James Booker: Real Genius

“If the word ‘genius’ is applicable to anyone, the person who comes to mind is James Booker," Allen Toussaint once said.

[caption id="attachment_220204" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Photo by Ginny Winn[/caption] Many New Orleans pianists are better known — Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Harry Connick Jr., Professor Longhair, Fats Domino and Art Neville — but those closest to the scene insist that James Booker was the greatest of them all. The tall, spindly, goateed singer-pianist with a star-emblazoned eyepatch gave lessons to Dr. John and Connick, played Domino’s piano parts on some recordings, and toured in bands with Neville and Dr. John. He could do everything they could do, but none of them could do everything he could do. “There is a word that is thrown around so loosely for certain people who have done well in life,” Toussaint told Offbeat Magazine in 2013, “if they do very well in life, they call them geniuses, but let me say that if the word is applicable to anyone, the person who comes to mind is James Booker. Total genius. Some instances in his playing are very unusual and highly complex, but the groove is never sacrificed.” When Booker died of a cocaine overdose in 1983, he was a largely forgotten man outside Orleans Parish; his funeral was sparsely attended, and only two studio recordings…

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