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Eddie Bo dies at 78; blues singer, pianist and songwriter

March 22, 2009|Associated Press
  • Blues musician Eddie Bo performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2008.  Bo, whose career spanned more than five decades, worked with musicians such as Irma Thomas, Robert Parker and Art Neville.
Blues musician Eddie Bo performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival… (Rusty Costanza / Associated…)

Eddie Bo, a New Orleans blues singer-pianist who worked with musicians such as Irma Thomas and Art Neville, died Wednesday of a heart attack, according to his booking agent, Karen Hamilton. He was 78.

Eddie Bo, whose real name was Edwin Joseph Bocage, was an accomplished keyboardist-pianist with a career spanning more than five decades. As a songwriter, Bocage penned the 1960 Etta James hit "My Dearest Darling" and "I'm Wise," which was made famous by Little Richard when renamed and released in 1956 as "Slippin' and Slidin'."

Bocage released more than 50 singles in his career, including "Check Mr. Popeye" in 1962.

"That was probably his biggest hit," said friend and musician Gregory Davis, a trumpet player for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. "That song kept him working for a long time."

Early in his career, Bocage toured with singers Joe Turner, Lloyd Price and the late Ruth Brown and Earl King. But he spent most of his career with New Orleans musicians, among them soul singer Thomas, R&B singer Robert Parker and singer-keyboardist Neville, the eldest of the Neville Brothers.

"He knew his craft," said Thomas, who added that Bocage was one of the first people she worked with when she entered the business in the early 1960s. One of her first shows away from New Orleans was with Bocage in Atlanta with R&B singer Gladys Knight as the opening act, she recalled.

Thomas also performed regularly at a New Orleans nightclub Bocage ran. He called his restaurant, a converted office building, the Check Your Bucket Cafe after his 1970 hit. It closed after an electrical fire in 1999.

Bocage was born in New Orleans on Sept. 20, 1930. His mother, a blues pianist, taught him to play when he was a child. After a stint abroad in the U.S. Army, Bocage attended the Grunewald School of Music in New Orleans.

That's where he developed a unique style of piano playing and arranging that incorporated bebop voicings, influenced by Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson and Professor Longhair, according to a biography on his website.

Hamilton said Bocage was looking forward to performing at this year's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. He was a regular at the popular outdoor musical event and was slated to perform April 26.

Besides music, Bocage was known for his carpentry skills. He repaired the wind damage to the roof of his house after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

As he explained to a Chicago Sun-Times reporter in 2006, "During Katrina my roof decided it liked another neighborhood, so it left."

After the hurricane he also recorded a version of the traditional New Orleans song "When the Saints Go Marching In" for "Our New Orleans," a CD that benefited Habitat for Humanity's efforts to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. "Our New Orleans,"


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