Epic Album of the Week – Booker T. and The MG’s “McLemore Avenue”
Written by Ian Gerber for The Soda Shop
It gives me great pleasure to write about this album. There is so much awesome contained on it that I can hardly contain myself every time I listen to it. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Either you know Booker T. and The MG’s or you don’t. While they themselves did not have much time to record and release their own music, they certainly hit pay dirt on such classics “Green Onions”, “Hip Hug-her”, and “Jelly Bread”, these giants of soul are best known as the house band for the legendary Stax Records label. If you have ever heard Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”, you have heard these soul men at work. It’s safe to say that without them, rock and roll would have probably sounded different. Also worth mentioning is the fact that they were an “integrated” band at a time when that wasn’t the best idea for someone trying to make it in the music business, much less trying to get a seat at the local diner. This amazing ‘melting pot’ of musicians were the real deal and proof that real music, and any art for that matter, comes from the soul and the color of a person’s skin doesn’t have a damn thing to do with it.
‘McClemore Avenue’ is a special album in their catalog. It’s an instrumental soul take on “Abbey Road” which was released only a few months prior. McLemore Avenue is the street that ran in front of the Stax Records as Abbey Road was to Abbey Road Studios. The instantly recognizable melody ‘Golden Slumber’ played on the Hammond organ starts the record and from there you are carried between perfect mixture of Memphis’s Soulsville, USA and the swinging psychedelic sounds of London’s Abbey Road. For the stoners out there scratching there heads on what this has to do with “stoner” rock, I’ll lay it on you. First, it should go without saying that the Beatles did a whole bunch when it comes to defining psychedelic music. Second, Booker T and the MG’s were riff monsters. When you put those two things together, you have some of the slinkiest, fattest grooves to ever hit wax.
Not many stoner riffs are known for dynamic key changes, so I beg you to find a groove that moves along without getting boring such as the one chord vamp in the middle of Booker T. and the MG’s version of “Something”. Go ahead, I dare you to count how many times Donald “Duck” Dunn plays the same note in a row, without slowing the tempo. Regrettably, most guitar players are known for their technical prowess instead of tasteful minimalism. For me, tastefully placed notes, as opposed to cramming as many notes into a measure as possible, is what sets the greats apart from the not so great. Enter Steve Cropper. Nothing but tasteful licks ever came out of that guy’s amp. It’s also fair to mention that he was beyond soulful in his tone and choice of notes. Black and white people together were shocked to find out that he was white…because for some reason, it mattered then. So combined with the dynamic range and prowess of Booker T.’s organ and piano and the immaculate groove laid down by the incomparable Al Jackson Jr., they could be doomy (such as the into to ‘Something’) and then charge right into rocking, stompin’, get down of their take on “You Never Give Me Your Money”…without losing a beat. Thats talent, plain and simple. I sometimes forget what I’m listening to when I spin this record due to the fact that these songs are now timeless classics, no matter who’s performing them, and Booker T. and the MG’s perform them true to the originals but with their own blend of perfection.
If you aren’t familiar with this album, go ahead and pay homage at the altar of R&B and add this to your catalog. Your speakers will thank you.