It was the summer of ’62 (“where were you?”) and a seventeen-year-old keyboardist named Booker T. Jones and his three musical associates were in the Memphis studio of Stax Records. The group, who had already provided backing music for a number of Stax artists, including Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding were now backing Rockabilly singer, Billy Lee Reilly and during some downtime were playin’ around with a little (Ray Charles-like) organ piece when the president of Stax Record happened to hear it.
Unbeknownst to the group, he hit the “record” button and liked the result enough to want to release it. The problem was that a record has two sides and he called out for another number. Fender Telecaster guitarist, Steve Cropper remembered a little something that Booker T. had come up with a few weeks earlier and, just like that, they had their second side.
Except that the second side was even better than the first side, which was confirmed when a Memphis radio station got a pre-release (before the “band” even had a name) and played it four times in a row. So the original song, “Behave Yourself” became the B-Side and the second song became the A-Side.
Called “Green Onions” (after a studio cat whose way of walking inspired the riff) It peaked at Number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the Number 1 Single on the Soul Chart for an unprecedented four straight weeks. Interestingly, it reached Number 7 on the UK Singes Chart in 1980.
By then, of course, the band had long been known as Booker T. & the M.G.’s, one of the most respected and prolific instrumental groups of the early 1960s. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, Booker T. & the M.G.’s was also one of the first racially integrated rock groups (Steve Cropper and later, Donald Duck Dunn were both white) in an era when soul, especially Memphis soul, was pretty much exclusive to the black cultural scene.