Blues Matters review of James Booker Manchester '77
New Orleans may be full of eccentrics but James Booker was one of the more eccentric of them! If Professor Longhair's vocals could seem a little wayward, Booker's are completely off the beaten track, always in tune but only because it followed his piano playing, which pursued a similarly untrammelled path. He had enjoyed a big hit in 1960 with his organ instrumental 'Gonzo' and had gone on to play with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Maria Muldaur and Ringo Starr.
A year or so before this concert, Island had released a mid-price solo piano album in Britain, which had certainly raised his profile - even if it did puzzle many critics with its mix of quasi classical playing (Blues Minuet) and barrelhouse Blues (Junko Partner), with Booker's well-documented heroin addiction adding a very personal touch to the latter. Both these titles are included on this set recorded at the Lake Side Hotel in the much-missed Belle Vue complex in Manchester. There is also the near Jelly Roll Morton-styled 'Pixie', some rock 'n' roll, heavily adapted covers of '50s R&B numbers, such as 'Black Night' and 'Let Them Talk' , and a wonderful 'Tipitana' - and don't forget that back then Professor Longhair was definitely an esoteric taste !
All solo, except for the last two numbers of the album, on which local outfit - now much better known too - The Norman Beaker Band, with Victor Brox on electric piano, help out, though the vocals are rather low in the mix. This tape may have languished for thirty years but it is certainly good to hear it now. With so little of Booker's material readily available, this is essential for Crescent City lovers.