By Parks Vincent
For more than a century, Louisiana and the southern United States have continued to provide some of the most outright and authentic blues in the world. New Orleans based Benjamin Booker is no exception, as the young bluesman has started to charm the ears of many worldwide, giving us a gritty sound with a fresh face.
His debut album, Happy Home, is set for release on August 19 via ATO Records. But as in many a blues tale, a story of happiness is never direct. The 24-year-old Booker spent most of his years living in Tampa Bay, Fla. until he decided to pack up and move to New Orleans in 2012. Oddly enough, Booker’s initial intent to live in the Big Easy was sparked not by music but by his desire to work for a non-profit organization. As a matter of fact, Booker never considered a career in music until he started to receive praise after recording a few demos with a friend in Tampa just before moving to New Orleans.
It was in New Orleans where Booker found his sound performing as a duo with drummer and friend Max Norton. In a fairy tale story, Booker was signed to ATO Records after label manager Jon Salter flew down to see a small performance in Tampa and was absolutely amazed. With such an organic sound, it seems only fitting that Booker was picked up to a label that’s brought forth artists such as the Alabama Shakes and My Morning Jacket.
Inspired by a youth filled with listening to 80s hardcore and punk groups, Booker takes particular pride in having a developed sound that is raw, but is fully mastered and sharp. Adding a bassist for the album was another big change, as they didn’t just want a third member but sought out the “right person” to provide a full sound. The album was recorded at The Bomb Shelter, a studio in Nashville, Tenn. “We kind of just winged it for the time we were there,” said Booker. In just six days the band finished the record and was ready to hit the road – which couldn’t have been better timing as they were quickly picked up as support for Jack White on a number of dates during his North American tour.
“To have somebody’s poster on your wall when you’re like a 13-year-old to then be playing shows with them is pretty intense, especially because we’d only been playing together for like a year,” said Booker. But White wasn’t the only one to pick up on the talented singer/songwriter. In April 2014, Booker and his band gave a breathtaking performance on “Late Night with David Letterman.” They’ll also be playing a slew of music festivals this year in the US including Lollapalooza, Newport Folk Festival, Austin City Limits and New Orleans’ own Voodoo Music and Arts Festival.
For music fans, Booker provides a feeling of soul and comfort. His rough vocals enriched by the slick licks of his guitar have a sound that seems aged in years of southern sorrow and wisdom. Songs like “Have You Seen My Son?” show his ability to provide sincere stories of hope and wonder. For the young Mr. Booker, there is a bright future for an old soul.