Last night I had the honor of hearing one of the greatest musical innovators of the past half-century live for the first time. Booker T Jones is a brilliant musician, and at City Winery, playing as part of the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival, we got a glimpse at some of that magic he’s been making on the organ since the 60’s. Earlier in the day I sat in on a Q&A session between Jones and writer/filmmaker Robert Gordon, and it was nice to see a lot of that conversation come full circle throughout the show.
It would be easy for someone who has created so much iconic music to rest on his laurels and take it easy, but Booker T doesn’t seem like that kind of cat. He continues to release new music, taking his blend of soul/jazz/rhythm and blues in new directions. He opened with the song “Harlem House,” which he worked on with The Roots. Much like the documentary Take Me To The River, which was one of many connections to Booker’s performance, he’s interested in keeping the Stax legacy going and working with the next generation of artists.
Speaking of collaborations, much of the evenings music was focused on working with other musicians. Booker pulled out all the stops when it came to some of the big names he’s worked with. The story of being awakened in the wee hours of the morning by Bob Dylan to record bass on “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” for the film Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid was one I hadn’t heard before yesterday.
He also played the Stax classic, and namesake of the documentary showing at CIMM Fest, “Take Me To The River.” Syl Johnson, who originally made that song famous, was in attendance at the Q&A but not for the concert. He stood up during the audience questioning and praised Booker. Afterward they took pictures together in the lobby where some other notable names from the film were gathered for the screening.
One of those names is William Bell. He did come onstage at City Winery to play his most famous song, “I Forgot To Be Your Lover.” This was the highlight of the night for me, seeing both men working together still after 50 years and sounding so dang good! Bell’s voice hasn’t lost a step-when he did the Rufus Beg it damn near brought the house down.
Yes Booker played “Green Onions,” but he played it nice and early in the set to ease any unwanted tension in the audience (I was kinda waiting for someone to yell out GREEN ONIONS! and then leave when it was over). Luckily the crowd seemed interested in hearing all sorts of music, including Booker’s newer stuff that he plays guitar on instead of the organ.
After nearly two hours the band announced the show was over before Booker came back out for a longer-than-suspected encore that included a take on Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” I was in the upper area where it’s standing room only, and even after a long night of dancing, it didn’t seem like anyone wanted the show to be over. I couldn’t have agreed more.
I got to review Take Me To The River last week before the festival started, and I would encourage anyone with any interest in soul music or history to check it out. It pulls a lot of great musicians like Bobby Rush and Skip Pitts together with younger musicians, including William Bell jamming with Snoop Dogg. After the concert ended I got to shake Bell’s hand and tell him how beautiful his music is. I’m glad CIMM Fest gave me that opportunity.
If you would like to check out some short clips of a couple songs from the show, hit up my Instagram account! (Disclaimer: When I get bored I post pictures of cats)