Some of the greatest blues pianists of the 20th century are showcased on a new CD called "Keep It Rollin'," the latest release from Rounder Records' Heritage Series. These masters of the blues piano, include one of Louisiana's greatest entertainers James Booker.
Even more than traditional blues, James Carroll Booker III was a major rhythm-and-blues influence in the 1950s and 1960s. He began as an organist, playing gospel at a local church.
At age 14 he made his first recording called "Doing The Hambone." Years later, he had a hit with "Gonzo," an organ instrumental which led to recording dates with Aretha Franklin, Ringo Starr and B.B. King. Booker recorded this Titus Turner original "All Around The World" less than a year before his death in 1983.
Pianist Tuts Washington was another New Orleans favorite. Like James Booker, Tuts Washington mastered a variety of piano styles, including Dixieland, boogie-woogie and electric blues.
He worked in some of Louisiana's best blues bands, before launching a long and fruitful career as a sideman in California, Missouri, Oklahoma and Florida. He returned to New Orleans in the 1960s, but it wasn't until 1983, at age 76, that he recorded his first album. Washington is credited with influencing everyone from Fats Domino and Professor Longhair to James Booker and Doctor John.
Texas has always been a hotbed of acoustic and electric blues. From Texas City, Texas, came one of today's most enduring singers and pianists, Charles Brown. Charles Brown was 77 when he recorded "Black Night" for his 1999 album "In A Grand Style." That's almost 54 years after recording his jazz-inspired blues hit "Drifting Blues."
Brown is a classically-trained pianist. He earned a degree in chemistry but couldn't resist going out on the road with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers. He soon became an acclaimed soloist, recording ten Top 10 R&B singles in the early 1950s. His career slowed over the next two decades, but was revived when rock singer Bonnie Raitt invited him to tour with her in the 1980s.
One of the 16 tracks on "Keep It Rollin'" features a little-known pianist from Memphis, Tennessee named Booker T. Laury. Booker Laury was good friends with blues pianist Memphis Slim, but unlike Slim who traveled around the world, Laury stayed in Memphis his entire life. His barrelhouse blues boogie was heard blaring from the clubs along Beale Street. In 1994, nearing his 80th birthday, Laury recorded his first and only album "Nothin' But The Blues," featuring his own composition "Booker's Boogie."
"Keep It Rollin' - The Blues Piano Collection" on the Rounder Heritage Series also features veteran New Orleans pianists Willie Tee, Eddie Bo and Art Neville, and 25-year-old Crescent City newcomer Davell Crawford.