James Booker – "Resurrection of the Bayou Maharajah" – Rounder – 1993
Arguably the greatest piano player in the city’s 300-year history, and that’s considering who came before: Jelly Roll Morton, Champion Jack Dupree, Tuts Washington, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint. And sadly, he is likely the city’s least known to the outside world.
Eccentric, genius, erratic, virtuoso, drug addict, dazzling, Booker, by all accounts, was all of those. Underneath all of the madness, here was a man so talented when he was on, he was not to be missed, creating more music by himself than two or three top-notch musicians could create. He was a regular act at the legendary Maple Leaf for years, and lucky for us, John Parson recorded Booker at the Uptown club on Oak Street from 1977 to 1982.
But for every bit of genius, Booker could also be infuriating to the music fan, as he was given to fits of paranoia, irascible, even too drugged out to perform. Tales of him vomiting on the piano are not uncommon. Fans were known to leave the club in droves in frustration when he was off.
This recording is taken from the best of these nights, when the genius of James Booker was in full flight, and according to the liner notes, Parson had to go through 60 hours of tapes to get to these tracks.
The opening track, “Medley: Slow Down, Bony Maronie, Knock On Wood, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Classified” captures the best of Booker as he burns from one number into the next, almost frantically trying to get to the next number, speeding up, slowing down, changing styles, changing genres – all done flawlessly and putting his other-worldly take several standards. Whether it’s classical, boogie woogie, soul, rock, Booker plays them all effortlessly. This recording is rare chance to hear a New Orleans master at his peak.
James Booker Medley: Tico Tico & Papa Was a Rascal