On Friday night, the Pearl Street Warehouse hosted Rock & Roll Hall Fame inductee Booker T. Jones. I arrived early at the Wharf and mingled with the crowd outside the venue, who were watching the Nationals game on a giant TV screen that had been temporarily placed there. An adorable and very sweet five-month old dachshund puppy named Lemmy, after the late Motorhead frontman, came along. I knelt down to pet Lemmy, and she met me with kisses. It was a wonderful start to a great evening.
The Ron Holloway Trio, fronted by the eponymous tenor saxophonist opened for Booker T., taking the stage at 8:30. The instrumental jazz trio jammed for a solid hour as the sold-out venue continue to pack in fans to capacity. The recipient of forty two Washington Area Music Awards, including two for Musician of the Year, Holloway is known to jazz aficionados for his use of unique fingerings to extend the tenor sax’s range to five octaves. He has worked extensively with Warren Haynes, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and the Allman Brothers Band.
After a half-hour intermission, the legendary Booker T. Jones and his band took the stage to thunderous applause. In a hot set, the Memphis-born Jones covered both his own classic hits and those of other artists. Booker T. switched between playing keyboards and guitar, displaying great proficiency with both.
Booker T. opened with “Hang ’Em High,” followed by “Boot-Leg.” Next came the blues classic “Born Under A Bad Sign,” met with cheering and applause. Although many people associate the song with bluesman Albert King, Booker T. wrote the song with William Bell wrote the song for King, and Booker T. and The MGs served as the house band at Stax Records when King recorded it.
You’ve surely heard Booker T.’s instrumental hit “Green Onions,” even if you don’t know it by name. I recognized the song within a few notes as one that I’d heard many times but never known who wrote or played it, and. As Booker T. explained, he co-wrote this classic while he was still in high school! (Booker T. went on to get a classical education in composition at Indiana University’s highly esteemed school of music, playing at Indianapolis clubs while he was in college.)
Over the course of his set, Booker T. showed he was intimately familiar with a broad range of popular from the last 65-plus years. He covered a diverse range range of artists: Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Prince, Lauryn Hill, Outkast, and Sam & Dave, as well as “Hey Joe,” made famous by Jimi Hendrix. Along with playing these covers, Booker T. told fascinating stories of his interaction with these artists: receiving an award from Prince in Minnesota, seeing Hendrix play at the Monterey Pop Festival, working with Dylan on the music for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Booker T.’s had a fantastic band, with his son Ted on guitar, Darian Gray on drums, and M-Cat Spoony on bass. To the excitement of the crowd, Ted jumped off the stage (it’s a pretty low stage), into the crowd.
This was a fantastic show, full of history and great music. It wasn’t just a nostalgia show – Booker T. and his band are hot, and he’s stayed in touch with current music. I count myself lucky to have seen one of the major figures in American popular music and an incredibly talented man.