KEXP Documentaries: Blues for Hard Times - “Green Onions” by Booker T and The MGs

booker-t-and-the-mgs

How did the song “Green Onions” become one of the biggest pop classics to come from the blues?

Here’s the story: In Memphis, Tennessee, 1962. It’s late in the evening at Stax studios.  And the house band, Booker T and The MGs, are waiting for rockabilly musician Billy Lee Riley to show up for his session.  Jim Stewart, Stax’s co-founder and the engineer for the night asks Booker T and The MGs to play a song they wrote, “Relax Yourself”, a slow blues groove.  They lay the track and Stewart asks them for a “B-side”, a second song that will go on the other side of the single.  And 18-year old organ player Booker T starts to jam on a song he wrote on piano, and the band kicks in.   They jam on it for a while and in the middle of the jam the engineer starts the tape.  They name the song “Green Onions” because they consider it a throwaway song and the onions come to mind as something that would be basically garbage.  The start and end of the song fade out because the band never stopped playing.

When the single “Relax Yourself” is released to radio, the DJs ignore the intended song and start to play “Green Onions” and it hops onto the charts.  Where it becomes one of the most memorable blues songs, and definitely one of the top-charting “accidental records” of all time.

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KEXP Documentaries are produced by Michele Myers with assistance from John Felthous and Jentery Sayers.  Executive Producer is Kevin Cole.  To get research materials like film documentaries, videos and songs that we use to make these stories join our Facebook page here. You can hear all our series including Punk Evolution, Pop Goes Electronic, Music Revolutionaries, Masters of Turntablism and The Heart of Soul online at kexp.org.

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One Comment

  1. Tim
    Posted May 13, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    A few corrections: It was “Behave Yourself”, not Relax. Booker was 17, not 18. And they were not the house band at the time. Just session musicians hired for the day. They, of course, became the house band, but were not even called Booker T. & the MGs till “Green Onions” started to take off.

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