It’s no exaggeration to refer to Booker T. Jones as a musical prodigy. Born in Memphis in 1944, Booker T’s musical talents were obvious from an early age. Whilst still at Booker T. Washington High School, Booker T. was already able to play piano, organ, oboe, saxophone and trombone. Aged sixteen, Booker T. then made his professional debut. He played baritone saxophone on Rufus and Carla Thomas’ Cause I Love You. It was released on Satellite Records, which in 1961, would become Stax Records, a label whose success, Booker T. would play a huge role in.

Aged just eighteen, Booker T. cofounded Booker T. and The MGs who became Stax Records house-band. Later in 1962, Booker T. wrote the Green Onions, one of the greatest instrumentals ever recorded. That was just the start of a fruitful eight year period he’d spend at Stax. 

For the first few years, Booker T. divided his time between his studies at Indiana University and working as a professional musicians. He a member of Booker T. and The MGs, who released ten albums between 1962 and 1970. They were Stax’s studio band,  accompanying many of Stax’s other artists, including Otis Redding, Albert King, Rufus Thomas and William Bell. Booker T. was also a songwriter and producer, who collaborated with Eddie Floyd, David Porter and Isaac Hayes. Then in 1970, Booker T. stopped playing on Stax sessions. 

Unhappy at the way he was perceived as an employee rather than a musician, Booker T. moved to California. No longer was he playing on sessions for Stax. The only problem was, he was still under contract to the label. Despite this, he played on Stephen Stills’ eponymous debut album. A year later, Stax released Melting Pot, which was the last album Booker T. and The MGs released on Stax. What this also meant, was that Booker T. could get on with the rest of his career.

1971 saw the Booker T. and his wife Priscilla Coolidge, sister of Rita, release their first album. Entitled Booker T and Priscilla, it was followed by 1972s Home Grown and 1973s Chronicles. Then in 1974, Booker T. made his bow as a solo artist.

Evergreen, released in 1974, was Booker T’s debut solo album. Commercially successful and well received by critics, Evergreen set the bar high for future albums. There was a gap of four years to his 1978 sophomore album Try And Love Again. During this gap of four years, during he was busy writing and producing other artists. Among them were Bill WIthers, Rita Coolidge and The Memphis Horns. While the different aspects of Booker T’s career continued apace, Booker T. released his third album The Best Of You. It didn’t replicate the commercial success of his earlier albums like Evergreen. While Booker T. was working his magic with other artists, commercial success and critical acclaim eluded his solo album. Would this change with I Want You, which was recently released by Purpose Music Vaults?

For I Want You, Booker T. wrote Electric Lady and cowrote six other tracks. With Michael Stoles he penned I Want You and Don’t Stop Your Love. They also cowrote Power In Your Love with Marlo Henderson. Booker T. cowrote Treasure Chest with Jean Hancock, You’re The Best with Jay Kessler and I Came To Love You with Leon Ware. The other track was Prize Possession, written by Sam Dees. These eight tracks were recorded at A&M Recording Studio B in Hollywood. Accompanying Booker T, were an all-star band, featuring some of the best session musicians of the time.

Accompanying Booker T. on I Want You was bassist Freddie Washington, guitarist Paul Jackson and drummers John F. Robinson and Raymond Lee Pounds, who played on You’re The Best. They were joined by percussionist Paulinho De Costa and vibraphonist Gary Coleman, while Chuck Finley lead the horn section. Backing vocalists included Jim Gilstrap, Myrna Matthews, Marti McCall and John Lehman.

Benjamin F. Wright arranged the strings and horns. As for Booker T, he played clavinet, guitar, piano and arranged the vocals and rhythm section. Once I Want You which was produced by Michael Stoker, was recorded, it was ready for release in 1981. Would I Want You rejuvenate Booker T’s career?

On the release of I Want You in 1981, it reached number forty-nine in the US R&B Charts. Neither I Want You nor You’re The Best, which were released as singles, charted. This was disappointing. However, at least I Want You was more successful than Booker T’s previous album The Best Of You.

The relative success of I Want You has to be taken on context. Music had, and was, changing rapidly. Artists who had enjoyed commercial success just a few years ago, were no longer as popular. This included many soul and funk artists. So, that I Want You had even enjoyed the limited success it had, was something of a victory. Should I Want You have been a bigger commercial success?

Power In Your Love proves the perfect track to open I Want You. It grabs your attention. Straight away, you realize something special is unfolding. Urgent and dramatic bursts of harmonies accompany an uber funky rhythm section. Then when the stabs of growling horns, harmonies and flourishes of strings combine, you’re reminded of Earth, Wind and Fire. Having set the scene, Booker T’s heartfelt, tender vocal enters. It’s enveloped by a myriad of swirling strings, rasping horns and sweeping harmonies and a pulsating heartbeat that comes courtesy of the all-star rhythm section. Here, elements of disco, soul and funk are combined seamlessly to create a hook-laden and infectiously catchy dance track. 

