Caught by the River

Bayou Maharajah: the Tragic Genius of James Booker

21st July 2013


Thanks to James Walbourne for hipping me to this film on the subject of a shared love of ours, the larger than life New Orleans piano playing genius James Booker.

Booker – described by fellow Storyville legend Dr. John as, “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced” – is a cool, complex and wildly unorthodox character who has made some of the most wild, groovy and unorthodox music I have ever fallen in love with. His 1961 45, Smacksie, a stone Modernist classic, is never out of my record box and, on the rare occasions that said box leaves the house these days, it never fails to kick things off:

08 Smacksie

Outside of those early R&B singles (comped on the album Gonzo) my most often played record of Booker’s is the 1976 solo piano set, Junco Partner, recorded at Allen Toussaint’s studio with Joe Boyd and John Wood at the controls. It’s a great record, a little nuts, never boring, often breathtaking.

When James mentioned the film it dawned on me that I really didn’t know a great deal about the guy behind these records so I’ve been digging around the web for further info and hoping to find the film on DVD – only to discover that it’s still doing the rounds of the U.S festival circuit – and if it’s of any interest here are some links to the best of what I’ve found:

Bayou Maharajah Trailer from Lily Keber on Vimeo.

An interview with the filmmaker, Lily Keber, on the Oxford American.

New York readers, if you’re at home in the city next weekend, your luck is in. There’s a screening plus Q&A with Lily at the Lincoln Centre. Info here.

James Carroll Booker III. Site for news, discography, bootlegs, info

and a fantastic little remembrance piece from the great Rickie Lee Jones