As part of my quest, I try to keep track of the musicans who played Woodstock that come to the New York area in order to add more signatures to my poster. In todays day and age, a number of the artists have web sites and some have mailing lists. It is through a mailing list that I found out that Muruga Booker would be in Brooklyn, NY on Friday February 20, 2009.
Now, the question is who is Muruga Booker? Muruga Booker was born Steven Bookvich in Detroit, Michigan on December 27, 1942. For professional reasons, he changed his name to Steve Booker and established a name for himself as a drummer in the Detroit area. He was then hired by folk singer Tim Hardin, who is best remembered as the songwriter to the oft-covered If I Were a Carpenterand Reason to Believe, a song Rod Stewart made popular.
Playing the Woodstock Festival was a life changing event for many of the performers, especially Steve Booker. It was at Woodstock where Mr. Booker met Swami Satchidananda, an Indian Spritual leader who was invited to be the opening speaker to the 1969 Woodstock Festival. The Swami gave him the name, Muruga. After the festival, Muruga studied under Swami Satchidananda and the two then colloborated on an album. After Woodstock, Muruga Booker continued to work as a drummer eventually becoming a member of George Clintons P-Funk All Stars, with whom he still occaisionally performs. As a testament to his diversity, he has also recorded with Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia. I only cared that he played at Woodstock, though; and that is why I signed up for his mailing list.
He was playing at a showcase thrown by his record company, Qbico Records, at the Issue Project Room, located in a 3rd floor loft in the Old American Company in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, NY. Before heading to the venue, I had dinner at the Chip Shop (http://www.chipshopnyc.com/), a restaurant that I had seen on the Travel Channel. Aside from its mission to provide authentic British Fish and Chips, it is famous for its willingness to fry anything, including pizza, macaroni & cheese, Twinkies, and chocolate bars. The Fish and Chips were quite tasty. I had to try the deep fried Twinkie, as the dish was invented here. The batter dipped, fried Twinkie was served with powdered sugar and a raberry sauce. Definittely worth trying!
Sated, I ventured to the venue. As I memtioned, the Issue Project Room was located in a 3rd Floor Loft in an old factory. There was no stage, just some chairs and a performance space. There was a sparse crowd of approximately 50-100 people. As I wandered in to find my seat, a dark man wearing a dark robe and a dark hat said hello. I found out a little later that this was Muruga Booker; however, in New York City, strangers do not usually say hello so, this made me a little uncomfortable. The first band, Direct Current, took the stage and played a little over 45 minutes. After their set, I approached Mr. Booker and asked for his autograph. He appeared thrilled to be asked and when I pulled out my poster, he got excited. He told me that when he played Woodstock he backed Tim Hardin (which I knew) and he was known as Steve Booker, then he met the Swami and he went by the name Muruga. He then said he is presently known as Father Steven (He is presently a Greek Orthodox Priest). He signed my poster as all three. He then blessed me. The person that he was sitting next to, which I found out later was jazz clarinetist, Perry Robinson, suggested that we take a picture. Muruga handed his camera to his daughter, Ravi who he introduced me to who took our picture with both my camera and his camera. I thanked him and he was then summoned to perform.
He began by playing a drum that resembled a djembe which I later found out was the Nada drum, a drum that Muruga invented. Perry Robinson played Clarinet and Murugas wife, Shakti Bookvich, played keyboards. Muruga played a variety of percussion instruments and then moved behind a traditional drum kit. The three of them played for a while before taking a break. He introduced tabla player, Badal Roy (who has played with Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman), who played while the others went to an area behind the performance area. After a spell, Muruga and Perry Robinson returned to the stage to play another set along with Badal Roy. A man from the crowd walked onstage to join them, who turned out to be Richie Shakin Nagan, a percussionist who has played with Muruga and Parliament Funkadelic, who played various hand percussion instruments that rattled.
They played for about two hours. I had no idea what they played; however, I enjoyed it immensely. Muruga is a powerful, rhythmic, and mesmerizing drummer. Two other acts were on the bill, The Acid Birds and saxophonist Arthur Doyle; however, it was late and I had an early morning so I left having had my mind opened and thrilled to have met such a unique and nice man!