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James Booker

Certainly one of the most flamboyant New Orleans pianists in recent memory, James Carroll Booker III was a major influence on the local rhythm & blues scene in the '50s and '60s. Booker's training included classical instruction until age 12, by which time he had already begun to gain recognition as a blues and gospel organist on radio station WMRY every Sunday. By the time he was out of high school he had recorded on several occasions, including his own first release, "Doing the Hambone," in 1953. In 1960, he made the national charts with "Gonzo," an organ instrumental, and over the course of the next two decades played and recorded with artists as varied as Lloyd Price, Aretha Franklin, Ringo Starr, the Doobie Brothers, and B.B. King. In 1967, he was convicted of possession of heroin and served a one-year sentence at Angola Penitentiary (referred to as the "Ponderosa"), which took the momentum out of an otherwise promising career. The rediscovery of "roots" music by college students during the '70s (focusing primarily on "Fess" by Professor Longhair) provided the opportunity for a comeback by 1974, with numerous engagements at local clubs like Tipitina's, The Maple Leaf, and Snug Harbor. As with "Fess," Booker's performances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivals took on the trappings of legendary "happenings," and he often spent his festival earnings to arrive in style, pulling up to the stage in a rented Rolls Royce and attired in costumes befitting the "Piano Prince of New Orleans," complete with a cape. Such performances tended to be unpredictable: he might easily plant some Chopin into a blues tune or launch into a jeremiad on the CIA with all the fervor of a "Reverend Ike-meets-Moms Mabley" tag-team match.

Booker's left hand was simply phenomenal, often a problem for bass players who found themselves running for cover in an attempt to stay out of the way; with it he successfully amalgamated the jazz and rhythm & blues idioms of New Orleans, adding more than a touch of gospel thrown in for good measure. His playing was also highly improvisational, reinventing a progression (usually his own) so that a single piece would evolve into a medley of itself. In addition, he had a plaintive and seering vocal style which was equally comfortable with gospel, jazz standards, blues, or popular songs. Despite his personal eccentricities, Booker had the respect of New Orleans' best musicians, and elements of his influence are still very much apparent in the playing of pianists like Henry Butler and Harry Connick, Jr. ~ Bruce Boyd Raeburn, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

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A phenomenon with feet........ . . . . N E V E R will there be another like him!!! God rest his dear soul. I hope that somehow he knows how much he is loved & missed!!! :'(:'(:'(
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Wonderful player and soulful singer. Confessin' that I love this guy!
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slkilleb
Booker did have a drug problem, but he did NOT overdose. He technically died from kidney failure.
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rducase
Brooker was one of many teachers for Harry Connick.
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rducase
KevinCruthir d s : The joint was Lou and Charlie's, no drywall on the walls, a long bar as soon as you walk in the joint.
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kevincruthir d s
Havng grown up in New Orleans, I'd never heard of James Booker. My best friend took me out the night before my wedding (2 man bachelor party) in 1975 to a hole in the wall place on Rampart Street a few blocks above Esplanade. James Booker played for about 2 hours and I sat in amazement the whole time.
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The Greatest... The Crowned Prince of Piano will live on forever and is only now beginning to be understood. I don't know if anyone else has maintained the integrity of being a folk singer in the Leadbelly tradition while simultaneous l y being one of the leading masters of his/her instrument. Take notes EVERYBODY...
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der bingle mesozoic turned me onto to mr. booker. soon to TRIBALAND
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If you love outstanding keyboard work, you can't help but love James' playing--mak e s me so darned jealous. I would have LOVED to see him in concert..
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Wow! A review that knows what he's talking about!!!
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SUCH a cutie-pie!!! !
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Check out Harry Connick's version of Winter Wonderland for an obvious homage to James Booker with whom, I believe, Harry studied.
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kathleenzb
Booker was the best piano player out of NOLA in the 20th century. Sadly, he died at 43--a victim of lonliness, drugs and booze. Fortunately, through recordings (although meager) his music lives on. RIP, sweet James.
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louie.liokis
The patron saint of the Maple Leaf Bar. Long live Booker!
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Booker may be ~the~ best New Orleans piano player, and that's sayin' something! He's ~not~ to be confused with Booker T Jones of Booker T and the MG's, the great Memphis rock n soul etc band.
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boogiespeed
What fingers.

What a performance on St James Infirmary... . wow,.. awesome
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Was he ever known as Booker T?
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thatrealtorg u y i n s h o r t s
Following a list of great blues pianists. A lot of these artist were given drugs by greedy promoters to get them hooked, and often playing for free, to get a fix and a bag of fries.
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St. James Infirmary is no joke. Gone somewhere in the by and by. Hauntingly Beautiful.
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brucejoh: your mom?

haha sorry, had to
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never heard him before Pandora...en j o y e d it very much. thanks, Pandora
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I used to see him at the Maple Leaf Bar and Laundrymat in New Orleans while I lived there. He was a brilliant piano player but a man troubled by inner demons that resulted in his abuse of alcohol and drugs. Sad to see a musician with so much talent kill himself, which he finally did with an OD.
Report as inappropriate
uniplmr
unbelelievav a b l y good....what a hand...both of them,,, untouchable
Report as inappropriate
think he was talented? think he could play the piano?

ok, who could play better? please answer!

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