published: 21 /
Jamie Rowland findS impressive 'Bayou Maharajah', a new bio-documentary about the tragic life of brilliantly talented bot overlooked one-eyed blues pianist and drug addict, James Booker
'Bayou Maharajah' documents the life, struggles and music of the brilliantly talented but often-overlooked James Booker, a pianist who played with the biggest names in R’n’B, soul and jazz, as well as wowing audiences around the world with his incredible live performances.
Director Lily Keber has brought together an impressive collection of interviewees for her film, with friends of Booker, musicians and famous fans like Hugh Laurie, Dr. John and Harry Connick Jr. The format is fairly standard for a bio-doc, with talking heads, archive footage and colourful graphics, but what marks the film out are the spellbinding performance footage of Booker in his prime. Having lost his eye in uncertain circumstances (a montage of people relating the many different stories behind said eye-loss is a highlight, particularly that it was the result of a fight with Ringo Starr) Booker would wear an eye patch decorated with a glittery star, his hands flying across the keys of his piano in a way that sounds inhuman. For music fans, this film is a must-see for the live shows alone.
Booker’s story is a fairly tragic one; he was a heroin user who struggled with addiction throughout his life and never managed to hit the level of stardom his talent deserved. But there is a lot to celebrate too, and he was clearly a warm and colourful character when he managed to stay on an even keel – Connick Jr.’s stories of his childhood meetings with Booker are often charming. With this documentary, hopefully his life and extraordinary music will reach a much wider audience.