James Booker performing “True” at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1978. This is an excerpt from the documentary, “Bayou Maharajah.” (the life and blues of a virtuoso.) The above song, written by Louis Cottrell and Don Albert, was recorded by Paul Gayten in 1947. James takes creative liberties.. Here’s a BBC radio piece on this performance ( an interview with director Lily Keber): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0650…
James Booker was an African-American musician known for his unique fusion of jazz
and rhythm-and-blues, and for songs like “The Sunny Side of the Street,” “A Taste of Honey” and “Papa Was a Rascal.”
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on December 17, 1939, James Booker was an African-American pianist who developed his own hybrid style of jazz, blues, ragtime and classical music. He worked with legends such as Fats Domino, B.B. King and Aretha Franklin, and is remembered for creatings songs like “The Sunny Side of the Street,” “A Taste of Honey” and “Papa Was a Rascal.” He died in New Orleans in 1983. Booker’s own recordings are rare, but his work has influenced a new generation of musicians.
Booker’s single “Gonzo,” an organ instrumental, was a hit in 1960. He continued to play live with music legends like B.B. King, and to contribute to studio recordings by artists as diverse as Aretha Franklin, The Doobie Brothers, Ringo Starr, blues master Freddie King and folk singer Maria Muldaur.
“His Tuesday night shows at the Maple Leaf Bar in the Carrollton neighborhood of New Orleans yielded two posthumous albums on Rounder Records, which are full of ranting, hellacious singing, and torrential playing despite the creaky upright piano. Booker also played regularly at the Toulouse Theater in the French Quarter as the intermission and after-show pianist for the One Mo’ Time show, the only locally produced New Orleans theater piece that went on tour to international acclaim. There are no official recordings of Booker from the Toulouse Theater, but do
zens of hours of bootleg tapes have surfaced.”
He released five albums during his lifetime, all initially issued by European labels. Among these releases, Junco Partner (1976), New Orleans Piano Wizard: Live! (1977), and two 1976 recordings, Blues and Ragtime from New Orleans and Piano Prince from New Orleans, find him at his very best. A dozen or so albums of varying audio quality have appeared posthumously.
Around 1978 Booker stopped going on the road and began two gigs that became legendary for
zens of hours of bootleg tapes have surfaced.
Booker’s main influences included Ray Charles (particularly his highly emotive and bluesy vocals), Fats Domino, and—for personal flamboyance—Liberace. Unlike most pianists who came after Professor Longhair, Booker’s playing showed no Caribbean inflection. Instead he developed new variations on the basic boogie-woogie left-hand patterns, inventing at least a half-dozen such modes.
JAMES CAROLL BOOKER III
James Carroll Booker III was a distinctive New Orleans pianist who mixed gospel, boogie-woogie, blues, traditional and modern jazz, and classical music into a unique and breathtaking sound.
Booker’s personal problems with heroin, cocaine, and alcohol abuse hindered his professional and personal life, and led to his early death on November 8, 1983, in the emergency waiting room of New Orleans’s Charity Hospital
Some of the above from: http://www.bayoumaharajah.com/booker/
January 9-10, 1976: Sophie’s, Palo Alto, CA: The Jerry Garcia Band with James Booker
Diligent scholars of Jerry Garcia know that Jerry Garcia, John Kahn and Ron Tutt played two shows at Sophie’s in Palo Alto with keyboardist James Booker on January 9 and 10, 1976. Tapes endure of both shows, along with rehearsal at Club Front two days earlier.
“The name James Booker means very little in most parts of the world. In New Orleans, and to a great number of musicians, mainly piano players, the name James Booker is holy. Not bad for someone who was once called “the best black, gay, junkie piano player who ever lived.”
Rickie Lee Jones said this:
A portrait of James Booker by artist Gabriel Flores of Where Y’Art, as commissioned by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for its “300 for 300” celebration of New Orleans’ tricentennial. (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
“Human nature is the reason why I play the piano the way I do.
But no just ordinary human nature — some people say I’m a freak of nature.”
— James Booker
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