Singer-pianist Eddie Bo dies

Musician played with Irma Thomas, Art Neville

New Orleans blues singer-pianist Eddie Bo, who worked with musicians such as Irma Thomas and Art Neville, died March 18 of a heart attack. He was 79.

Bo, whose real name was Edwin Joseph Bocage, was an accomplished keyboardist-pianist with a career spanning more than five decades. 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.

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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