Segments in this Video

Piano Prince Performs (04:56)


James Booker plays in Molde, Norway in 1978. View New Orleans street scenes. Jazz poet Ron Cuccia recalls Booker's enthusiasm for conspiracy theories and colorful business ideas. (Credits)

Character and Musical Talent (04:20)

Maple Leaf owner John Parsons tells stories about Booker's fascination with the police and dressing in drag. Drummer Johnny Vidacovich, saxophonist Charles Neville and songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint discuss his virtuosity and use of melodic phrasing.

Virtuoso Keyboard Technique (02:43)

Harry Connick, Jr. demonstrates Booker's unusual use of key resolution, swing rhythm, and grace note octaves.

Multitasking Pianist (02:43)

Bassist Reggie Scanlan recalls Booker's ability to play while holding a conversation and doing other tasks.

Eyepatch Legend (01:32)

Theories on how Booker lost his eye include mafia debt, infection, and accident.

"The Queen of Junkers, Joo Coo" (03:12)

According to Booker’s autobiography, he was born in December, 1939 and raised in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. He studied classical piano at Catholic school; his sister and parents were also talented musicians. He began playing on radio stations at age 12.

"Doin' the Hambone" (02:23)

Booker recorded "Doin' the Hambone" for Imperial Records with producer Dave Bartholomew. He became legally emancipated at 16 to play with Irma Thomas at the Dew Drop Cafe, a gig that launched his career. View musicians that he toured with.

"Gonzo" (02:43)

Bunny Matthews discusses Booker's song "Gonzo" about heroin, inspired by "Beware of the Pusher." Fans included Hunter S. Thompson. Dr. John recalls Booker teaching him the organ and playing Canal Street; Booker's recordings received little air time.

Paranoia and Jail (03:50)

View musicians that Booker toured and recorded with in the 1960s. After losing his mother and sister, he developed conspiracy theories, began abusing heroin, and served time at Angola Prison, a former slave plantation.

West Coast Sessions (03:10)

Bassist Dave Johnson describes recording with Booker in Los Angeles. Booker stayed sober on a methadone program, but returned to heroin when it finished. He took master tapes with him to New York.

"Papa Was a Rascal" (03:23)

View musicians that Booker toured and recorded with in the 1970s. He was first introduced to morphine after being hit by an ambulance at age nine, leading to his heroin addiction. He relates the experience in "Papa Was a Rascal."

Sea-Saint Studio (04:02)

Scanlan recalls recording "So Swell When You're Well" with Booker at Toussaint's studio. Booker's addiction made him unreliable and impeded his career. He never had a manager and would perform according to his mood.

"Junco Partner" (04:59)

Producer Joe Boyd recalls Booker's manic energy during a recording session. Booker agreed to make a solo record, and asked for a candelabra as the "Black Liberace." Hear Booker's album notes and view him perform "Classified" live.

Becoming a Mentor (02:08)

Retired New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick, Sr. recalls befriending Booker, who inspired his son to pursue music.

Struggle with Heroin and New Audience (04:31)

Drummer Jim Scheurich describes Booker's enthusiasm for Liberace and dreams of starting a music school. After rehabilitation, he started touring in Europe. View live performance footage in Nice, France in 1978.

Creative Genius (03:19)

Musicians Hugh Laurie and Chris Rannenberg discuss Booker's emotional depth, chaotic style, and blend of classical, jazz, and rhythm and blues. Booker shares his philosophy on music as a divine communication medium.

Leisurely Touring Style (04:06)

View footage of Booker performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1978. Helga Pfund recalls trying to keep him on a performance schedule in Germany. He often engaged in lengthy monologues between songs.

"True" (05:23)

View footage of Booker performing "True" at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1978. He won the "Grand Prix for a Jazz Record," besting Ray Charles and Otis Rush.

Music Business Challenges (02:32)

Booker's personality and lack of support from a record company impeded his success in the U.S. View footage of him arguing about a recording fee.

Financial Trouble (03:21)

After a successful tour in Europe, Booker had trouble getting a gig in New Orleans. Connick, Jr. recalls feeling powerless to help his mentor, as a boy.

Toulouse Theater Run (02:43)

Playwright and musician Vernal Bagneris recalls Booker playing before "One Mo' Time" performances, and avoiding being stereotyped. Russell Rocke saw him as a muse for New Orleans' artistic community.

Vocal Talent (02:11)

Bassist James Singleton discusses Booker's emotional range. Parsons recalls a near nude performance at the Maple Leaf; gigs could be successful or disastrous.

Physical and Mental Health Issues (04:36)

Scott Billington approached Vidacovich, Singleton and Booker to make an album. Advised to stop drinking, Booker became dissatisfied with recording progress. Parsons believes he had bipolar disorder. View footage of a 1982 Baton Rouge performance.

Classical and Blues Fusion (03:42)

Hear Booker's version of a Rachmaninoff piece and view time lapsed images of New Orleans at night.

"Classified" (02:10)

Singleton recalls Booker's transition to sobriety. Despite health issues, he recorded "Classified" with Singleton and Vidacovich. Billington describes his antics during sessions.

Office Gig (01:54)

Booker asked Lee Madere to employ him at New Orleans City Hall; he enjoyed the work environment. Connick, Jr. recalls his sobriety and optimism.

Staying in New Orleans (03:54)

Booker was invited to play on Chicago public television and in New York clubs but was reluctant to travel and in poor health. Hear him expressing frustration about being underpaid and underappreciated.

Losing the Piano Prince (04:52)

Booker died at age 43; friends and colleagues share their grief. View footage of his funeral.

Credits: Bayou Maharajah (03:01)

Credits: Bayou Maharajah

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Bayou Maharajah

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This program explores the life, times and music of piano legend James Booker, who Dr. John described as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.” This roller coaster portrait traces Booker’s life from his early years as a chart-topping child prodigy, to his star-studded years touring and playing as a sideman, through his outrageous solo career in America and Europe. First-person narrators lead the viewers through Booker’s unbelievable onstage performances, occasionally in his underwear, dishing out drug-fueled conspiracy theories. Featuring interviews with the likes of Harry Connick Jr., Dr. John, Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint, together with a generous helping of archival footage, the film brings to life the unforgettable story of this amazing and forgotten musician.

Length: 99 minutes

Item#: BVL138536

Copyright date: ©2013

Closed Captioned

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