Booker T Jones is more than just a classic performer — he is a legend. With a rich history performing soul, R&B, and gospel music since the 1960s, Jones has worked with dozens of major artists, including Otis Redding, Neil Young, and Ray Charles. He recently added a fresher group of artists to that list while recording his latest album, Sound The Alarm: Anthony Hamilton, Raphael Saadiq, Mayer Hawthorne, and LA’s own Vintage Trouble among others. To celebrate the release of the album, the 68-year-old icon took his Hammond B-3 organ to El Rey Theatre and showed off his collection of talented friends to an eager LA crowd.
The show began with Jones addressing the crowd in a very casual manner. Throughout the night he would continue to crack jokes and tell stories about the different performers he hosted, most of whom appear on his new album. He began with English soul singer Jay James.
James, a member of the British Navy, has been singing for a relatively short time. Allegedly buying a guitar on a drunken whim, he followed through with learning it and began singing as a result. His tight and soulful voice carried well over Booker T and his band. They performed a track from Sound The Alarm and “These Arms Of Mine” by Otis Redding as well.
The next guest performer was legendary Latin percussionist Poncho Sanchez. Beginning with a track from Jones’ new album, Sanchez beat those poor congas to death. His presence on the stage was clearly that of someone who has history and character. Glancing back through my notes, all I needed to write about the performer was “Poncho Sanchez is the shit.”
Looking at his discography, you can see that he has released an album almost every year since 1980. The man works hard and it shows. Knowing Sanchez’s international reputation among drummers and percussionists, it was hilarious to see the giant grin on Jones’ drummer Darian Grey’s face, and as a drummer myself, I’m sure I had the same wide-eyed smile.
Following Sanchez was who I knew to be “some American Idol contestant” named Joshua Lidet. I knew that he would have a decent voice but nothing could have prepared me for the soul and energy this 21 year old would bring to the stage. His vocal range and power far exceeded his age, and he commanded the entire room.
Jones introduced Lidet by telling the story of how the Obama family personally requested Lidet perform for the White House. With one original and a captivating performance of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” Lidet lit the room on fire with his stunningly passionate vocals. Outside Jones, Lidet was my favorite performer of the night.
When Booker T brought out his 22-year-old son Ted to play guitar, I’m sure some women must have fainted. This kid is way too good looking. And not only that, he plays a hell of a blues guitar. Ted traded solos with his dad in the “Father Son Blues” and played a solid rhythm guitar on the classic hit “Mo’ Onions,” which is instantly recognizable as being from the movie The Sandlot.
Booker’s next guest was also the child of a legend. Kori Withers is the daughter of the famous Bill Withers, and as a surprise, Bill came out to introduce his daughter. The crowd went wild to see such an important face in a casual light. Bill told a hilarious story of how shocked he was to hear that Jones wanted to record a song with his daughter called “Watch You Sleeping,” which is also on Sound The Alarm. Kori’s smooth voice was gentle and soothed the crowd as she performed the collaboration in addition to her father’s famous “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
The last performer of the night was contemporary soul singer Anthony Hamilton. He brought out three smooth back-up singers and made love to the audience with the song “Gently,” which also appears on Booker’s new album. They followed that up with what Hamilton described as one of Booker’s greatest collaborations, Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay.”
The performer who enjoyed himself the most though clearly was Booker T Jones. At his age, he is at a point where his past contributions to music are enough, but his passion and joy for playing is a hefty portion of icing on the cake for him.
While playing he constantly looks around at the other performers, and you get a sense that he knows he picked the right people. Each glance at the audience or one of his musicians gives him a deeply satisfied grin. Booker T Jones has already left an undeniable mark on music — everything he does from here on out is just fun.
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