PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we ask someone who's done a lot of great things to do one very silly thing, that is play Not My Job.
Do you love music, I mean great American music by Otis Redding or Ray Charles or Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan or even the band Rancid? Well, if you do, you love Booker T. Jones. He played with all those musicians, as well as his own classic soul band, Booker T and the MGs. Fifty years after his first hit record, he's still playing. We're delighted to have him with us. Booker, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
BOOKER T. JONES: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
SAGAL: So you became famous as Booker T. when you came out with your record "Green Onions," Booker T. and the MGs. I thought that when you started with Booker T. and the MGs you were a sort of grizzled session musician, had been doing it for years. You were almost a teenager, right?
JONES: I was a grizzled session musician. I was just 15.
SAGAL: So you had this instrumental record that came out. The hit single was "Green Onions." And in fact for people who don't recognize it, we'll play a little bit of it right now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN ONIONS")
SAGAL: So first of all, that's like one of the most famous instrumental songs out of the '60s. Did you come up with that? Were you're just sitting around noodling on the organ?
JONES: Yeah, playing the piano, actually, before I got into the studio on the organ, yeah. I was playing on the piano around my mom's house, yeah.
SAGAL: And then how did you name it? Why "Green Onions"?
JONES: Well, the bass player thought it was so funky, he wanted to call it "Funky Onions." And I thought that was - that was a pretty crass title. So we decided to call it "Green Onions" after the smell of, you know, the green onions.
SAGAL: Sure, that makes perfect sense.
JESSI KLEIN: I think you went with the right title.
JONES: Yeah, thank you.
SAGAL: And you went on, and you played backup, you played as a studio musician for, like, everybody who's recording with Stax, the great soul label of the '60s. So tell me who you played with.
JONES: Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, Carla Thomas, Booker T. and the MGs.
SAGAL: Of course. And this is crazy because again, I mean, all I'd heard about you is you were like this great studio musician, and I imagined this certain lifestyle. And I found out for a lot of those years you were doing that while you were going to college.
JONES: I did. I was a mad, crazy, Friday afternoon student driving back to Memphis, 400 miles, between Bloomington and Memphis, yeah.
SAGAL: Oh, you were at Indiana University?
JONES: Yeah, I was studying. I got a degree in music education. But I did study composition and conducting, theory, stuff like that.
SAGAL: Right. And then on Friday, when your fellow Indiana University students would go out to party and go to their frat houses, you'd get in your car, drive 400 miles and play for, like, the greatest soul musicians who ever lived.
JONES: Most of the time that's what I did.
SAGAL: Did the other students - I mean...
JONES: Thank you, thank you.
SAGAL: Did the other students know this? Because that...
JONES: They did. Yeah, I was a famous kid on campus. I had a Fairlane convertible, and I got to play gigs around campus.
SAGAL: All right, I'm just going to ask you this question straight out. Did the chicks dig it? Did you say, oh, hey, maybe I'll see you when I get back from playing with Otis Redding?
JONES: Well, I didn't throw it out like that, but yeah...
SAGAL: Now, you left Stax I guess in like, around 1970, but you've gone on to play with everybody. I mentioned a bunch of them. Willie Nelson you played with. You played with Bob Dylan, right?
JONES: Yeah, I bought a ranch in Malibu, and Bob had a ranch across the street.
SAGAL: Wait a minute.
SAGAL: Because I was going to ask how you ended up working with him, but you're just saying, like, you had a ranch in Malibu, he had a ranch in Malibu. One day you come down to get your mail, I guess, there's Bob Dylan, and he says hey, Booker, and you say hey Bob, and...
JONES: Well, everybody just sort of kind of knew everybody out there. You know, it was a small community out there in Malibu.
PAULA POUNDSTONE: What do you mean, you lived on a ranch?
JONES: Yeah, I bought Lana Turner's old ranch out there on Winding Way in Malibu, and...
POUNDSTONE: And did you raise something on the ranch?
JONES: Yeah, I had horses and ponies and...
POUNDSTONE: Wow, nice.
ALONZO BODDEN: So for any kid in algebra class right now, this session musician thing pays pretty good, huh?
JONES: Well, if you're lucky, it does, yeah.
SAGAL: And you've had vast success, of course, over the years, but we read that there was like one short period, like maybe in like the end of the '70s, around 1980, when things weren't going that well, and you actually dabbled with becoming a real estate agent. Is that right?
JONES: Oh, my goodness, yeah, I sold real estate in the San Fernando Valley. I wasn't dabbling. I was a serious real estate agent.
SAGAL: When you were selling a house, and you were like hi, I'm Booker T. Jones, and I'm going to be selling you this house. Did anybody ever go wait a minute?
