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National Beat: Booker T. Jones Survives Organ Transplant at Harrah's Lake Tahoe

Booker T. Jones playing at Harrah's Lake Tahoe


By Nick McCabe – Front Row Photo

 Booker T. Jones
all photos by Nick McCabe - Front Row Photo

When I was in high school I taught drum lessons and played in the high school band. When Booker was in high school he was a session player at Stax Records in Memphis Tennessee. One day a scheduled recording artist could not finish his booked session time. Since the time was already paid for, Booker and some other session players used the time to record a tune called “Behave Yourself”. Back in 1962 there were records, and they had two sides, so they needed a second song for the B-side. Booker whipped out a tune they recorded and called “Green Onions”, and the rest is history.

Booker T. Jones and his band played the South Shore Room at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Saturday night and rocked the joint. They didn’t fill the place with people, but they filled it with music and joy. When I’m reviewing a show I look around to see what’s going on, and I saw nothing but people that were into it and having a great time. I would rather have a house mostly full of people digging it than a completely full house of people on their iPhones.

Booker and his band played roughly a 90 minute set of iconic ‘Booker T. and the MG’s’ tunes as well as some great covers. Joining him on stage were Vernon Black on guitar, Melvin Brannon on bass, and Darian Gray on drums. They started the evening off with ‘Harlem House’ from his 2011 album, ‘The Road From Memphis’. They followed that up with the Booker T and the MG’s version of ‘Hang ‘em High’ (which they made a huge hit). When they reached their fourth song Booker told a story of hearing what he thought was a Joe Bonamassa song playing at home, only to come into the room to see that it was his son, Ted playing guitar. Then he introduced his son, Ted Jones who came out and played guitar with the band the rest of the evening.

About this time he introduced and launched into what was ranked by Billboard Magazines as the No. 3 hit single in September 1962, and the 85th greatest song of all time by Acclaim Music, “Green Onions”. This is the signature song for Booker T, and half way through the song his organ failed. REALLY, it did! In a heartbeat Booker’s face went from a smile to a frown, he stopped playing, turned sideways to the instrument and looked incredibly troubled. The band stopped, and the room fell silent for a moment. Booker then explained what had happened to the audience, and pointed out that the organ was a rental, apologized and moved to center stage and picked up a guitar to continue, as a true professional would. After all, the show must go on! While he and his son played a few songs without the band the offending instrument was removed from the stage.

While the organ was being worked on Booker and Ted played Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With” and Prince’s “Purple Rain”. During “Purple Rain” Vernon and Darian came back to the stage and backed them with beautiful harmonies. During this song an organ was brought out to replace the bad one. As I found out after the show, Harrah’s had an extra Hammond B3 organ that they brought to the stage to save the show. Who has an extra Hammond B3 sitting around? Harrah’s does. That’s who! (Organ Transplant...get it?) After playing BB King’s “Hootchie Cootchie Man”, Leon Russell’s “A Song For You” and Booker’s “Father Son Blues” they successfully played “Green Onions”, and it was that much sweeter after hearing only half of it earlier.

All evening long between every song Booker was sharing stories about the songs, and events that surrounded the songs with the audience. It felt like we were in a big living room being entertained by a friend. He told stories about Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Leon Russell, BB King, Jimi Hendix at Monterey Pop, The Roots and more. Booker T. Jones has lived an amazing life. I go to lots of shows, and I can say from a position of experience that he shows a unique interest in connecting with his audience. He finished the evening with another huge hit of his, “Time Is Tight” which he wrote for the 1968 film “Up Tight”. After the show he was out front signing tickets or CD’s or whatever people asked him to sign. He was talking to people and listening to what they were sharing. A true gentleman.

…and the beat goes on.

To see the complete slide show, click here

Nick McCabe can be reached at:

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