Booker T & The MG’s on ‘Green Onions’: “We’d never rehearsed it…”

The Stax group recall how they recorded an instrumental classic

Trending Now

CROPPER: Took 15-20 minutes. Tops. We laughed it off that day – “Guess Billy’s not gonna show” – and took off.

JONES: I absolutely did not think it was a hit. I loved it, and I enjoyed hearing it, but when I first heard it on the radio, that was a great surprise.

CROPPER: Jim thought “Behave Yourself” was the A-side. But Jim was never a dancer. On Monday I called Scotty Moore, who was Elvis Presley’s guitarist and also ran the recording master lathe over there at Sun, and said, “Scotty, have you got time to cut a dub for me? We cut this thing and I think it might be a hit.” And the next morning I took it to Reuben Washington, a drive-time disc jockey on WLOK, the no. 2 R’n’B station in Memphis, who was a real good friend of mine. He put it on the turntable while he was playing another record. He liked it so much, he cut the other record off and just spun it. He played it four times in a row. And the phones lit up. And the more he played the more people called and said, “Who is that, what is that?”


STEINBERG: A Disc Jockey in Memphis, Dick “King” Cole, flipped the record over, and it took off like wildfire. During that time, you could go to a Disc Jockey yourself, and if you had some relations with them, they would play the song. When it got on down the road and it got to be a payola thing, that’s when it ceased.

CROPPER: And Reuben said, “What are we gonna call this thing?” I said, “I don’t know, I’d better get back to the record store…” [Stax co-founder and Jim Stewart’s sister] Miz [Estelle] Axton was there, and she said, “What is goin’ on? The phone’s ringin’ off the wall.” She called Jim. He still worked at the bank downtown. And she said, “You’d better come by here on your lunch-break, because we got something goin’ on.” He said, “Well, call the guys in. We’ve gotta come up with a name for the record, and the group.” We spent more time on that than we had making it. A lot of people were naming their groups after cars, and we wanted to use M.G.’s. M.G. said they didn’t want to be associated with music – especially rhythm and blues. So Al or Jim said, “Why don’t we just call it Memphis Group?”

STEINBERG: I told Miz Axton, “Let’s call the song “Funky Onions”. Well, during that time you couldn’t even get it played with a name like that. She changed it to “Green Onions”.


CROPPER: Lewie said, “You know, we ought to call this thing “Onions”, because it’s the stinkinest music I’ve ever heard”. I said, ““Green Onions” sounds more positive in the food-base.”

JONES: Lewie was saying how funky it was, that it was so funky that it stinks. And Al said, “It stinks like green onions.”

CROPPER: We pressed up some records. I grabbed a box of 25, and asked a promotions guy for a jukebox distributor, could I make his run? We went to Little Rock, Fort Smith, all the radio stations we could where they were glad to see anybody. So they played it, and it caught on. And this all happened in about a two-week period.


Latest Issue