Booker is a revered figure in the history of New Orleans music who incorporated the inventions of Professor Longhair into his repertoire that ranged from boogie blues, New Orleans R&B, jazz and classical. His legacy as a pianist, vocalist and songwriter shines even brighter three decades later. His influence is heard in such performers as Dr. John, Harry Connick Jr., Tom McDermott, John Boutté and Henry Butler. Booker played on a number of studio recordings in addition to ones he made under his own name (he is on keyboards on Freddie King’s Cotillion Recordings for example). In the booklet accompanying this reissue we get Scott Billington’s essay in addition to Bunny Matthews original 1983 notes. Billington’s essay provides this overview and cites a number of those who might be called Booker’s musical children.
To use a term associated with Duke Ellington, Booker was “Beyond Category.” The depth of his repertoire is suggested by the performances here including the opening signature title tune that opens this compilation which opens with some nice solo playing before joined by a small backing trio that included legendary tenor saxophonist, Alvin ‘Red’ Tyler. The contents of this include a Professor Longhair medley, two takes on Lloyd Price’s Lawdy Miss Clawdy (one of which is solo), Warsaw Concerto (which explains why he was sometimes called the Bronze Liberace and along with Madame X displays how accomplished he was a s pianist of classical music), a medley of Tico Tico / Papa Was a Rascal / So Swell When You're Well, (and this last number was one Aretha recorded), his solo piano reworking of Little Willie John’s Hit All Around the World, a manic vocal on King of the Road, the classic Art Neville ballad, All the Things You Are, and “Yes Sir, That's My Baby,” the one selection on which he plays the organ (with the sounding like he is playing a calliope for a carousel). This last track is one of the several with Red Tyler’s saxophone. Among these selections, a highlight is the Fats Domino flavored, One For the Highway, again with Red Tyler taking a choice tenor solo.
Thirty years after being originally released, Classified remains as a cornerstone of James Booker’s recorded legacy. His genius is well served by this well thought out and expanded reissue.
I received my review copy from Rounder Records. Here is a trailer for the film documentary, Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker.