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When they referred to consistently amazing guitarist Snooks Eaglin as a human jukebox in his New Orleans hometown, they weren't dissing him in the slightest. The blind Eaglin was a beloved figure in the Crescent City, not only for his gritty, Ray Charles-inspired vocal delivery and wholly imaginative approach to the guitar, but for the seemingly infinite storehouse of oldies that he was liable to pull out on-stage at any second -- often confounding his bemused band in the process!
His earliest recordings in 1958 for Folkways presented Eaglin as a solo acoustic folk-blues artist with an extremely eclectic repertoire. His dazzling fingerpicking was nothing short of astonishing, but he really wanted to be making R&B with a band. Imperial Records producer Dave Bartholomew granted him the opportunity in 1960, and the results were sensational. Eaglin's fluid, twisting lead guitar on the utterly infectious "Yours Truly" (a Bartholomew composition first waxed by Pee Wee Crayton) and its sequel, "Cover Girl," was unique on the New Orleans R&B front, while his brokenhearted cries on "Don't Slam That Door" and "That Certain Door" were positively mesmerizing.
Eaglin stuck with Imperial through 1963, when the firm closed up shop in New Orleans, without ever gaining national exposure. Eaglin found a home with Black Top Records in the 1980s, releasing four albums with the label, including 1988's Out of Nowhere (re-released on CD by P-Vine in 2007) and 1995's Soul's Edge. In 2003 P-Vine put out Soul Train from Nawlins, an album drawn from a live set Eaglin did at 1995's Park Tower Blues Festival.
A collection of Eaglin's earliest recordings, all done on acoustic guitar, was released in 2005 by Smithsonian Folkways as New Orleans Street Singer. Snooks Eaglin continued performing and recording into the 21st century -- including his final album, 2002's The Way It Is -- and near the end of his life few knew that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer; Eaglin was admitted to New Orleans' Ochsner Medical Center in February 2009, where he died of a heart attack on the 18th of that month at age 73. [AMG]
Snooks Eaglin, born Fird Eaglin, Jr. (January 21, 1936 – February 18, 2009), was a New Orleans-based guitarist and singer. He was also referred to as Blind Snooks Eaglin in his early years.
His vocal style is reminiscent of Ray Charles; in the 1950s, when he was in his late teens, he would sometimes bill himself as "Little Ray Charles". Generally regarded as a legend of New Orleans music, he played a wide range of music within the same concert, album, or even song: blues, rock and roll, jazz, country, and Latin. In his early years, he also played some straight-ahead acoustic blues.
His ability to play a wide range of songs and make them his own earned him the nickname "the human jukebox." Eaglin claimed in interviews that his musical repertoire included some 2,500 songs.
At live shows, he did not usually prepare set lists, and was unpredictable, even to his bandmates. He played songs that came to his head, and he also took requests from the audience. He was universally loved and respected by fellow musicians and fans alike.
Eaglin lost his sight not long after his first birthday after being stricken with glaucoma, and spent several years in the hospital with other ailments. Around the age of five Eaglin received a guitar from his father; he taught himself to play by listening to and playing along with the radio. A mischievous youngster, he was given the nickname "Snooks" after a radio character named Baby Snooks.
In 1947, at the age of 11, Eaglin won a talent contest organized by the radio station WNOE by playing "Twelfth Street Rag". Three years later, he dropped out of the school for the blind to become a professional musician. In 1952, Eaglin joined the Flamingoes, a local seven-piece band started by Allen Toussaint. The Flamingoes did not have a bass player, and according to Eaglin, he played both the guitar and the bass parts at the same time on his guitar. He stayed with The Flamingoes for several years, until their dissolution in the mid-1950s.
As a solo artist, his recording and touring were inconsistent, and for a man with a career of about 50 years, his discography is rather slim. His first recording was in 1953, playing guitar at a recording session for James "Sugar Boy" Crawford.
The first recordings under his own name came when Harry Oster, a folklorist from Louisiana State University, found him playing in the streets of New Orleans. Oster made recordings of Eaglin between 1958 and 1960 during seven sessions which later became records on various labels including Folkways, Folklyric, and Prestige/Bluesville. These recordings were in folk blues style, Eaglin with an acoustic guitar without a band.
1960s and 1970s
From 1960 to 1963, Eaglin recorded for Imperial. He played electric guitar on Imperial sessions with backup from a band including James Booker on piano and Smokey Johnson on drums. He recorded a total of 26 tracks which can be heard on The Complete Imperial Recordings. Much of the material on Imperial was written by Dave Bartholomew. Unlike the Harry Oster recordings, these works on Imperial are New Orleans R&B in the style for which he is widely known today. After Imperial, in 1964, he recorded alone at his home with a guitar for the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, released as I Blueskvarter 1964: Vol.3. For the remainder of the 1960s, he apparently made no recordings.
His next work came on the Swedish label Sonet in 1971. Another album Down Yonder was released in 1978 featuring Ellis Marsalis on piano. Apart from his own work, he joined recording sessions with Professor Longhair in 1971 and 72 (Mardi Gras in Baton Rouge). He also played some funky guitar on The Wild Magnolias' first album recorded in 1973.
Black Top and later years
He joined Nauman and Hammond Scott of Black Top Records in the 1980s which led to a recording contract with the label. Eaglin's Black Top years were the most consistent years of his recording career. Between 1987 and 1999, he recorded four studio albums and a live album, and appeared as a guest on a number of recordings by other Black Top artists, including Henry Butler, Earl King, and Tommy Ridgley.
After Black Top Records closed its doors, Eaglin released The Way It Is on Money Pit Records, produced by the same Scott brothers of Black Top. In 1997, Eaglin's version of "St. James Infirmary", was featured in a UK television advertisement for Budweiser lager.
Eaglin died of a heart attack at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans on February 18, 2009. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008 and had been hospitalized for treatment. He was scheduled to make a comeback appearance at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in Spring of 2009. In honor of his contributions to New Orleans music, he was depicted in an artist's rendering on the cover of the "Jazz Fest Bible" edition of Offbeat Magazine for the New Orleans Jazz Fest in 2009.
For many years, Eaglin lived in St. Rose in the suburbs of New Orleans with his wife Dorothea. Though he did not play many live shows, he regularly performed at Rock n' Bowl in New Orleans, and also at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. [Wikipedia]
01. Possum Up A Simmon Tree
02. That's All Right
03. Veal Chop And Pork Chop
04. I Ain't Gonna Study War No More (Down By The Riverside)
05. Model T And The Train
06. Jack O'Diamonds
07. Death Valley Blues
08. This Train
09. Bottle Up And Go
10. Mardi Gras Mambo
11. Rock Me Mama
12. John Henry
13. Locomotive Train
14. I Had A Little Woman
15. Don't Leave Me Mama (Rock Me Mama)
16. Give Me The Good Old Boxcar
17. This Train (alternate take)
18. Bottle Up And Go (alternate take)
19. Mardi Gras Mambo (alternate take)
20. I've Had My Fun
21. Bottle Up And Go (take 4)
22. Going Back To New Orleans
23. Mama Don't You Tear My Clothes
24. Walking Blues
25. Mailman Passed (And Didn't Leave No News)
26. Country Boy Down In New Orleans