Sunday, December 27, 2009


My previous post about drumming great Steve Jordan needed to talk more about a common influence that many drummers my age had, including Jordan: Al Jackson, Jr. More about Al in a moment, but although I'm a little younger than Jordan is, many musicians and drummers my age and his age were definately influenced by the LESS IS MORE ethic that Al Jackson exhibited with his recording with superstar Al Green in the early 70's.

Al Jackson is a story unto himself, of which I have not done near enough research to be worthy to attempt to tell here. Endearing, but somewhat of a rascal, he was what I think of when I think of a bluesman in the 60's and 70's. Bluesman Version 3.0, what came after the first two generations of blues musicians that originated this fine art form in this country.

Briefly, Al Jackson was a hitmaker drummer, working for STAX records and was a member of Booker T and the MG's along with Steve Cropper and Donald Duck Dunne. He played with Albert King and a host of other artists, both live and on record, and died a tragic death in the mid-70's. All kinds of rumors, none good, surround his death. But he had a helluva run on drums drumming for some of the greats and creating a place in drumming history that won't be forgotten as long as folks are listening to the music he helped play, and often times, arrange and write.

But when he lived he played to live and lived to play. Although he played on tons of hits and with tons of "big name" and no name artists, his work with Al Green was of such influence to so many drummers as to be of legend.

His famous hitting the tom with a rimshot (or occasionally a congo next to the tom) as an occasional backbeat became such an emotive lick, as famous as the patented high hat beat of Charlie Watts (when laying down a groove, Watts does not generally hit the hi hat and the snare at the same time, contrary to what many other musicians do, and this "Watts Beat" is known to most drummers my age. Just listen to Jumping Jack Flash for an example).

So when Jordan via his playing in the early 80's brought my attention back to the fact that so much could be accomplished rhythmically, he was drawing on influences like Al Jackson, Jr. to get his LESS IS MORE vibe going on the kit. It took me about 15 years to connect the dots and make the connection and begin my travel down the LESS IS MORE road than it did Jordan. And to tell the truth, I'm not half as good as guys like Jordan and Al Jackson. Sure, I can do most of what they can do, but they have that special feel.

Billy Ray refers to that special feel as "the killer instinct". I agree with him that you're either born with it or not. Guys like Billy Ray and I love to make our music and love to write music and to play the songs of others, but we have to work very very hard to be half decent and to guys like Steve Jordan and Al Jackson, Jr., it just comes as naturally as breathing.

Here's the wiki information that covers some of the artists Al played with (but not all) and talks about the tragic last few months of his life:

"Al Jackson, Jr. (November 27, 1935 - October 1, 1975) was a drummer, producer, and songwriter. He is best known as a founding member of Booker T. & the M.G.s, a group of session musicians who worked for Stax Records and produced their own instrumentals. Jackson was called "The Human Timekeeper" for his drumming ability.

Early life

Jackson's father, Al Jackson Sr. led a jazz/swing dance band in Memphis, Tennessee. The young Jackson started drumming at an early age and began playing on stage with his father's band in 1940 at the age of 5. He later began playing in producer/trumpeter Willie Mitchell's band and at the same time was holding down the chair with the popular Ben Branch Band. Future bandmates Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn first saw Jackson playing in Mitchell's band at the all white Manhattan Club.


Jackson became one of the most important and influential drummers in the history of recorded music at Stax, providing an instantly recognizable backbeat behind the label's artists which included Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and Blues guitarist Albert King, who Jackson also produced. In the Seventies, Jackson co-wrote and played on several hits by Al Green, including "Let's Stay Together" and "I'm Still in Love with You".


After researching the history of
Stax for ten years, Grammy Award winning Musicology professor Rob Bowman wrote in Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records that (paraphrasing) four years after the last Booker T. & the MGs album, 1971's Melting Pot, the group got together and decided to wrap up all of their individual productions and devote three years to a reunion of the band. On September 30, 1975, Al Jackson was scheduled to fly to Detroit, Michigan, to produce a Major Lance session when he heard the DJ on the radio reminding everyone of the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali fight that night. Jackson called Detroit and said he was going to watch "The Thrilla in Manila" with his girlfriend on the big screen at the Mid-South Coliseum. (Though still legally married, Jackson was estranged from his wife. In July 1975 his wife had shot him in the chest. He decided not to press charges, but was in the process of a divorce and was planning to move to Atlanta, Georgia, to begin working with Stax singer/songwriter William Bell.)

After the Ali-Frazier fight, Jackson returned home and found intruders in his house. He was reportedly told to get down on his knees and then shot fatally five times in the back. Around 3:00 a.m. on October 1, Barbara Jackson ran out in the street, yelling for help. She told police that burglars had tied her up and then shot her husband when he returned home. Police found nothing in the house out of place and Al Jackson's wallet and jewelry were still on him. The man police believed to have pulled the trigger – the then-boyfriend of R&B singer
Denise LaSalle – had reportedly known someone in Memphis and after robbing a bank in Florida, told them to meet him over at Al Jackson's house. Indictments against Barbara Jackson, Denise LaSalle and her boyfriend were supposed to be served, but never were. Tracked through Florida to Memphis to Seattle, Washington, the suspected triggerman was killed by a police officer on July 15, 1976 after a gun battle.


Jackson used Rogers Drums with a 20" bass drum, 12" tom, 16" floor tom, and occasionally a 13" tom. He used a 14"x5" Ludwig aluminum shell snare drum with 8 lugs. Zildjian 16" Crash, 18" Ride, and 14" Hi-Hats."

