Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Stax Records: Hang 'Em High

Today’s Stax Records feature reminds me of the days I worked for WWNR in Beckley, WV. We had an oldies format for the majority of my time I worked there and in the album stacks was Booker T. and the M.G.’s “Greatest Hits” album and “Hang ‘Em High” was one of the cuts I played frequently. Not only did I like it, but the album version was fairly lengthy and that helped cut down on the monotony of the sea of 2:30 cuts we normally played.

The original score for the film was done by Domenic Frontiere and the main instrument besides guitar was harmonica on the title cut. While it was an excellent choice for the soundtrack, it couldn't translate into a top 40 hit. Hugo Montenegro’s cover attempted imitate his previous hit recording of the “Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”; however, the added vocal tracks destroyed the song’s credibility.

Booker T. and the M.G.’s version of the song made it palatable to radio and it peaked on the Hot 100 at #9 in 1968. It was one of the few songs by the M.G.'s that charted higher on the Hot 100 than it did on the R&B chart where it stalled at #35. The recording featured the classic version of the band that had Booker T. Jones on organ, Steve Cropper on guitar, Duck Dunn on bass, and Al Jackson on drums.

As an aside, the group was named for the MG sports car; however, fear of trademark infringement (which would not have occurred) caused Stax Records to fabricate the story that MG stood for Memphis Group. In addition, a grammatical error of an apostrophe followed by an “s” incorrectly named the group when the name should have just had the plural “s.” This is common grammatical error in the US and the M.G.’s were not the only group to confuse the possessive with the plural case.

Booker T. Jones’ explains his technique

A number of years ago, Booker T. Jones demonstrated how he played his Hammond B3 on “Hang ‘Em High” in an interview with Keyboardmag.tv. What I find interesting that Jones credits George Shearing as one of his major influences for the chord voicing on this song.

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