Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Five Minutes Of Booker


In the liner notes on the expanded version of James Booker's classic "Classified," the writer states that these recordings are not his best work, and that he'd like to think Booker's best performance is still out there among the many tapes that trade hands of collectors. I am one of those collectors with hours of unreleased Booker and I think "Classified" is pretty damn essential.

But I had a revelation this week.

I realized I wasn't as familiar with the additional bonus tracks as I was to the album proper, and when "I'm Not Sayin'" finished playing, I had to get up and confirm what I was listening to.

James Booker can play anything. He can play "Chopsticks" and make it sound like Beethoven. His left hand sounds like three hands and his right hand sounds like four. That being said, "I'm Not Sayin'" is unlike anything I've heard Booker play before.

A friend suggested that this track might have been left in the vault because it didn't fit with the vibe of the album. I say, f**k the vibe of the album!

I will leave it at that.

I hope this knocks you out the way it knocked me out. 

And if you don't know James Booker's music, I suggest you listen to all of "Classified," toot sweet.


heartsofstone said...

I agree with you completely and am now doing a deep dive.

pmac said...

Secveral years ago I ran into James Singleton at an out of state airport while we were waiting for the connecting flight to NO. We started talking and inevitably we started to discuss the making of that album. Incredibly, Booker went awol once they made it to NY. Not knowing what to do, he and Vidacovich and the other musicians just started showing up at the studio and rehearsing, since the time had already been booked - still no sign of Booker there, or at the hotel. Last day of studio time, Booker is waiting for them, says nothing about where he has been, and they cut the entire album.
I saw Booker live numerous times, usually at the Maple Leaf, or when he played before and during intermission at One More Time (a musical performed in NO - I knew the guy who ran the theatre and he'd let me in since he knew I was a huge Booker fan). Catching Booker live had to be a similar experience to a NASCAR race (not that I've been to a race). A lot of people went just waiting for him to go off the rails, and he would normally oblige, and folks would start leaving once he hit a tirade (CIA spying on him was a common refrain). But, if you stayed for the entire performance, he would usually get back on track and deliver moments of true brilliance. To this day, I've never heard a more heartbreaking performance by an artist than his rendering of "True" one night at the Leaf. Was just painfully beautiful.
I didn't see this one particular performance, but another NO musician swears that at the Leaf one night, he came out dressed in nothing but a diaper, and just a few minutes into the performance, pulled out a pistol from it and started screaming that he needed coke now or someone was going to get shot. Yeah, Booker.

Sal Nunziato said...

If the Maple Leaf performance of "True" you mention is similar to the Montreux clip, heartbreaking is an understatement.

pmac said...

Sal - as good as the Montreux take of True is, the one I witnessed put it to shame. When he finished the song, everyone was just stone silent. At least 15 secs elapsed and then people just started to go crazy. As great as that song is, he didn't perform it very often. My guess is that it took too much of a toll on him when he did. You just have to wonder how his life could have been if he hadn't gotten hit by that ambulance when he was a kid, and had led a somewhat normal life. No doubt a genius, but so damn troubled.

Christine said...

Absolutely knocked me out!