Not much more than a year ago, Benjamin Booker was a 25-year-old kid working at a record store. These days his friends text him to say they heard his music at Starbucks. We may live in the information age, but Booker’s rise to fame—which has included a stint opening for Jack White—is dramatic even by today’s standards. It probably has something to do with the fact that he can talk excitedly about the Germs and Blind Willie Johnson in the same sentence, which, when you think about it, is a pretty good way to describe Booker’s own music.
PLAYBOY: Your songs incorporate elements from a lot of different genres. When you started writing, did you consciously try to merge them?
BOOKER: I did. I’d been playing guitar for years but hadn’t written any songs because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or what kind of material I wanted to write. Then one day, I don’t know, it just hit me. I heard what I wanted to do and all of a sudden wrote a bunch of songs really quickly. I wanted to take the folk and punk guitar parts I came up with and combine them with the blues and gospel melodies that I also loved.
PLAYBOY: What was your first show like?
BOOKER: It was at the AllWays Lounge in New Orleans in 2012. I was playing acoustic guitar with a band, and I was terrified. It was fine at first, because when I got up on stage there were maybe 10 or 12 people watching. But the venue also had a theater in the back. That show let out as soon as I started playing, and 80 people rushed into the room. [laughs] It was horrifying. I played four or five songs and ran offstage.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever play covers live?
BOOKER: We didn’t used to, but while we were on tour with Jack White, I was backstage with him, talking. I was telling him that Ramblin’ Jack Elliott does a song called “Falling Down Blues,” which is a Furry Lewis cover. He hadn’t heard that song before, so we started doing it on tour for that reason, and we’ve kept doing it.
PLAYBOY: So you turned Jack White on to a blues song?
BOOKER: [Laughs] I don’t know about all that. The rest of the band seemed to like it, but I never heard what he thought about the song.