This blog is a compilation of ideals, editorials, opinions and up close and personal stories based on the African-American experience, but not limited in its outreach to others in Memphis and Shelby County. The content is diverse and covers a wide range of topics including politics, education, history and religion. It is designed to inform and enlighten those who have a penchant for quality reporting and journalistic excellence. This is The Wiley Report.
The original Booker T. & the M.G.'s. Bassist Lewie Polk Steinberg is on the right. (Courtesy photo)
Memories fade with time, but “Green Onions,” the raw, gritty
and funky instrumental composition that Stax Records churned into a hit in the
1960s, is unforgettable. After more than 50 years, the bass line is still the
subject of water-cooler conversations.
The musician that comes to mind is Lewie Polk Steinberg, the
original bassist for Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Stax’s R&B/funk house band.
Mr. Steinberg’s thumping bass line in “Green Onions” propelled the group and
also helped to orchestrate the record label’s worldwide signature sound.
Lewie Pole Steinberg
“Green Onions” also propelled Mr. Steinberg, the
quintessential bassist who strummed his bass for some of the industry’s most
notable song titles and the artists/musicians that set precedencies in Memphis
Mr. Steinberg, who engineered a stellar career in music,
died of cancer July 21. He was 82.
“Even though he played rock and roll, he loved jazz. That
was his favorite music,” said Ida Steinberg, one of Mr. Steinberg’s six children.
“We would watch ‘The Lawrence Welk Show’ together. That was his favorite. He
liked the Big Band era, but he was opened to all genres.”
Mr. Steinberg, the 14th of 15 children, was perhaps the most
noted in the family of musicians. His father, Milton Gus Steinberg, was born on
Beale Street and played piano with W. C. Handy in Memphis and New Orleans,
according to his obituary.
His sister, Nan Steinberg Morton, toured with Fats Waller and
her brothers: Morris (sax), Luther (trumpet, piano) and Wilbur (bass, singer).
They, Mr. Steinberg included, played with some of the best musicians in the
“They laid the foundation called ‘The Memphis Sound,’” said
Ida Steinberg, who didn’t realize the breadth of her family’s contribution to
music until much later in life. “When you’re growing up with all that great
music and the best well known people are coming over to the house, you kind of
take it for granted.”
Tony Steinberg, the son of Wilbur Steinberg, said his uncle
made sure the family’s contribution to Memphis music would be remembered
forever. “He was very pleased,” his nephew said, “when the Steinberg family got
a Brass Note on Beale Street in 2010.”
Although Mr. Steinberg had achieved immeasurable success, “He
felt it was important for the whole family. It was a relay race. There was not a
particular star. He just happened to be the last one in the relay race. He was
able to get across the finish line.”
Diane Steinberg-Lewis said they all were enamored with Mr.
Steinberg. “When the music was going on, it was always a Steinberg there. We
were all so proud of him. But my dad (Luther Steinberg) was upset because he
played rock and roll. They were jazz musicians.”
They were big teasers too, particularly Mr. Steinberg, she
said. “When I loss my two front teeth as a child, I learned how to whistle. So
he named me whistle girl. ‘It’s the whistle gal,’ he’d say, and then he’d
But what Steinberg-Lewis remembers most are the
conversations, intonation and phrasing, which she attributes to Memphis jazz
musicians when they are in creative mode or just sitting around making
“There’s no way to hear ‘Green Onions’ and not know that it
is so Memphis,” she said.
Kenny Lewis, a bassist and Steinberg-Lewis’ husband, recalls
Mr. Steinberg sharing with him a little tidbit when he started playing bass
full time with the Steve Miller Band. He ended up with “big blood blisters” on
his fingers, he said, just what Mr. Steinberg had predicted when playing the
bass without a pick.
“I used to take pictures of them (fingers) and send them to
him,” said Lewis. “He just laughed and said, ‘Yeah, there you go. You got to
get those big corns on them.’”
Mr. Steinberg was
inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy "Lifetime
Achievement Award," The Memphis Music Hall of Fame, and many other awards.