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InCuya Music Festival: Booker T. Jones brings Hall of Fame cred to event

August 21, 2018

InCuya Music Festival: Booker T. Jones brings Hall of Fame cred to event

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Life has changed, for sure, but no way has it passed by Booker T. Jones.

At 73, the guy who helped open the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as one of the artists in the 1995 concert at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium is coming back to town for another launch – the inaugural two-day InCuya Music Festival. He’ll take the main stage at 3:20 p.m. Sunday.

Rock Hall President and CEO Greg Harris, whose organization is part of the team staging the InCuya event, called having the legendary Hammond B3 star and 1992 inductee in the Hall as a member of Booker T. and the M.G.’s “a fitting bookend.″

Maybe – probably, even. But to Jones, whose group was the house band for the famed Stax Records in his native Memphis, it’s just life as usual.

“I’m the same little kid that wanted to pick up any instrument I could when I got a chance,″ Jones said in a call from his home in Carson Valley, Nevada. “I still feel like that.″

Who’s playing and when at the InCuya Music Festival.

That’s why he still loves touring, although he doesn’t do it as much. Touring itself has changed, though.

“I took my first plane ride as a coach passenger,″ he said, laughing. “There was china on the table, I had a suit on, and the seats were as big as the first-class seats are now.″

Oddly enough, he’s OK with that. First off, he gets to make music, which is a joy in and of itself, and he’s played with some of the greatest in the world, including fellow Stax veteran and recent Northeast Ohio visitor Steve Cropper.

“I had an epiphany moment that came recently,″ Jones said. “Musicians are born to struggle. Musicians don’t make much money.

“I’m in good shape now, but I started cutting grass and paid for my music lessons throwing papers,″ he said.

Maybe that’s why the “Green Onions″ creator – his famous 1962 release started as a jam in the Stax studio, by the way – is so happy playing the blues.

“That song continues to be a challenge for me, as it was in the beginning,″ Jones said. “It sounds so simple, but it’s deceptively simple.″

“That was a discovery for me,″ he said. “I was playing chords in a completely different way till I played that. I realized a third didn’t have to be major; it could be minor. That’s what made me play that little riff with ‘Green Onions.’ ″

It all goes back to that B3 and the organ’s rich tones.

“When I first laid eyes on the B3 organ, it was love at first sight,″ said Jones, who first heard the instrument in a recording of Ray Charles playing “One Mint Julep.″

“I wasn’t sure what it was,″ he said, recalling his introduction to the instrument. “Before the top drawer was open [revealing the keyboard], I thought it was a china cabinet.

“I just had a physical reaction – maybe a premonition or something,″ he said. “Same thing when I got out my clarinet. I just loved the looks of it and wanted to touch it.″

The B3 almost works like a “Star Trek″ universal translator for Jones.

“Inside my head is a real cacophony,″ he said. “I hear everything from a full orchestra to combos to, yes, the B3. My creative input in my head is not restrictive.

“I played a lot of saxophone in college, and my first instrument was the oboe, and now I have synthesizers,″ Jones said.

But he keeps going back to his beloved B3.

“It is a strange beast, because they have eight drawbars that enable you right on the instrument to mix tones,″ he said. “When you learn how to do it, you can simulate a clarinet or even if a full orchestra.

“You can’t do that with a piano or an upright bass,″ Jones said. “You’re restricted to those tones.”

The B3′s diversity means it works well with “a lot of different ensembles,″ he said. Those range from country to rock to, yes, the blues.

And he’s enjoyed it all, so much so that it’s hard to find a favorite moment in his past.

“The whole thing,″ he said when asked to pick the most memorable time in his career. “I’m a privileged person.″

He said that the musicians following in his footsteps won’t have the same opportunities, then quickly edited himself.

“Maybe they’ll have different opportunities,″ he said. “But I could count the steps from my house to a recording studio. I could walk to a recording studio and go in and make music and get paid.″

And not get passed by.

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