Pianist James Booker's 'Classified' on 'Believe Your Ears'

Thursday, 21 November 2013 06:11 AM Written by 


This week's "Believe Your Ears" music podcast reviews a reissue of Classified: Remixed and Expanded by the late New Orleans R&B keyboard player and singer James Booker. Recorded in 1982 in New Orleans, it became the highly regarded musician's final album before he died in November 1983 of kidney failure at age 43.

Booker's friend, New Orleans legend Dr. John, who called him "the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced."   He also taught piano to Harry Connick Jr. 

Play the podcast by clicking here.

Booker, born in New Orleans in 1939, the son of a Baptist minister and his wife, who sang in the choir, became a child prodigy on keyboards and at 14, made his first recording (1954). Over time he grew into one of the City's most respected, if eccentric players. He mastered the local styles, pioneered by Professor Longhair and others, and was well versed in rock, jazz and classical styles.

Booker faced personal and social issues. He was gay in a less tolerant time, had emotional problems and debilitating problems with heroin that earned him hard prison time.

The original album demonstrated Booker's skills on piano, organ and vocals, and demonstrated his range beyond blues and R&B. The nine added tracks include two alternate takes and seven other songs recoreded at the sessions. The reissue comes on the heels of the documentary: Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker, a Kickstarter-funded project that premiered at this year's South by Southwest in Austin.   This is the trailer.

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