NEW YORK (Billboard) - Two years ago, Booker T. Jones went to the South by Southwest music conference and ended up performing with his old band and connecting with a new one.
After playing a showcase with the MG’s — the Stax Records house band that backed Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and others and became famous for instrumentals like “Green Onions” — Jones met a member of the group that would back him on his first solo album in almost two decades.
The band he found is one that few would associate with soul music: Southern country-rock outfit the Drive-By Truckers.
“I knew I wanted that attitude before I found the band,” Jones, 64, said over a glass of red wine at a bar in Manhattan’s East Village. “This album has a lot to do with attitude. The MG’s were never an in-your-face band — the MG’s is a groove band. But this is in your face, this raw, gritty sound that’s too loud.”
“This” is “Potato Hole,” Jones’ new album, which Anti- will release April 21. It’s every bit as raw as Jones says, thanks to layers of guitar from the Truckers and Neil Young, who plays on nine tracks. The title track has five guitarists — three Truckers, Young and Jones, who writes on guitar even though he’s famous for playing organ.
Like classic Booker T. & the MG’s albums, “Potato Hole” consists entirely of instrumentals. And like those classics, “Potato Hole” includes instrumental covers of pop songs — Tom Waits’ “Get Behind the Mule” and a down-home take on OutKast’s “Hey Ya!”
Jones hasn’t released an album since “That’s the Way It Should Be,” his 1994 reunion with the MG’s. But he never stopped performing — as a backup musician for singers like Young, as a solo artist with his own group and as a member of the MG’s, who have served as the house band for high-profile gigs like Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions. And he never stopped writing, at least “not mentally.”
Jones said that Anti- president Andy Kaulkin asked him what kind of album he wanted to make, then sent him new CDs that he thought might inspire him. In 2007, Kaulkin took Jones to the Coachella festival in Southern California, where they spent a couple of days walking around, listening to bands and talking about music.
“He doesn’t need someone who’s young enough to be his child to tell him what a cool record is,” Kaulkin said, “but maybe he was able to see the possibilities.”
Jones said that all the input helped him make the album he had in his head. “It just made it more accessible,” he said. “If you don’t think you can get it out, I don’t think you’re going to start it. I felt free and open, so when I went into the studio, I wrote what I wanted to write.”
Anti-, which has released comeback albums from Porter Wagoner, Merle Haggard and Mavis Staples, will introduce Jones to a new generation of listeners when he performs with the Truckers at three of this summer’s major concert events: Coachella, Bonnaroo and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
After those three shows, Jones said he’ll spend much of the summer touring with his own band. “I’m trying to hold myself back from a second album right now,” he joked.
“I love the album, I love the sound,” Jones added. “It’s like rock ‘n’ roll but it’s like having a symphony. To be 64 and come to that place in my life, it’s like arriving at a new shore.”
Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters