Booker T. and Bettye LaVette

Pub date May 5, 2009
WriterAndre Torrez
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

PREVIEW In the 1960s Booker T. and the MG’s served as Stax/Volt’s house band, much like the Funk Brothers were for Motown. Playing alongside Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and the Staple Singers, among others, they beat Love and also Sly and the Family Stone to the racially-integrated rock-band punch. It was 1962’s "Green Onions" on the Memphis-based soul label that put them on the map. The song’s recent omnipresence at sporting events has given it a bit of a "jock jam" tag, but it isn’t tarnished completely.

Today Booker T. Jones is letting his signature Hammond organ sound sing alongside "the Great Lady of Soul," Bettye LaVette. After hearing her humbling rendition of the Who’s "Love Reign O’er Me" at that group’s Kennedy Center Honors, I knew LaVette’s tag was legit. Even Barbra Streisand — in attendance that night — recognized it. She turned to Pete Townshend in disbelief, asking if he’d really written that song. LaVette gives the rock opera ballad a gut-wrenching, soulful treatment. She owns it.

For most of her career, the Detroit native has struggled, but she’s steadily built an audience, touring with late legends including James Brown and a young Mr. Pitiful along the way. LaVette’s had one-off singles released by Atlantic and Motown. It seems she is finally getting her due, having had the honor of dueting on a song at President Obama’s inauguration ceremony — even if it was with Jon Bon Jovi.

Now LaVette’s career has paralleled Booker T’s. Both are signed to Anti- Records. Booker’s new album for the label, Potato Hole, features Neil Young and includes a playful version of Outkast’s "Hey Ya," Expect covers aplenty — and some surprises, too — from this bill’s soulful one-two punch.

BOOKER T. AND BETTYE LAVETTE Fri/8, 8 p.m. Independent, 628 Divisadero, 415-771-1421.