‘In the midnight hour’

‘60s legend Booker T stays up late in the Big Room

BOOKIN’ Booker T kept ’em spinning with the whirling of the Hammond B3.

BOOKIN’ Booker T kept ’em spinning with the whirling of the Hammond B3.

Booker T. Jones Sierra Nevada Big Room
Fri., Dec. 31

My New Year’s Eve was most enjoyable.

I think I can speak for all four of The Groovediggers—the amazing Jim Hall on alto sax, tone monster Larry Peterson on guitar, drummer Bobby Levine (straight off of his previous night’s gig with Eddie Money) and myself on stand-up bass—in saying that we had a ball playing the opening two-hour dinner set before ‘60s R&B icon Booker T. Jones and his fabulous four-piece band (not the MGs: no Steve Cropper, no Donald “Duck” Dunn) took over the stage inside the Sierra Nevada Big Room.

Cropper, the legendary guitarist and prolific songwriter, may not have been in the room physically, but his songs popped up over the course of the night. Jones kicked off the first set, singing and playing his signature Hammond B3 organ with two pulsating Leslie speakers, with “In the Midnight Hour,” made famous by ‘60s soul singer and Stax recording artist Wilson Pickett and written by Cropper and Pickett: “I’m gonna wait till the midnight hour/ That’s when my love comes tumbling down…” Perfect for New Year’s Eve.

Jones mentioned that he hailed from Memphis, Tenn., and referred to Booker T. and the MGs’ long-standing ‘60s gig as the house band for Memphis’ Stax Records, backing up such soul stars as Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Pickett. “I’m gonna play some of those songs of the ‘60s that I fell in love with,” Jones began, before launching into a soulful rendition of Motown superstar Smokey Robinson’s “The Tracks of My Tears.”

“The year 2004 was really good to me. … I had my 60th birthday. I feel really good to still be going,” the vibrant Jones said gently and thankfully before going into Ray Charles’ “Baby What’d I Say.”

All night long, party-hat-adorned dancers filled the floor, celebrating the end of 2004 dancing to extended versions of song after familiar, groovy song: Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” (with multi-instrumentalist Jones switching off on both guitar and organ), Jones’ instrumental theme to Clint Eastwood’s 1968 film Hang ’em High, Stax blues man Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign,” BB King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” Cropper’s “Knock on Wood,” The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Jones’ version of Bill Withers’ heart-wrenching breakup song, “Ain’t No Sunshine” brought a huge number of dancers out of the woodwork, jam-packing the already busy dance floor.

I was especially happy when he did the tender Sam and Dave hit, “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby": “When something is wrong with my baby/ Something is wrong with me…”

Jones made several nods to late-'60 soul giant Otis Redding, performing Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” and “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay"—twice, once as an encore.

And yes, they played “Groovin'” and “Green Onions,” too.

It was a sweet night.