Sunday, April 19, 2009

Drugs : Junco Partner

James Booker : Junco Partner


Drug songs are older than the music industry. Leadbelly sang Take A Whiff On Me when he was recorded for the first time by John Lomax in Angola in 1933.
In Mexico, of course, they've got La Cucaracha. A great idea for a post by the way, and it goes back to 1818.
And In New Orleans, of course, they've got Junco Partner. It's the first song that came to my mind when I heard about this week's theme.
The first version, Junker Blues, by Champion Jack Dupree (1940) is probably the most explicit lyrically.

The song was brillantly covered by Dr John, Professor Longhair, The Clash, among others, but my favorite rendition is this live solo performance by James Booker from 1976. The lyrics are reduced to a few stanzas, but the essential is said.

I want a whiskey, when i'm thirsty
I want a little water when I'm dry
I want my lover when I'm lonely
And just a little heroin just before I die
And gimme a little cocaine baby on the side

And Booker knows what he's talking about when singing that line about time in Angola : that's exactly what he did for a year in 1967, for possession...
There's nothing sad, nothing plaintive, nothing gloomy in this drug song. It's not a suicidal trip à la Cobain. It's just about burning life while we can.
And Booker's piano playing is just fantastic. What an incredible left hand! There's a legend which says that Rubinstein met Booker when he was 18, heard him playing and said "I could never play THAT, not at that tempo!".

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