The Life and Times of James Booker


James Booker: The Piano Prince of New Orleans









Around 1978 Booker stopped going on the road and began two gigs that became legendary for their length, brilliance, and erratic nature. 



































Bayou Marharajah Documentary Trailer

"In the documentary, Bayou Maharajah...Booker emerges as a complex figure, dogged by demons and an on-off addiction to heroin.  'When I moved to New Orleans in 2006, I heard his name a lot,' says its director, Lily Keber, who hails from Georgia. 'Local musicians would tell these mad stories about Booker throwing up on his piano, or playing with syringes stuck between the keys. He was a mythical figure by then, not least because his records were so hard to find. Then I finally heard his songs playing on the jukebox in a local dive and that was that. I was hooked.' 

For those who only know of the New Orleans rhythm and blues piano tradition through the likes of Fats Domino and Professor Longhair, Booker's playing may come as a revelation. Melding blues, jazz and classical, it pays scant regard to the traditional rules of song or composition. Live, Booker often talked through the intro of a song and extended the ending for ages, adding one musical flourish after another. 

His genius, though, often took second place to his waywardness. Various musicians attest to Booker's madness and self-sabotage, as well as the drug busts and no-shows that harmed his career. He toured East Germany wearing an afro wig stuffed full of marijuana and once appeared on stage at Tipitina's in New Orleans wearing a nappy fastened by a huge gold pin. Musician David Torkanowsky recalls the moment: 'From behind the nappy, he pulls out a .357 Magnum, puts it to his own head and announces to the audience, 'If somebody doesn't give me some cocaine right now, I'm going to fucking pull the trigger.'

At the Maple Leaf, Booker was often ignored by audiences, who would talk through his songs. Occasionally, the faithful were rewarded with a set that reminded everyone how gifted he was.

Although he backed a vast array of musicians – from Little Richard to Aretha Franklin, from Ringo Starr to the Doobie Brothers – Booker found free rein for his musical genius as a solo pianist. 'There's nobody that could even remotely come close to his playing ability,' his close friend, the pianist Harry Connick Jr, tells Keber in  the Bayou Maharajah documentary. 'I've played Chopin Etudes, I've done the whole thing, but there is nothing harder than James.'" (The Guardian)






Dr. John

It was the legendary Louisiana musician, Dr. John, who memorably described James Booker as "the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced".





Bayou Maharajah - extra feature - Pianist Dr. John on James Booker


James Booker

Booker puts it best in the liner notes of his best studio release, Junco Partner (1976): “To know the feeling of rejoicing in sorrow is nothing strange to me.”


James Booker Discography




 Junco Partner (1976)





New Orleans Piano Wizard: Live! (1977)





Blues and Ragtime From New Orleans (1976)




The Piano Prince of New Orleans (1976)


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