BY JASON GROSS
Unless you happen to be a REAL aficionado of New Orleans music, the name “James Booker” probably won’t ring a bell though you’ve probably hear his piano playing on plenty of famous R&B recordings by Fats Domino, the Coasters, Freddie King, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Joe Tex and sessions with rock legends like Jimi Hendrix, the Doobie Brothers and Ringo Starr. A crazed, one-eyed local character who frequently sported a starred eye-patch, Booker only put out a handful of full length albums before he died in 1982. Luckily, his material keeps getting reissued and he’s also the subject of a new bio-pic Bayou Maharajah.
This particular album was the last one he made and it’s a fitting send-off to a guy that Rounder accurately pegged as the kind of eccentric that we won’t see much of anymore. No doubt thanks to his session work, Booker was an encyclopedia of styles which included everything from classical (“Warsaw Concerto”) to R&B that transformed into early rock and roll (“Hound Dog,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”), NOLA classics (a Professor Longhair medley), country (a bizarre take on “King of the Road”), movie music (<The Godfather> theme) and prohibition-era pop (“Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” “Baby Face”). Whether he’s playing solo with a cracked voice that would do Longhair proud or sometimes teaming up with a small sax trio, his uncommon (as in ‘wonderfully freakish’ and ‘unique’) touch as a pianist comes through again and again. The guy’s surely worthy of a fictional bio-pic too somewhere down the road but for now, this is a worthy reminder of his mind-boggling talent.
DOWNLOAD: “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”