Dr. John demonstrates the finer points of James Booker’s piano technique and credits the late New Orleans R&B musician for teaching him to play organ in a bonus outtake from the 2013 Booker documentary Bayou Maharajah, which will see its first DVD release on August 26th.
“Nobody played any of what I just played till Booker came up with some of that kind of stuff,” Dr. John says after demonstrating Booker’s style on the song “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” He goes on to describe some of his experiences performing alongside the pianist, who worked in Dr. John’s band in the early-to-mid-Seventies. He marvels at Booker’s virtuosity on the theater organ, and how Booker was able to keep perfect time despite the instrument’s inherent delay. “How he kept the time up playing ahead of himself to keep the band locked in, I’ll never understand,” he says.
Directed by Lily Keber, Bayou Maharajah chronicles the life and music of this colorful, troubled figure, legendary in New Orleans but obscure elsewhere. The film features extensive performance and interview footage of Booker, who died in 1983 at age 44. “I’ve got some blues that contains old soul with new wrinkles,” the pianist says in a clip featured in the trailer, perhaps referencing the way his style seamlessly incorporated classical, jazz and gospel.
In addition to Dr. John, the film also features interviews with Booker admirers and associates including Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Harry Connick Jr. (who also learned from Booker) and Hugh Laurie.
Bayou Maharajah will be out on DVD Friday. Visit the film’s website for more information.