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Booker T, 68, has won four Grammy awards. He has written or played on enduring hits including “Green Onions”, “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” and “Born under a Bad Sign”.
What was your earliest ambition?
To be a doctor.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
Booker T Washington High School, Memphis, then Indiana University. I’m a curious person and still study.
Who was or still is your mentor?
My first piano teacher, Mrs Elmertha Cole, was very strict. I still do the scales she taught me to this day. My mother gave me the soul of my music. Between the two of them I gained my rules.
How physically fit are you?
I try to do a few push-ups and sit-ups and, after we talk, I’m going to go take a step fitness class that I’ll probably fall behind in.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
The formula or proportion has to do with the individual.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
I don’t remember having taken one and I’m not sure my intelligence can be measured.
How politically committed are you?
Every society needs government, society has to have rules. That’s what politics is – how we’re going to survive and live together. I’m committed to making that work.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
My car is electric; I use plastic as little as possible. So, yes, I consider it in a very practical way.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
You could give me peace in the world for the rest of eternity.
Do you have more than one home?
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Every so often I let myself have a luxurious massage at a spa. I’m pretty frugal, though I do have an expensive car.
In what place are you happiest?
When I’m performing, doing music that’s really working – doing what I was put here to do.
What ambitions do you still have?
To get better at what I do and to continue.
What drives you on?
I’ve got a pretty non-submissive life force going on inside of me – it just doesn’t stop. The force just puts music in my head and in my heart, and it’s my job to try to recreate it.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
I’ve received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammy association and that was very gratifying. I was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 – I wasn’t sure I deserved it. I was humbled and honoured.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
My father supported me unfailingly; he sacrificed to buy my first clarinet. There was one evening when he asked me to play piano for him and I didn’t feel like playing. If I could take that back, I would.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
He would be amazed that the music had lived as long as it has. He’d be happy to see this future.
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
I think I would have the wherewithal to start another career. I might even try to do what I’m doing now. People come to my shows and say, “I’m 65, I want to learn piano,” and I say, “Do it!”
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I believe in this life, right here and now.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
I’d say 10. I’ve felt so unbelievably fortunate. At 18 I told my mother that if things went wrong from here on in, I’d be happy with what I’d had so far – and that continues.
Booker T’s new album, ‘Sound the Alarm’, is released by Stax Records on August 12. He will be playing at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London from August 14-17
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