With that heavy Hammond organ squatting in the middle of the stage, there could only be one man at Ronnie Scott’s this week. Booker T Jones, the instrument’s star proponent, is enjoying a new wind at 68, winning two Grammys for his last two releases in the admittedly specialist field of Best Pop Instrumental Album.
Now he’s back on the revived Stax Records, with a new album that relies more on guest singers than that signature organ screech. He stuck to its few vocal-free tracks here, including an infectious stomp titled Fun, but sang plenty of other people’s hits himself in smooth, competent tones.
In a venue suited to rambling introductory anecdotes (but unfortunately, given the all-round funkiness of the fare, not dancing) he led us through a remarkable career that has featured far more to feast on than just Green Onions. He played Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door because he’d played bass on Bob Dylan’s recording, and Bill Withers’s Ain’t No Sunshine because he’d produced it.
He was backed by a tight three-piece band, including a remarkable drummer in Darian Grey who added high-speed raps to tracks including Al Green’s Take Me to the River. This being Ronnie’s, the best songs were the ones that were most loosely interpreted. Melting Point twisted and turned for an age, building to a fabulous crescendo.
Jones took to the guitar himself for a fair chunk of the set, saying that this was the instrument he originally tried to play for Stax, but it was on the organ that he really flew. At his best, it feels like that soulful squeal is his alone.