Al Jackson was a money drummer. Literally. He got his characteristic snare sound by loosening the snares and placing his billfold on the head. Part rock and roll, part blues, all rhythm, Jackson created the pocket that made radio rockets out of anyone lucky enough to record with him. Listen to any Al Jackson recording and you’ll truly understand what the word “feel” means.
Born in Memphis in 1934, Jackson was a child prodigy, performing with his father’s big band at the tender age of five. In 1962 he joined keyboardist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, and bassist Duck Dunn in the Stax house band. They made musical history as Booker T. & The MGs, powering hits by Wilson Pickett (“Midnight Hour”), Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas (“Walking The Dog”) Eddie Floyd (“Knock On Wood”) Sam & Dave, and scoring their own instrumental hits (“Green Onions”). Though they rarely toured, The MGs made seminal live recordings, such as Otis Redding’s performance at Monterey Pop in 1967.
As drummer Jim Payne has said, Al Jackson’s “style was powerful, groove-oriented, and deceptively simple.” Booker T. himself once complained that he had played the hit “Green Onions” with hundreds of drummers, but none of them nailed the simple groove as well as Al.
The group disbanded in 1971 when Booker T. moved to California, but Jackson was soon working with Eric Clapton, Freddie King, and other greats. An attempted reunion was aborted when Jackson was fatally shot on October 1, 1975.