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Spiders on the Keys

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Editors’ Notes

John Parsons was the manager of New Orleans' Maple Leaf Bar and liked nothing more than to have the venerated and sometimes unhinged pianist James Booker in for a long night of solo piano. Parsons was so transfixed by Booker that he recorded more than 60 hours of him playing at the Maple Leaf in 1977 and 1982. The first volume drawn from these tapes is called Spiders on the Keys, which is how people referred to Booker’s ambidextrous hands. Booker was never more himself than he was on these recordings, which are at once relaxed and frighteningly virtuosic. The piano knowledge imparted in these performances is almost impossible to fathom, as they blur the lines between ragtime, funk, boogie-woogie, blues, jazz, and even classical. (Chopin was Booker’s all-time favorite composer.) Booker was beloved because songs like “Papa Was a Rascal” captured the essence of New Orleans music like no one since Professor Longhair, but his covers really prove the depth of his soulfulness. Whether he was playing “Malaguena,” “Eleanor Rigby,” or “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” Booker delivered each song like a dying message from the pit of his spirit.

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Great spirit

No one could play like Booker. Be dazzled!


Born: December 17, 1939 in New Orleans, LA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

Certainly one of the most flamboyant New Orleans pianists in recent memory, James Carroll Booker III was a major influence on the local rhythm & blues scene in the '50s and '60s. Booker's training included classical instruction until age 12, by which time he had already begun to gain recognition as a blues and gospel organist on radio station WMRY every Sunday. By the time he was out of high school he had recorded on several occasions, including his own first release, "Doing the Hambone," in 1953....
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