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Published: Thursday, 5/12/2011

Soul man Jones pays homage to Memphis

BY MIKE AYERS
REUTERS

NEW YORK -- The keyboardist who lent his name to the '60s soul combo Booker T. & the MGs is on a creative roll, fresh from winning a Grammy for his first solo album in almost three decades.

Booker T. Jones pays homage to his hometown with the release on Tuesday of "The Road From Memphis," an album on which hip-hop act the Roots backs his trademark organ grooves. Among the guest vocalists is Lou Reed.

Jones, 66, has collaborated with the likes of Otis Redding, Willie Nelson, and Neil Young during a career spanning 50 years. But "The Road From Memphis" is just his fourth solo album. It marks the follow-up to 2009's "Potato Hole," which he recorded with southern-rock band the Drive By Truckers. It won a Grammy last year for pop instrumental album.

He is best known for his work with Booker T. & the MG's, the Stax Records house band that backed soul icons such as Redding and Sam and Dave. The group enjoyed success in its own right with a string of instrumentals including "Green Onions" and "Soul Limbo."

Jones credits his recent revival to higher education. He enrolled at San Francisco State University in 2006 and learned to use popular software programs for mixing.

"About six or seven years ago, I realized I'd fallen behind the times in terms of who I was as a producer," said Jones, who produced hit albums in the 1970s for Nelson and Bill Withers. "I needed to know what was going on when I walked in a studio; I had to start over."

In doing so, Jones combined old and new: "Memphis" was recorded using analog gear, but mixed using Pro Tools.

On "Memphis," Jones' originals such as "The Vamp" and "Rent Party" fondly recall the jazzy organ arrangements that first put him on the map. But he also takes on Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" and makes a rare turn behind the microphone for the autobiographical song "Down in Memphis."

Jones' willingness to work with today's popular musicians has broadened his appeal to younger audiences.

Besides the Roots, who are also the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, he recruited soul revivalist Sharon Jones and rock singers Matt Berninger and Jim James, of the National and My Morning Jacket, respectively.

"I come from another era, and they seem to enjoy that and hanging around me," Jones said. "Sometimes [they are] learning from me and I learn from them."



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