(Benjamin Booker is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. Based in New Orleans, he cites The Gun Club, Blind Willie Johnson, and T. Rex as influences. His music was described by the Chicago Tribune as “a raw brand of blues/boogie/soul,” by The Independent as “frenzied guitar-strumming and raw, soulful vocals that are hair-raising in intensity,” and by SPIN as “bright, furious, explosive garage rock.” Here’s an article written by Shaun Tandon for AFP about this new R&B sensation. – FATS)
New York (AFP) – Benjamin Booker‘s raspy voice and piercing guitar demonstrate an emotional intensity in overdrive, yet until a couple of years ago the rising young star had never played live.
Booker has captivated audiences with a style that sounds fresh despite its retro roots, combining the cadences of blues guitar with the power — and attitude — of punk rock.
Yet Booker, who just turned 26, is polite and even shy when asked to expound on his music, even though he originally aspired to be a music journalist.
“It was terrifying at first to go up on stage and sing these very personal songs, but there was no reluctance,” he told AFP.
“I think now, you always try to put yourself in the place where you were when you were writing these songs,” he said of his trick to playing before crowds.
Growing up in the Tampa, Florida area, Booker had not given much thought to his own musical ability.
He recorded a handful of rough tracks when — with no job in journalism available — he was moving from his parents’ home to take a job with a non-profit group in New Orleans.
The response — and the speed of his success — stunned him. His songs caught the attention of a blog and then Sirius XM satellite radio, where after an on-air session a label representative approached him in the parking lot to offer a record deal.
Booker released a self-titled debut album last year to positive reviews and was encouraged to play live — and found himself selected as the opening act for one of his heroes, Jack White.
This year Booker is playing many of the world’s top festivals. He has already performed at Coachella, Bonnaroo and New York’s Governors Ball, with upcoming appearances including Glastonbury in England and Fuji Rock in Japan.
– Raspy yet sensitive voice –
Slender in a sleek dark jacket, Booker not only keeps up an energy level in the crowd during sets. He also stays fueled up himself on stage with a constant flow of beer and cigarettes — a factor perhaps in his imposing yet scratchy voice that could be mistaken as coming from a singer of twice his age and build.
Despite the often heavy music, the lyricism is full of introspection and sensitivity on songs such as “Have You Seen My Son?”, in which he reflects on his parents’ disappointments.
Booker looks somberly at the state of the world on “Slow Coming,” singing, “Honestly, how can I be proud right now? To tell you the truth, I ain’t been sleeping too well.”
Booker in the song also links the Civil Rights Movement to the struggle for gay equality as he sings, “Although our parents fought to be equal / The state decides true love / If they only knew it.”
Yet Booker does not consider himself a political artist and said he did not time his song to accompany the burgeoning US protest movement against police brutality.
“When I put out the album, I didn’t sense it as political at all. I guess it was just me writing about the people around me,” he said.
– Inspired by punk and blues –
Booker’s musical tastes vary widely with influences ranging from Blind Willie Johnson, the early 20th century blues artist known for his deep growl, and hardcore punk band Black Flag whose fury appealed to Booker at a younger age.
One major inspiration was The Gun Club, which built a cult following in the 1980s by merging punk with blues and rockabilly.
A looser parallel can be seen with Alabama Shakes, a label-mate on ATO Records that has won a critical following by bringing charged rock elements to blues roots.
Booker sums up much of his musical thinking — and perhaps persona — in his song “Spoon Out My Eyeballs,” in which he deplores “songs produced by 40-year-olds in high-tech studios.”
“Give me something that I can tap my toes to / And scream at the top of my lungs / ‘Til it sounded like I’ve been smoking from the day I was born.”