James Booker Biography

17 December 1939, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, d. 8 November 1983, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. As an exceptionally talented child, Booker studied classical piano, but balanced his virtuosity with blues and boogie learned from Isidore ‘Tuts’ Washington and Edward Frank. In his early teens he appeared on radio WMRY and formed a band he called Booker Boy And The Rhythmaires. He made his first record for Imperial in 1954, ‘Doin’ The Hambone’, and ‘Thinkin’ ’Bout My Baby’, produced by Dave Bartholomew, led to sessions for Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis and Lloyd Price, among others. Booker made just two more singles during the 50s, ‘Heavenly Angel’ for Chess and ‘Open The Door’ for Ace. In 1959 he enrolled at Southern University to study music. A year later, he signed to Peacock and had the only hit of his career, an organ instrumental called ‘Gonzo’, which reached number 3 in the R&B charts. Further singles such as ‘Tubby’ and ‘Big Nick’ failed to achieve similar success. By this point, however, drugs had added to his psychological problems and his work became erratic. In 1970 he served time in Angola State Penitentiary for drug possession. His appearance at the 1975 Jazz Fest led to a recording contract for Island Records. Other records appeared sporadically but his deteriorating mental state and an inability to control his drug problem led to a fatal heart attack. His highly individual style can sometimes be heard in the work of Harry Connick Jnr. , who was a student and friend of Booker’s.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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