By Dan Hyman
Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images
Benjamin Booker wasn't sure how to feel about going on tour with the man that inspired him to become a musician. "It was just so weird," the 25-year-old from New Orleans says of Jack White hand-selecting him to go on White's recent U.S. tour. "It's your childhood hero you're playing shows with!"
But considering that guitarist-songwriter Booker had never played a concert until two years ago, and only six months after signing with ATO Records was already touted as the "next big thing," it's only right that Booker's already playing Lollapalooza and sharing the stage with his idol. "At first you're like, 'It's too much,' but you just get more comfortable," Booker says of hitting the road with the former White Stripes guitar god. "And meeting other bands you realize, 'These are just normal people.'"
If he continues at the same clip as these past few months, it won't be long before Booker—with an eponymous debut album that drops August 19—has some ardent worshipers of his own. Armed with manic, scuzzy guitar chops and a voice that bursts out of him like it was soaked in kerosene, Booker draws on a love of the blues updated with a contemporary indie-rock edge. His best songs—notably his debut album's driving, smashmouth track "Violent Shiver"—belie his relative inexperience. "It's been scary, man," he says of his rapid growth in recognition following this spring's debut EP. "Sometimes it's too much to handle. It'll probably get better. We'll see."
Any apprehension about becoming the next axe legend might stem from the fact that the former coffee shop employee never intended for his music to reach much of an audience. "I wrote all the songs on our record without any intention of anyone besides my friends seeing them," says Booker. "Just writing some songs to pass around to your friends and stuff like that. And now that there are interviews and people asking you about the music, all that kind of stuff, you're like, 'Oh fuck!'"
As for that old-man-growl of a singing voice? Booker can only laugh when anyone brings it up. "Before two years ago I never sang," he admits. "Ever. It's just weird when that's what people would say after the show: 'Oh we really liked the voice.' I was like. "Really? Okay?'" He never even considered himself the best singer in his family: "My sister is an opera singer. I grew up going to her recitals. This whole time I'm like, 'She's the singer. I'm just strumming along and yelling.'"
Lollapalooza gigs and Jack White's stamp of approval aside, nothing freaked Booker out more though than playing The Late Show With David Letterman. "Dude, it's David Letterman!" he says of his TV-debut this past May. "And the same stage that the Beatles played on! It's insane. It's too much. It's the most terrifying show you can do."
"Honestly that helped a lot though," he admits. "It was the scariest thing I could possibly imagine. After we finished I was like 'Alright, it really can't get scarier than this.'"
We wouldn't count on it.
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