New Orleans blues singer-pianist Eddie Bo, who worked with musicians such as Irma Thomas and Art Neville, has died of a heart attack. He was 79.
His death was confirmed Friday by his close friend and booking agent, Karen Hamilton.
Hamilton said Eddie Bo, whose real name was Edwin Joseph Bocage, had a "sudden, massive heart attack" while out of town Wednesday. She said he "went very quickly, very peacefully."
Bocage was an accomplished keyboardist-pianist with a career spanning more than five decades. Hamilton said he counted Professor Longhair as one of his biggest inspirations.
An accomplished 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 -- a number second only to Fats Domino among New Orleans artists -- including "Check Mr. Popeye" in 1962.
"That was probably his biggest hit," said friend and musician Gregory Davis, 52, 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 Irma Thomas, R&B singer Robert Parker and singer-keyboardist Art 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 nightclub Bocage ran in the city from the late 1970s to early 1980s, she said. But Thomas' fondest memory of Bocage had nothing to do with music, she said.
"We loved going fishing," she said with a chuckle. "We used to go all the time, and that's my favorite memory of him."
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 and Oscar Peterson, according to a biography on his Web site.
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 there on April 26.
Besides music, Bocage was also known for his carpentry skills. He repaired the wind damage to the roof of his house after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hamilton said. And when he wanted to open his own restaurant, he converted an old office building into the cafe he named, "Check Your Bucket" after his 1970 hit. It was flooded during Katrina and wasn't reopened.
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