By Andy Downing
RedEye special contributor
6:49 PM CDT, June 11, 2014
Benjamin Booker entered into the summer as a relative unknown, but it's a safe bet most of Chicago will know the singer/guitarist's name by the time his self-titled debut drops in mid-August.
The New Orleans-based musician, whose raw-nerve songs blur the line between punk, folk and Delta blues, makes his local debut Monday, June 23 at the Empty Bottle. He then returns to open a pair of July shows for Jack White — at the Chicago Theatre and the Auditorium Theatre, respectively — and again in August to perform on his biggest stage yet at Lollapalooza.
“Hopefully you guys won't get tired of me,” said Booker, 24, who recorded his debut alongside producer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes) over six days at Nashville's Bomb Shelter last December. “The shows are growing so fast. I'm really still getting used to it.”
When's the last time you Googled yourself?
Maybe like a week ago after we played in Amsterdam. I was a little worried the next day, but it turned out to be all right.
A majority of the search results are still for a bodybuilder who shares your name.
Oh yeah, I'm very familiar with Ben Booker the bodybuilder. I knew of him before I started to do the music thing. I was trying not to put too much stuff [online] in the beginning because I was hoping people would Google me and then see the bodybuilder. It would have been great if I could have showed up at concerts and people had only seen that Ben Booker.
So you're not him then? I've got like 17 questions here about ab exercises.
Oh, no [laughs]!
Over the next three months you're going to experience at least a year's worth of career growth, going from the Empty Bottle to the Chicago Theatre to the Lollapalooza stage.
That's what it's felt like recently. It's felt like things are moving really fast. It's terrifying, and I'm definitely not ready. But we'll get it together and play some shows and hopefully everything goes all right.
What was going through your head as David Letterman introduced the band right before your late-April performance on “Late Night”?
Oh, man, that was the most terrifying day of my entire life. They literally do a countdown, like, “90 seconds, one minute...” I felt like I was going to pass out onstage. Everyone who played that night peed like 15 times before we went on. I blacked out … and three minutes later it was over.
You're opening a tour for Jack White, including a pair of shows here next month. Have you spoken with him yet?
No, I actually haven't spoken to him. He came and played New Orleans this week, though, and it was awesome. It was honestly one of the coolest shows I've ever seen. I'm excited to be seeing that every night.
Is it true you had a White Stripes poster on your wall as a teenager?
Oh, yeah. There was a Guitar World magazine that had this really cool cutout. I've only bought two CDs in my entire life. I bought Sonic Youth's “Sonic Nurse” and White Stripes' “Elephant,” and I think they came out the same year because that was the only time I actually had the money to buy CDs.
Did you grow up in a musical family?
Not really at all. My dad was in the Navy, and my mom's a school teacher. They're very practical, working people. My sister sings opera. She's the other musically inclined person in my family.
Did you ever consider a career in the military?
When I was younger, for sure. I came from a conservative military family, but that's something I gave up really quickly. I could never join the military, but they still try to get me to do that now.
So are you scarily good at boardgames like “Battleship” and “Risk”?
I'm pretty good at “Battleship,” and I'm probably better at shooting guns than most people.
It doesn't sound like you need it, but do you have people in your life who can knock you back down to earth if you start to develop an ego?
[Laughs] Oh, yeah. My friends would never let me be an ass[bleep]. As soon as I got signed to ATO [Records] my friend was — and he was joking around — but he was like, “Listen, people are going to tell you you're cool. You're not cool. Always remember that you suck.”
Andy Downing is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic @andydowning33
Benjamin Booker, 9 p.m. Monday, June 23 at Empty Bottle. Free.
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