The only significant member of the MGs who worked in the City of Memphis for the majority of the time was the late Al Jackson Jr. He was a songwriter, producer and highly talented drummer.
Al Jackson started drumming at an early age and first played on stage with his father’s band in 1940, at the age of five.
Al’s creative involvement in the Memphis music establishment involved work at both Stax and Hi Records. Several of the recordings that he played on became major landmarks according to the USA Grammy organisation because of their immense contribution to popular music over last four decades, ranking as all-time classic hits, consistently played on soundtracks and recorded by many artists of different genres.
Outside of his involvement with Stax, he played an important role in the success of Al Green’s career by co-writing and playing on many of Green’s gold records. Willie Mitchell (Green’s producer) has highlighted Al Jackson’s contribution, especially on tracks such as “I’m Still In Love With You“, saying: “I made the switch from Grimes Howard to Al Jackson Jr. after the track “Tired Of Being Alone”, because I decided to go for a softer sound. Howard played too hard. He didn’t float like Al. Al was one of greatest you heard, you could explain it to him and he would figure it out. Howard was a bit stronger than I wanted on “Let’s Stay Together”. He would have played really hard and the song wouldn’t have floated.” (from “The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits”, Adam White and Fred Bronson).
Jackson himself would explain it this way at the time: “I believe in solid rhythm, whether I’m playing four-four accented or two-four accented. It’s a syncopated rhythm with the bass drum and less emphasis on the left stick…. It’s a different groove from the Motown beat…I dig their sound, but they use the stomp rhythm practically in everything. The records they do are made from the switchboard and ours are natural….They used echo and we don’t. We cut our drums flat. I don’t use any muffling or anything. I just play the way I feel. I play with the butt end of my left stick. I developed that from playing hard at gigs.”
Jackson was given a nickname that highlighted his ability as a drummer: The Human Timekeeper.
Photo: Thestaxman 2002 (Wikimedia Commons)