Soon after the creation of the company, Stax established a house band called the Mar-Keys, that grew out of a local high school group called The Royal Spades. The Mar-Keys then evolved into a new group featuring four musicians who went on to back the Stax artists and also release some instrumental tracks in their own right. They took their name from the keyboard player and soon became well-known as Booker T & the MGs. The original members of the group in 1962 were Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass), and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor and Albert King are some of the artists they played for. Booker T Jones was 17 and Steve Cropper 20 when the band came together in 1962. Two years later, Steinberg was replaced by Donald “Duck” Dunn, who played with the group until his death in 2012.
One day in 1962 the four musicians were in the studio backing the former Sun Records star Billy Lee Riley. During a break they put together an instrumental piece, which Jim Stewart thought was worth recording and “Green Onions” was released and picked up by a local radio station. The track soon went to number 1 on the US Billboard R&B chart and number 3 on the pop chart, selling over one million copies and certified a gold disc.
At a time when racial segregation was a feature of life in the deep south of the USA, it is interesting to note that the group was made up of two black and two white musicians. As in other studios in the southern States, music enabled them to overcome such difficulties.
“Walking the Dog”, “Hold On, I’m Comin'”, “Soul Man”, “Who’s Making Love”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)”, and “Try a Little Tenderness” are just a few of the classic Memphis soul tracks that the group played on.
The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee in 2008, the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2019.