Q&A: Booker T. Jones On His First Visit To New York, Scoring Films, And What Working With Kanye West Might Be Like

Booker T. Jones, "Everything Is Everything

What was the trickiest part of the movie to put music to?

The end scene, when there's a character lying on the bridge, 'cause I had to create something that was both emotionally encouraging and foreboding at the same time. That ended up being really tight to pull off.

So when was the first time you played a show in New York?

It was the early fall of 1962. It was at a ballroom and also on the bill were Ruth Brown, Jimmy Reed, and Otis Redding. I remember carrying our instruments over from the hotel to the venue!

What sort of crowd reaction did you get that night?

Well, we were Booker T & The M.G.s and we were brand new—we only had one record out. It was an amazing bill and we were sort of the low guys on the totem pole there, but we got a good reaction. We played first; we also played behind Otis Redding later on.

What do you remember about Otis Redding from those days?

Well Otis was at the bottom when I met him. He was a driver for Johnny Jenkins and The Pinetoppers—he was a gopher, carrying luggage, going for food, he was a valet. But he was a nice person. He asked if he could sing a song and he did and things changed immensely once he opened his mouth to sing. He was dedicated to what he was doing and he loved what he was doing.

Can you recall the first time a hip-hop artist sampled your music?

I don't know who the first was, but I was unaware of the sampling for a while. I knew of Public Enemy. There was a lot of samples already done of "Melting Pot" by the time I was aware of what was done, and I didn't know who they was.

What do you think of people who've sampled your music?

Some of them I really like. I've heard some incredible samples. The most recent is an incredible turnaround of a loop that we had by Kanye and Jay-Z, who did "Otis." It's amazing how they turned it around, 'cause I'd have never thought to play it that way. Those guys are really creative with what they're doing with these samples. It's so creative.

What do you like most about the song "Otis"?

It's cool, they turned [the sample] upside of its head. I'd have never thought to have used that part of a phrase again and again like that. It made it such a hard rhythm. Samples definitely have their place in the hands of the right people.

What would a studio session between Kanye West and Booker T be like?

That would be interesting. He would probably want me to play original stuff that he could chop and loop up. He might want me to come up with some original idea, sort of like we did in the '60s—and he'd probably chop it up again like he did for "Otis"!

You got to work with the drummer ?uestlove recently. What was he like?

He was amazing. He's a very talented drummer, like a chameleon who can do a lot of different things at once. He put a New Orleans twist on some of the songs and the music came out really easy with a lot of energy. It seemed like he had studied me pretty well in the past—he seemed to have a feeling for my music that was pretty natural.

What can people expect from your show at Celebrate Brooklyn?

I like to do my favorites and most of the time songs that influenced a lot of music from the '60s. And I like to rearrange my favorite songs like [Eddie Floyd's] "Knock On Wood." I like to keep it with music that I've been involved in during my career, so I'll often rearrange songs like a version of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" where I played bass on that for Bob Dylan, or "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" where I played piano for Otis.

And do you still have that cashmere coat you bought on your first trip to New York?

Ha ha. My wife made me throw that coat away a long time ago!

Booker T. Jones performs at Brooklyn Bridge Park with Rich Medina tonight.

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