b. James Carroll Booker III, 17th December 1939, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A.
d. 8th November 1983, New Orleans Charity Hospital, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A.
James Booker hailed from New Orleans.
He was an R&B musician, who once described himself as ‘The Black Liberace’.
James father was a Baptist minister, who was an accomplished piano player.
He grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, preached at a local church, which gave James the opportunity to play the church organ.
James relocated to New Orleans as a youngster, attending Xavier Academy Preparatory School.
His group, Booker Boy and The Rhythmaires, featured Art Neville and Curtis Graves amongst others.
He began his recording career in 1954, after signing to the Imperial Records label.
doin the hambone b/w thinkin about my baby - 1954 / gonzo b/w cool turkey - 1960
At Imperial he released, ‘Doin' the Hambone’ b/w ‘Thinkin' 'Bout My Baby’ under the name of Little Booker.
This session featured: James Booker (vocals and piano), Frank Fields (bass), Clarence Hall (saxophone), Joe Harris (saxophone), Herb Hardesty (saxophone) and Earl Palmer (drums).
Further singles followed, and James enrolled as an undergraduate in Southern University's music department.
Between 1956 and 1957, James became part of the Joe Tex group.
In 1960, he released the single ‘Gonzo’ b/w 'Cool Turkey', which reached number 43 on the Billboard chart and number 3 on the R&B charts.
During this part of his career, he began to recreationally use various drugs.
In 1970, James served a short sentence in Angola Prison for drug possession.
As a result of his involvment in the legal system, he befriended Harry Connick Sr., who, at times, became James’ own legal counsel.
As part payment for some legal representation, Harry asked James to give piano lessons to Harry’s son, Harry Connick Jr.
junco partner - 1976 / new orleans piano wizard: live! - 1982 / classified - 1983 / the lost paramount tapes - 1995
In 1973, James released ‘The Lost Paramount Tapes’ at Paramount Studios in Hollywood.
Recorded with members of the Dr. John band, the tapes became lost, only to be discovered and re-released in 1992.
James toured with Dr. John's Bonnaroo Revue touring band in 1974.
He also appeared on various albums by the likes of Ringo Starr, John Mayall, The Doobie Brothers, Labelle, Maria Muldaur, and Jerry Garcia.
In 1975, James appeared at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
The gig landed him a contract with Island Records.
James released the album ‘Junco Partner’ at the label.
In 1976, he joined the Jerry Garcia Band.
He traveled to Europe afterwards, and in 1977, he released ‘New Orleans Piano Wizard: Live!’ (recorded in Switzerland).
In 1978, James recorded sessions for the BBC.
In 1992, the album ‘Let's Make A Better World!’ was released. Recorded a couple of years earlier, the album became the last record produced in, what was then, East Germany.
Between 1978 and 1982, James had returned from his long European tour, and found himself performing in local bars.
In 1982, he released ‘Classified’, which was produced very quickly, and became his last studio album.
The toll from elongated drug use began to take it’s toll on James.
He, sadly, passed away in 1983, whilst seated in a wheelchair in the emergency room at New Orleans' Charity Hospital.
James was listed as passing away from renal failure, a condition relating to his past history of heroin and alcohol use.
James’ legacy is that of an usung genius, who left us far too soon.
Junco Partner (Island/Hannibal Records 1976)
New Orleans Piano Wizard Live! (Rounder Records 1981)
Classified (Rounder Records 1982)
Mr Mystery (Sundown Records 1985)