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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