Dominic Green Dominic Green

The dazzling, devious, doomed sound of James Booker

There is a hysterical jollity to Booker’s playing, a whistling past the graveyard

American jazz-piano virtuoso James Booker, c.1970. Photo: Val Wilmer / Redferns / Getty Images

Dr John called James Booker ‘the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced’. Booker died in 1983 at 43, ruined by drugs, drink and madness. Though he appeared on plenty of other people’s records and stages — Dr John, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King — Booker recorded only three studio albums in his lifetime.

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