New Orleans piano legend Eddie Bo dies at 79
Posted by Keith Spera, Staff writer, The Times-Picayune March 20, 2009 6:40PM
Categories: Breaking News, Obituary, Top News
RUSTY COSTANZA / T-P ARCHIVE
Singer-pianist Edwin Joseph Bocage, known simply as Eddie Bo, works the crowd at last year's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans. He died Wednesday, March 18, at 79.
Eddie Bo, a potent, eclectic New Orleans pianist, singer, songwriter and producer who inspired a dance craze with his 1962 hit "Check Mr. Popeye" and later directed fans to "Check Your Bucket, " died Wednesday, March 18, of a heart attack. He was 79.
A prolific artist, Mr. Bo adroitly distilled an excitable synthesis of rock 'n roll, rhythm & blues, jazz and funk.
"He was one of the last great New Orleans piano professors, kind of a bridge between Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint, " said New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival producer Quint Davis. "Everyone now has to remember to check their bucket on their own, without Eddie to tell us."
Born Edwin Joseph Bocage, Mr. Bo grew up in Algiers and the 9th Ward. He was heavily influenced by the piano style of Professor Longhair; he also gravitated to the jazz phrasing of George Shearing, Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum.
After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he served in the Army. Upon his return to New Orleans, he studied arranging and composing at the Grunewald School of Music, a training ground for scores of professional musicians.
He fronted various bands and wrote and released singles for the Ace, Ric, Apollo and Chess labels. In addition to "Check Mr. Popeye, " which was inspired by the cartoon character, his hits included 1969's "Hook and Sling, " which reached No. 13 on Billboard's R&B chart.
Other artists fared well with his songs. Little Richard adapted Mr. Bo's "I'm Wise" as "Slippin' and Slidin." Etta James scored a 1959 hit with his "Dearest Darling." He is credited with writing Oliver Morgan's signature "Who Shot the La La."
In 1975, Mr. Bo semi-retired from music and left New Orleans after the failure of both his marriage and a North Rampart Street club, El Grande, in which he had invested heavily. He said he "couldn't make ends meet spiritually" as a carpenter.
Neither his retirement nor exile were permanent. By 1989 he was back in New Orleans following seven years in Miami, where he studied at the Yahweh Institute. The institute, he said, "teaches men that we should seek love and distribute love, and seek to be moral." It was around that time that Mr. Bo started wearing a turban-like diadem on his head.
By the early 1990s, he was touring Japan and Europe, appearing on albums with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and George Porter Jr., and holding down an evening solo piano gig at Margaritaville. A German label issued his funk album "Shoot From the Root" in 1996. In 1998, he released "Nine Yards of Funk" on his own label.
He also busied himself with non-musical pursuits. He briefly operated a club, the Check Your Bucket Cafe, and ran a health food store with his sisters.
In 1999, an electrical fire destroyed the Tulane Avenue building that housed the health food store. Mr. Bo also lived in the building. The fire claimed his two keyboards, along with master tapes of unreleased and previously released recordings, musical charts he had painstakingly written over the years, and a collection of his own classic 45s.
Scores of musicians -- contemporaries as well as younger musicians influenced by him -- volunteered to perform at a benefit concert in the wake of the fire. "It gives me a deep, deep feeling of not really knowing how people care, until you have to experience something like this, " he said. "Then you really know who your friends are."
His most pressing need, he said at the time, was to replace his keyboards. "I'll try everything I can to get another keyboard, " he said, "because I'm lost without something to play."
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Here's a wonderful story on the funeral of Antoinette K-Doe who died on Mardi Gras morning.