Thursday, September 18, 2008

Booker T. and the MGs: Stax of hits

We do a podcast with bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn. The MGs play tonight in Roanoke.

Booker T and the MGs, from left: Donald 'Duck' Dunn, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper

Courtesy Jefferson Center

Booker T and the MGs, from left: Donald 'Duck' Dunn, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper


What does an iconic soul and rhythm & blues bass player do in semiretirement? He jams out with AC/DC's lead singer, of course.

The icon in question is Donald "Duck" Dunn, whose Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, Booker T. & the MGs, plays tonight at Jefferson Center, in a show that opens the venue's Star City Performance Series season. The show celebrates last year's 50th anniversary of Stax Records, which brought the likes of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Sam and Dave, and Isaac Hayes to the listening world. The MGs were essentially the studio's house band.

Another Stax hero, Eddie Floyd, will join the band for about five songs, Dunn said.

Dunn said in an interview Monday that he plays benefit shows and does charity golf events with AC/DC's Brian Johnson, and the two have become friends. Contrary to what one might think about Johnson's gravelly, high-pitched vocal style, he is really a versatile singer, according to Dunn.

"It's amazing," Dunn said. "He does things like [Sam Cooke's] "What a Wonderful World" ... You would never know it was Brian. He's incredible."

Dunn is best known, though, for the instrumental soul of Booker T. & the MGs. He joined the group shortly after its trademark hit, "Green Onions," but was around for the arguably cooler "Hip Hug-Her." A half-century later, the band's surviving members -- Dunn, guitarist Steve Cropper and band founder and organist Booker T. Jones -- are still great players. Dunn said they'll play the hits tonight, but they've worked in plenty of room to improvise.

Visit roanoke.com/entertainment to hear Dunn discuss the band and its history, including the band's late drummer, Al Jackson -- "there'll never be one like him again," Dunn said. Steve Potts, one of Jackson's cousins, will be behind the drum kit tonight. He also discusses his memories of two recently departed Stax driving wheels, Hayes (he wasn't just Chef on "South Park," you know) and Jerry Wexler. The band had a tough time recording Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour" before Wexler, the Atlantic Records engineer from New York, started dancing the jerk in the middle of the studio to show the guys where the beat should be.

"If you listen to that backbeat Al played, it's the jerk, you know," Dunn said. "He kind of put it in that pocket, and it made all the difference in the world."


Booker T. & the MGs, with Eddie Floyd

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Jefferson Center, 541 Luck Ave., Roanoke

Cost: $38 and $32; students half-price

Contact: 345-2550, jeffcenter.org, bookert.com, duckdunn.com, soulsvilleusa.com

Booker T. & the MGs, with Donald "Duck" Dunn at left.