TIME IS TIGHT by Booker T. Jones


My Life, Note by Note
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The legendary Stax artist and composer looks back on a long, fruitful life in music.

“The truth is I was never in it for the money. I loved the people and the music.” So writes Jones, the keyboard wizard who helmed Booker T. & The MG’s, so named for a car one of their producers owned, a group that touched off a revolution in Southern soul music that cleared a path for Otis Redding, Irma Thomas, and dozens of other players. Remarkably, given the time and place, Jones’ band was interracial, with guitarist Steve Cropper and, later, bassist Duck Dunn adding to the mix. The author writes about growing up in a segregated South where it was entirely unexpected that he should know the likes of Dvorak and “Clair de Lune,” music that, along with church gospel, worked its way into compositions such as “Green Onions”—which, as it happens, was born as “Funky Onions” but was renamed for fear that the word would scare off listeners in that benighted time. Jones reflects deeply on matters of race and the many injustices he had to endure. He’s at the top of his form, clearly enjoying the task, when he writes about music, however. One of the book’s many highlights is his mystified childhood realization that while “C was the natural key for the earth, humans, and the universe at large,” other chords had their say, too: B flat for the clarinet, a discovery that “wreaked havoc in my young, developing mind—to find out the C was not really a C, but a B flat in clarinet world.” Fortunately, he overcame his shock to write tunes that shaped the zeitgeist of 1960s pop, such as “Hip Hug-Her” (“the sound…makes it seem like Duck is going to break the string on every note, he pulls it so hard”), and of course “Green Onions,” which countless kids use to learn keyboards.

A thoughtful autobiography that takes in not just the tunes, but the times that produced them—a delight for fans.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-316-48560-9
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2019