Ford Eaglin - I'm Slippin' In (Imperial 5802)
I'm Slippin' In
Let me tell you, folks, I just loved Snooks Eaglin.
When I was first introduced to him at Jazz Fest back in the eighties, I was completely blown away. A 'guitar player's guitar player', his incredible technique was as revolutionary and uniquely New Orleans as the work Professor Longhair had done on the piano. Blind since early childhood, he taught himself to play sitting there by the radio for hours at a time. By age 11, he was good enough to win a talent contest he had heard about on that radio, and quit school at 14 to try and earn a living as a musician. In 1952, he became a member of a local group called The Flamingoes, along with another talented kid named Allen Toussaint. His reputation spread, and in late 1953 he laid down the amazing electric rhythm guitar on Sugar Boy Crawford's Jockomo, the original version of Iko Iko, at a Leonard Chess financed session at J&M studio.
His encyclopedic knowledge of music, and his ability to play virtually any request from the audience, earned him his reputation as a 'human jukebox', and caught the attention of Dr. Harry Oster, a folk and rural blues enthusiast that had done some field recordings up at Angola State Prison. Oster recorded Snooks on several different occasions in the late fifties, and the music from those sessions has been released in different folk-blues packages on various labels over the years. Although those records are great, I think Snooks was kind of giving Oster what he wanted to hear, and that they tended to pigeonhole him as some kind of Deep South acoustic blues figure. He was so much more than that.
In 1960, Dave Bartholomew got him signed to Imperial, and the ten singles they cut on him over the next couple of years more accurately reflected his talents. This cranking version of a Bartholomew song (taken into the R&B top ten by The Spiders in 1954) just knocks me out. Check out that guitar - then think of the fact that this was released in 1962, and you get an idea of what a trailblazer he was on the instrument. Unfortunately, Bartholomew's sun had kind of set with the label by then, and these Imperial sides went virtually unheard at the time. In 1964, 'Lil Snook' cut a one-off single for Eddie Bo's short-lived Fun label, but nobody heard that one either.
He wouldn't record again until 1971, when Quint Davis, fresh from creating the first Jazz and Heritage Festival, produced an album on him for a Swedish Blues label. It's a great record but, once again, it featured Snooks accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, reinforcing the idea that he was a country blues man. Around the same time, Davis hooked him up with Professor Longhair, and recorded some material that didn't see the light of day until 1987, when it was released as the Grammy winning House Party New Orleans Style by Rounder Records.
In 1973 Snooks became a part of Willie Tee's New Orleans Project, the group that provided the smokin' funk behind the Wild Magnolias groundbreaking first Mardi Gras Indian LP. The positively jaw-dropping wah-wah pedal that Snooks plays on that record offered a glimpse of his genius, and belied the whole 'street singer' thing that he had been saddled with all those years. His electric guitar would also figure prominently on Down Yonder/Snooks Eaglin Today, an LP produced by Sam Charters in 1977 with an all-star New Orleans line-up.
By the 1980s, Snooks had become a perrenial favorite at Jazz Fest and, like I said, his performances had to be seen to be believed. He was signed to Hammond Scott's Black Top label in 1986, and recorded a series of excellent albums that finally began to capture the sheer energy and heart that he put into his work. After Black Top went out of business, Scott would produce one more album on him, the funky The Way It Is which was released in 2002.
In recent years, Snooks had become a fixture at the legendary Rock 'n' Bowl, and no trip to New Orleans was complete unless you saw him there. I was lucky enough to sit with him and Dorthea, his wonderful wife of almost fifty years, there a couple of years ago and talk with him. I tried to tell him how much he meant to me, and to all of us...
A deeply religious man, he always closed the show with the traditional hymn God Will Take Care Of You.
Yes He will, Snooks... may you Rest In Peace.
I read the sad news over at Home of The Groove that the one and only Antoinette K-Doe died of a massive heart attack on Mardi Gras Day. Shown here singing background at the Ponderosa Stomp as the central figure in the Baby Dolls, the Carnival 'walking group' that she helped to revive, she was loved by all who knew her.
Her boundless hospitality helped make her Mother-In-Law Lounge the warm and wonderful place that it was, and it's hard to imagine it without her loving touch. In the wake of the Emperor of the Universe's death, Antoinette had turned the Lounge into a virtual community center, and the outpouring of love that helped rebuild it after Katrina spoke volumes about how this marvelous lady touched the hearts of everyone she met. She waited with me one late night outside the club for my taxi to arrive, even though she had a full house back inside. When I told her that I had seen Ernie perform 'back in the day' she smiled. "He was really something," she said.
So were you, Baby Doll, may you Rest In Peace.
The loss of these two major personalities within a week of each other has hit New Orleans hard. They will never be replaced.
I miss them already.