shytone  books  music  essays  home  exploratories  new this month

music reviews

Booker T & the MGs: Funky Broadway (Stax SCD-8567-2)


Speaking of “Green Onions” - as you do - I’m bloody-well sure I was not alone (prior to hearing this life-changing set) in being somewhat puzzled by the unanimous worship of Booker T & the MGs by the first-generation 60s punks & such... To be sure, Cropper’s rhythm/lead was damnably wicked - and the rest of the band cooked relentlessly...but, still, the whole deal was just too finely-poised to supply any genuine equivalent. And, as well...prior to this monster, the available live recordings - made on tour in London and Paris - didn’t seem to offer any real corrective to this view...

But...this one (alone) was made on the infamous “Chittlin’ Circuit”...that pressure cooker which inexorably drove black music (from the 40s to the early 70s) into the recursively dizzying & spiralling heights of accessible reinvention that we still can’t - quite - begin to understand. Not only that...it was also made at (perhaps) the very highpoint of same - 1965 - when James Brown & co. were the kings...and - just - beginning the process of inventing funk-as-we-now-know-it...

And...in the face of this - the (aforementioned) Booker T & the MGs purely burned...

Cause Donald “Duck” Dunn cranked his bass amp up to full - achieving a genuine fuzz-bass sound, that melded with, and added enormous physical impetus to, the bass end of Booker T’s liquid organ sound - while, atop...the treble riffs of same rode the wave with added force & inventiveness. Meanwhile, on drums & guitar, the great Al Jackson (and the equally great Steve Cropper) easily matched their compatriots in fervour...even if the change in their sound was not - quite - so noticeable.

The result - generally driven at a faster clip than the singles (but, see also the awesomely dragged-down “Summertime”, which purely slays the studio cut) - finally provides us with exactly the kind of performance that led 60s punks to worship at this particular grail. Because, if you’ve ever locked into the highlights of 60s punk, as some kinda performance lodestone, then - whatever you think, or feel, about “soul” per se - you genuinely need to hear this set w/some serious volume...even if it’s only for those - insanely physical - MGs cuts...

Cause - and, this, I can guarantee - you’ll not emerge unchanged.

The rest - to these ears - is a genuinely hot, but mixed, bag...especially since Stax’s headliners - at this early date (1965, remember?) didn’t yet include the names we now most associate w/that great label...still, it also finishes w/(the great) Rufus Thomas’s (original) “Walking the Dog” which - yet again - easily slays his studio version of same.

And, as I said before, whatever your feel for “soul”...you damn-well oughta hear this one...




John Henry Calvinist