Lewis “Lewie” Steinberg, Booker T. & the M.G.’s original bassist who played on the soul group’s classic 1962 instrumental “Green Onions,” died Thursday following a battle with cancer, Memphis’ Commercial Appeal reports. He was 82. The Stax Museum confirmed Steinberg’s death.
Steinberg served as the bassist in Booker T. & the M.G.’s alongside keyboardist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper and drummer Al Jackson from 1962 to 1965, appearing on a pair of LPs with the group, 1962’s Green Onions and 1965’s Soul Dressing. Since that group also served as Stax Records’ house band, Steinberg’s bass can be heard on albums like Otis Redding’s Pain in My Heart.
“Green Onions” resulted from an hour-long jam session the group had prior to laying down a jingle. “I said, ‘Shit, this is the best damn instrumental I’ve heard since I don’t know when,’ ” guitarist Cropper later recalled. The track was named to Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Steinberg is also listed as a songwriter on “Green Onions,” even though his more famous successor in Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Donald “Duck” Dunn, was often mistakenly attributed to the track. As Steinberg’s niece Diane Lewis told the Commercial Appeal, “I saw Paul Shaffer at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (this year) and he talked about Lewie. He said, ‘I want you to know that Duck Dunn always made sure everyone knew that Lewie Steinberg was the one who played on Green Onions.'” Dunn died in 2012.
In an apocryphal anecdote, it was Steinberg who suggested that “Green Onions” be titled “Funky Onions,” but Stax founder Estelle Axton considered title “too out there”, Lewis said. Jones instead opted for “Green Onions,” as he once admitted in an interview, “Because that is the nastiest thing I can think of and it’s something you throw away.”
Steinberg, along with the rest of Booker T. and the M.G.’s, were enshrined into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. He and his former band mates were also inducted into the Memphis Hall of Fame and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.