JONES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, yeah. Are you the Booker T.? Are you the Booker T.? You know, yeah. And then I said I'd have to play a tune to prove it.
SAGAL: Well, Booker T. Jones, we are delighted to have you with us, and we've asked you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Because Funyons are awesome.
SAGAL: Your famous hit was "Green Onions," but that sounds suspiciously natural for modern America. We prefer Funyons, the crunchy junk food that actually features real onion powder way down on its list of ingredients. We're going to ask you three questions about Funyons from Frito-Lay. Get two right, and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Bill...
JONES: Is that a real food? That's not a real food, Funyons?
SAGAL: That's a real food, Funyons.
SAGAL: Next time you go into the supermarket, just ask to go down to the disgusting section, and there will be, next to the other Fritos and potato chips, there will be Funyons.
JONES: OK, if you say so, Funyons, OK.
SAGAL: So who is Booker playing for, Bill?
KURTIS: C.J. Plyter of Villa Park, Illinois.
SAGAL: All right, here we go.
SAGAL: Now, Funyons were invented back in the '60s, and - but the name Funyuns was the second choice for the new snack food. What was the original choice? What did they want to name them? Was it: A, Onion Hoops; B, OnYums, OnYums; or C, Funster McFunFuns.
JONES: That would be Onion Hoops.
SAGAL: You're going to go for Onion Hoops?
JONES: Onion Hoops, absolutely.
SAGAL: Delicious Onion Hoops. No, I'm afraid it was actually, the original name they wanted was OnYums, OnYums.
JONES: OnYums, onion yums, absolutely. Yeah, I knew that. I knew that.
POUNDSTONE: I believe him.
SAGAL: Three minutes ago, you didn't know that Funyons existed. Now you're telling me you know about OnYums, but believe it or not...
JONES: I was putting you on. I did know.
SAGAL: All right, no, the original - the name they wanted was OnYums, but another product had been invented that was given that name. It's amazing to think that more than one person thought of these things.
All right, next question. One of these things I'm about to describe was once found in a Funyons bag by an unsuspecting customer. Was it: A, a live badger; B, an actual whole onion; or C, an enormous Funyon the size of your forearm?
JONES: It was C.
SAGAL: You're right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
JONES: An enormous Funyon the size...
SAGAL: That's exactly true. See, the way Funyons are made, you see, is they're extruded in a tube out of a machine, and then they're sliced in little rings. But apparently one came all the way out and didn't get sliced. So it just ended up being this enormous Funyon tube that really is very disturbing to look at.
BODDEN: Isn't it amazing no one would guess that there was an onion found in a bag of Funyons?
SAGAL: That's unlikely.
JONES: OK, OK.
SAGAL: Now, I'm sure in your day you wrote a lot of songs about food, and in fact Funyons have shown up in popular music. Which of these actual lyrics: A, the original words to "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot were my anaconda don't want none unless you got Funyuns.
SAGAL: B, this line from Bon Jovi, she knows how to make my motor run, with just lingerie and a bag of Funyuns.
SAGAL: Or C, from the Insane Clown Posse, bring me some Funyuns and a Slurpee, promise not to hurt me, or give me Herpes.
JONES: That would be B, she knows how to make my motor run with only a bag of Funyons.
SAGAL: Have you ever played with Bon Jovi, and you met the man?
JONES: Absolutely, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He did that song.
SAGAL: Wait a minute, he actually sang a song that mentioned Funyons at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
JONES: Absolutely did.
SAGAL: Well, I don't know what to say because the real answer was actually C, and...
JONES: I knew that, I knew that.
SAGAL: You knew that?
JONES: I just wanted to see if you were listening.
SAGAL: So here's the thing, here's the thing. So yeah, C, Insane Clown Posse, the song is called "To Catch a Predator," and it mentions Funyons. So, Bill, I mean, Booker is telling us that he heard Jon Bon Jovi sing those very lyrics. So I look to you, Bill. What do we do here?
KURTIS: You know, he convinced me.
SAGAL: All right, then.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
KURTIS: What a salesman.
SAGAL: I guess so. So how did he do, then, Bill?
KURTIS: Well, technically, he got a couple wrong.
KURTIS: And one right. But being the Hall of Famer he is...
SAGAL: How can you say no?
KURTIS: Why don't we say what a great salesman.
SAGAL: There you are, congratulations.
SAGAL: Booker T. Jones is a Grammy-winning, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend. His new album, "Sound the Alarm," is out on June 25. Booker T. Jones, what a pleasure to talk to you, and thanks for those years of great music.
JONES: Thank you, Peter, thank you, Peter, I had a good time. I had a good time.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.