salutes His City (MARC MYERS, 5/13/11, WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal: Could you shave when you began recording?

Mr. Jones: [Laughs] No. I was in the 10th grade in 1959 when I played baritone sax on "Cause I Love You," by Carla Thomas and her father Rufus. I had a scary ability to play almost any instrument I picked up. I used to hang around Satellite Records in Memphis after my paper route. Satellite became Stax in 1961. [...]

When did you start the M.G.'s?

In 1961 I put together a quartet. Two of us were black and two were white. We were tight and loved the same music. People who heard the records didn't know what we were and didn't care. Stax soon started using us behind almost all of its artists.

What does the "M.G's" part of the band's name mean?

In 1961, the band was at Stax trying to come up with a name. Out through the window we could see producer-engineer Chips Moman doing tricks with his new red MG sports car. One of the guys suggested we call ourselves the M.G.'s.

What's the meaning of the M.G.'s biggest hit, "Green Onions?"

I came up with the riff in early 1962 while playing the piano over at my mom's house. When our bassist Lewie Steinberg heard it on organ, he said it was so funky it smelled like onions. Jiving around, one of the other guys said "green onions" for emphasis.

And "Born Under a Bad Sign?"

I wrote that song sitting in my den late at night with lyricist William Bell in 1966. I was trying to come up with something for guitarist Albert King. I didn't want to wake my wife, so I played a melody line softly and William said, "Born under a bad sign." Cream recorded it in 1968.

What made your organ sound different?

It's in the settings. The Hammond B-3 has drawbars that you slide in and out to alter the personality of the instrument's sound. I turned off the tremolo, giving it a harder, take-charge sound. Ray Charles on "Genius + Soul = Jazz" in 1961 gave me the idea. Ray used a thinner, higher-pitched tone, which sounded cool, like special effects.

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Posted by at May 14, 2011 8:08 AM

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