Booker T. Jones played 'Green Onions' and Robert Plant paid tribute as latest Memphis Music Hall of Fame class honored
The roots of Memphis rock and soul music rippled from the stage of the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday night as eight Memphis music legends took their place among the greats at the 2022 Memphis Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
This year’s inductees were producer Jim Gaines, jazz and blues musician Fred Ford, Stax Records stalwarts Booker T. Jones and Mavis Staples, Sun Records rockabilly artists J.M. Van Eaton and Billy Lee Riley, country hitmaker Ronnie Milsap and the gatekeeper of Elvis’ legacy, Priscilla Presley.
Each was honored with a musical tribute, courtesy of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame house band, with Ford and Riley posthumous honorees.
Jerry Phillips, son of Sun founder Sam Phillips, was the first presenter, taking the stage in a sequined gold blazer, looking as though he had just stepped out of the famed Memphis retailer Lansky’s, to induct drummer Van Eaton, who kept the beat for multiple of Sun’s brightest stars.
“I’ve known J.M. Van Eaton most all my life,” Phillips said. “I’m certain Sun Records company would not have had the success that it did without J.M.’s unusually unique and creative drum sound.”
Beginning drumming in his teens, Van Eaton started playing with fellow 2022 inductee Riley on rockabilly numbers such as “Red Hot” and “Flyin’ Saucers Rock n’ Roll.” He eventually became Sun’s primary drummer.
Van Eaton said he learned to play the drums while attending Bellevue Junior High School in Memphis.
“I hope and pray the schools still have that going on today, it’s such a mess,” Van Eaton said. “But I still hope and pray they offer young people the opportunity to play music because if they don’t, they’ll be in a lot of trouble.”
After thanking the Phillips family and Sam Phillips specifically, Van Eaton picked up his drumsticks to play percussion on “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” with current Memphis musician John Paul Keith on vocals.
The inductee of the evening who seemed to most enthuse the audience was musician and producer Booker T. Jones, now a double inductee. Jones was part of the hall’s inaugural class with his group Booker T. & the MGs, but went in this year as a solo artist.
“At this moment and many other moments, I’m so grateful to come from Memphis, Tennessee,” Jones said. “It’s such a nurturing and caring environment not only musically but just in general.”
Jones noted that growing up in Memphis he was surrounded by creative talent. That talent included his mother and grandmother, who both played piano and sparked his love affair with that instrument along with the organ.
“I’ve been so fortunate to be in the Memphis music system,” Jones said. “Like (Van Eaton) said, I’m not sure if that exists anymore, but it existed then ... and I was one of the beneficiaries of the music teachers here in Memphis.”
Jones noted that the power of rock and soul music remains a cornerstone of Memphis culture.
“We are at this moment a special place on the Earth I believe, especially for music,” Jones said. “There are other places, but this is our place. This is where I come from.”
After casually mentioning he wanted to “play a few things for you,” Jones walked toward the organ to a roar of applause.
With the ever-familiar introductory organ notes, Jones and the night’s house band broke into a thunderous rendition of the M.G.'s signature hit “ Green Onions ,” leading some attendees out of their chairs to dance to the funky groove.
Another world-renown musician graced the stage of the Cannon Center Thursday evening, but this one wasn’t Memphis-based.
It was Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant, greeted onstage by a thunderous standing ovation to introduce another Memphis Music Hall of Fame inductee, Priscilla Presley.
“Like so many people from all walks of life, tonight I feel like a part of one big extended family,” Plant said. “We’re bound together by the energy of the beat from long ago that was driven with stunning conviction and abandon by the man that you, Priscilla, knew so well.”
Plant noted that Memphis was the location where both Black and white musicians trailblazed beats that created a new world of music, and that Memphis was also the place where Priscilla herself cemented Elvis’s legacy long after his death.
“Elvis was interested, funny and deep into the roots from whence he arrived: the blues, the Blacks and the whites,” Plant said, speaking to Priscilla. “I’m sure he would be very pleased to see you honored tonight by 21st century Memphis.”
Presley, 77, was instrumental in preventing the Graceland estate from being sold following her former husband’s death in 1977 and has worked since to protect and further his legacy.
Through Presley’s guidance and commitment, Graceland was opened to the public 40 years ago on June 7, 1982, and eventually became the most second-visited residence in the United States, attracting more than 20 million guests.
Presley noted that with her father in the Army during her childhood, Memphis, and Graceland, was the first home she truly knew.
“Two days ago, Sept. 13, marks the 63rd anniversary of when Elvis and I met,” Presley said. “We listened to (records) together and I saw Elvis the man — not just the music — but what an incredible human being he was.”
Presley noted that while Elvis was a jet-setting rock and roll legend, the core of his being and his love of music was always situated in Memphis.
“What I learned from Elvis is the love of music and Memphis, Tennessee, which he loved, and came back to, after every concert, every movie,” Presley said. “He said he could never leave Memphis, that’s where his heart and soul was.
“Now I know why, because I feel the same way.”
Sponsors for the 2022 Memphis Music Hall of Fame ceremony included Orion, MLGW, nexAir, Southern Security and Southland Casino.
To learn more about Memphis Music Hall of Fame, click here .