The only part I'll disagree with about the equipment is that I've read several interviews with folks like Steve Cropper. Here's an excerpt from a Cropper interview where he tells what it was that Jackson played, which is from this great website by drumming legend Jim Payne:

Jackson may have used Rogers kits on tour, but that sound that was pounded into your head from the drums on all the songs he played on recordings on was likely the one Cropper recalls. I mean, who would know better than the guitarist?

"The other thing is that Al Jackson never changed his heads, unless he broke one. The same thing with the bass and guitar. If we broke a string we changed it, if we didn't, it never got changed.
Al never changed those drums. I think he had a Ludwig and Rogers combination, kind of a mix 'n' match. He had a medium size kick drum, 20-inch I believe, and he had a Rogers floor tom, grey pearl, and then a little 12-inch tom over head. It was a little black drum.
The other thing that Al used to do that was different - he wasn't the only drummer that ever did it - but when he came down to do a session, the first thing he did was reach in his back pocket, and pull out this big fat billfold and plop it on the snare. Other guys used tape or a muffler. Al just plopped a billfold down there. The old records didn't have a lot of decay time, the snares didn't ring too much and there's not a lot of cymbals, because we didn't mike the cymbals."

Here's the intro to the wiki page about Booker T. and the MGs:

"Booker T. & the M.G.'s
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Booker T. & the M.G.'s live in Tunica, Mississippi, 2002

Background information
Memphis, Tenn.., U.S.
R&B, Instrumental rock, Electric blues

Years active
1962–1977, 1994–present

Atlantic, Stax


Booker T. JonesDonald "Duck" DunnSteve CropperSteve Potts

Former members
Lewie SteinbergAl Jackson, Jr.

Booker T. & the M.G.'s are an instrumental R&B band that was influential in shaping the sound of Southern Soul and Memphis Soul. In the 1960s, as members of the house band of Stax Records, they played on hundreds of recordings by artists such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla and Rufus Thomas and Johnnie Taylor. They also released instrumental records under their own name, such as the 1962 hit single "Green Onions".[1] As originators of the unique Stax sound, the group was one of the most prolific, respected, and imitated of their era. By the mid-1960s, bands on both sides of the Atlantic were trying to sound like Booker T. & the M.G.'s.[2][3]

Original members of the group were Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass), and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). In 1965 Steinberg was replaced by Donald "Duck" Dunn, who has played with the group ever since. Al Jackson Jr. was murdered in 1975, since then the trio of Dunn, Cropper and Jones have reunited on numerous occasions using various drummers, including Willie Hall, Anton Fig, Steve Jordan and Steve Potts.[4]

Having two white members (Cropper and Dunn), Booker T. & the M.G.'s were unusual in being racially integrated, at a time when Soul music, and the Memphis music scene in particular, were generally considered the preserve of black culture.[5]"

To truly understand the influence of Al Jackson Jr. and his bandmates, I'll close with this excerpt from the Booker T and the MG's page about their studio work for others at STAX:

"As members of the Stax "house band"

Instrumental singles and albums would continue to be issued by Booker T. & The M.G.'s throughout the 1960s. However, although a successful recording combo in their own right, the bulk of the work done by the musicians in the band during this era was as the core of the de facto house band at Stax Records.
[11] Members of Booker T. & The M.G.'s (often, but not always, performing as a unit) performed as the studio backing band for Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Albert King, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, The Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, Delaney & Bonnie and many others in the 1960s.[12] They played on and produced hundreds of records, including classics like Walking the Dog, Hold On, I'm Comin' (on which the multi-instrumentalist Jones played tuba over Donald "Duck" Dunn's bass line), Soul Man, Who's Making Love, I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now), and Try a Little Tenderness, among others. They are thought to have defined Soul music — especially "Southern Soul" — where "the groove" was most important.
Though it's often assumed that Booker T. Jones played on all the above session work, in the mid-1960s Jones was often studying music full-time at
Indiana University. Stax writer/producer Isaac Hayes usually stepped in on the occasions when Jones was unavailable for session work, and on several sessions Jones and Hayes played together with one on organ, the other on piano. However, Hayes was never an official member of the M.G.'s, and Jones played on all the records credited to "Booker T. & The M.G.'s" -- with one exception. That exception was the 1965 hit "Boot-Leg", a studio jam recorded with Hayes on keyboards in Jones' place. According to Steve Cropper, the song was recorded with the intention of being released as by The Mar-Keys (another name used to release singles by the Stax house band.) However, as recordings credited to Booker T. & The M.G.'s were meeting with greater commercial success than those credited to The Mar-Keys, the decision was made to credit "Boot-Leg" to Booker T. & The M.G.'s, even though Booker T. himself does not appear on the recording.
Individual session credits notwithstanding, what's indisputable is that the Stax house band (Cropper, Jackson, Jones, and Steinberg, along with Cropper's Mar-Keys bandmate, bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn; keyboardist
Isaac Hayes; and various horn players, most frequently Floyd Newman, Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love) would set a standard for soul music. Whereas the sign outside Detroit's pop-oriented Motown Records aptly read "Hitsville U.S.A.", the marquee outside of the converted movie theatre where Stax was based proclaimed "Soulsville U.S.A."."

1 comment:

  1. Great piece on my favourite musician of all time, the mighty Al Jackson.