As I Want You opens, Booker T. throws a curveball. You think the arrangement is about to burst into life. Instead, it’s a slow, sensual and sultry. The rhythm section provide a slow, funky backdrop, while lush strings accompany Booker T’s needy, pleading vocal. Washes of Hammond organ, stabs of grizzled horns and equally heartfelt harmonies accompany Booker T. on what is a beautiful, soul-baring ballad.

Treasure Chest almost floats, lazily into being. It has a subtle, understated sound. Wistful horns, percussion and the lushest of strings combine. Booker T. taking his lead from the band, delivers a tender, thoughtful vocal. Emotion fills his vocal, while flourishes of harp, cooing harmonies and swathes of strings provide a backdrop that’s understated and beautiful. Featuring some beautiful lyrics, an impassioned delivery and sympathetic arrangement, this song is a musical Treasure Chest whose secrets you must hear.

Don’t Stop Your Love sees an increase in the tempo. It’s a dance-floor friendly, funky track. Chiming guitars, pounding drums, dancing strings and bursts of growling horns. They’re joined by percussion and a slap bass. Gradually, the arrangement reveals its subtleties and nuances. Like Power In Your Love, Booker T’s vocal is enveloped by the arrangement. It’s tender, eschewing power for effectiveness. Punchy, gospel-tinged harmonies accompany Booker T’s emotive, needy and sometimes, sassy vocal. When all this is combined, the result is an anthemic dance track where musical genres melt into one.

Electric Lady has a very different sound. It’s best described an instrumental, with a dramatic, sci-fi sound. That’s thanks to the clavinet and guitars. As for the band, the combine funk with dramatic, cinematic strings. This compelling combination shows that despite being into the third decade of his career, Booker T. was still striving to innovate. 

Prize Possession was written by one of the most underrated singer and songwriters, Sam Dees. From the get-go, you realize this ballad is perfect for Booker T. So is the arrangement. Understated, with layers of strings and flourishes of strings at the heart of the arrangement, guitars reverberate atmospherically, while drums and cymbals are caressed. Even when the arrangement threatens to burst into life, that never materializes. Instead, pizzicato strings, percussion and heartfelt harmonies play their part in what’s the highlight of I Want You.

It seems that I Want you veers between ballads and uptempo tracks. You’re The Best is another uptempo, dance track. Stabs of growling horns join the funky rhythm section, complete with chiming Chic-style guitars. Booker T. serenades the one he love. Appreciatively, he serenades: “You’re The Best,” his voice becoming a powerful scat, which is not unlike Stevie Wonder. By then, soul, funk and disco have been combined to create a mid-tempo dance-track that’s an appreciative paean.

I Came To Love You closes I Want You. Accompanied by layers of lush strings, percussion, flourishes of strings and an understated rhythm section, Booker T’s vocal is a combination of sincerity and emotion. As the vocal drops out, the meandering arrangement is a mass of strings and melancholy horns which drift in and out. Dreamily and lazily, it meanders along gradually and almost reluctantly revealing its many subtleties and surprises, not forgetting the beauty that’s omnipresent.

That Booker T’s fourth solo album, I Want You, wasn’t a bigger commercial success is almost unjust. After all, it’s an almost flawless album. Ballads and dance-tracks sit comfortably side-by-side on I Want You. Both have one thing in common…their quality. Whether it’s ballads or dance-floor friendly tracks, Booker T. is equally comfortable. His vocal may not be the most powerful, but it’s incredibly effective. The tenderness of his vocal means you focus on the lyrics. That’s no bad thing, given their quality. Of the eight tracks, Booker T. wrote one and cowrote six other tracks. Good as every track is, on I Want You’s ballads, Booker T. is at his very best. Heartfelt, impassioned and tender, he brings the lyrics to life. Breathing meaning into the lyrics, it’s as if each song and the story behind it, is personal to Booker T. That Booker T. had such talented songwriting partners, is part of I Want You’s success. Playing a part in making I Want You such a timeless, hidden gem of an album is the personnel that worked on the album.

Given that Booker T. was an experienced and accomplished bandleader, he wasn’t scared to surround himself with talented personnel. Less experienced musicians and producers are often wary of working with talented musicians. Not Booker T. He brought in some of the best session musicians and backing vocalists. Then there was arranger Benjamin F. Wright and producer Michael Stoker. This was an all-star lineup. While this couldn’t guarantee commercial success, it guaranteed that the music on I Want You would be of the highest quality. It also resulted in I Want You becoming a timeless album. Thirty-two years later, I Want You sounds just as good as it did in 1981. Thankfully, after being unavailable on CD for eleven years, Purpose Music Vaults have issued a newly remastered version of I Want You. This comes complete with two bonus tracks. That I Want You is now available again on CD, will allow music fans old and new, to discover or rediscover a timeless, hidden gem of an album that soon, will become a firm favourite. Standout Tracks: Power In Your Love,  I Want You, Prize Possession and I Came To Love You.


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