One-Named Guitarist Honors One-Eyed Pianist

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Wednesday's Pick

  • Song: "Booker"
  • Artist: Milton
  • CD: Grand Hotel
  • Genre: Folk-Pop
Milton 300

Milton pays tribute to New Orleans pianist James Booker while demonstrating how music can chase demons away. courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption courtesy of the artist

A man strums a guitar softly while singing in a worn but warm voice: "Booker, James Booker." He's paying tribute to the legendary New Orleans pianist, whose piano chops were so over-the-top that he said "I'm better than all of 'em," and nobody could argue.

The guitarist, Milton, decides to start off with gentle chords, which makes little musical sense given the context. But the one-named folksinger knows what he's doing. His lyrics offer a glimpse into the madness that was Booker's life — a mash-up of mental illness, drug abuse and alcoholism. Booker had "Chopin hands on a dirty bandstand." He had "too many voices in [his] head, too much sweet music in [his] ears." And, in a wistful mathematical construct, Milton sighs, "Laid out on the floor, peerless great of the 88, who didn't live to 44."

Midway through the song, Milton fades away, at which point his British pianist Frank Campbell takes over and brings Booker's essence to the proceedings. The piano interlude captures the sweet side of the one-eyed pianist's syncopated style, set in a minor key but with a rolling, rollicking New Orleans bass that demonstrates how men like Booker used their music to drive the blues away.

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