Another week, another guy whose musical talent was so unique and singular that he could never be replaced bites the dust. Ford “Snooks” Eaglin, age 72, died last Wed. He fell down and had a heart attack, he was already suffering from prostate cancer. He’s one of the very last of the true New Orleans R&B greats.
Snooks made tons of great records but my favorites were recorded in two very different settings.
The first are the sides he cut for Imperial in 1960-61 produced by Dave Bartholomew (I don’t have to explain who he is, do I?). On these recordings Snooks’ guitar rides over a groove provided by Smokey Johnson on drums, Frank Field on bass, James Booker at the piano and the sax sections of Mayer Kennedy on alto, Clarance Hall on tenor and Clarence Ford on baritone.
This is one of the truly great New Orleans session bands (the original Bartholomew session band with Lee Allen, Earl Palmer, et al had already moved on to L.A. and better paying jobs) and would have made anyone sound great, but with Snooks unique guitar style and laconic voice, these sides are just about as good as it gets. Some highlights are: That Certain Door, I’m Slippin In,
If I Could and Don’t Slam That Door.
Harry Oster and Richard Allen recorded Snooks, who they’d seen playing on the street in New Orleans in the late 50’s solo, playing 12 string acoustic (occasionally a washboard was added, the only other instrument) and these sides were issued by Arhoolie and Folk Lyric and capture a very different Snooks. This is the way he sounded when he started out, playing on the streets of the French Quarter for tips. Here’s a few favorites-Locomotive Train, Veal Chop and Pork Chop, and because it’s carnival time– Mardis Gras Mambo.
In Oct. of 1999 me and a bunch of friends opened a bar in New Orleans– the Circle Bar (1032 St. Charles Ave @ Lee Circle, it was still there last time I looked), and one of my partners– the late, much missed Kelly Keller who was basically in charge of running and booking the joint wanted Snooks to play the opening night. We actually had two opening night parties, one with Hank Williams III (Treycephus) and the second with Snooks Eaglin. Kelly knew Snooks from when she worked at Black Top Records and they were crazy about each other. He agreed to play for a fraction of his usual fee. The photo above is from that night (that’s Nauman Scott, one of Black Top’s owners patting Snooks on the head like he was a puppy).
That night me and Kelly went out to Metarie to drive Snooks and his wife in for the gig.
Snooks wanted to sit near the radio so he could punch the buttons, which he did the whole ride in. He had very big ears and although we yapped the whole trip he was obviously absorbing everything he heard on the car radio because that night in his set he worked in versions of Mott The Hoople’s Ready For Love and Allen Sherman’s Hello Mudda, both of which we had heard in the car on the way in. And he made them both sound like songs he’d written himself. At one point in his set Ernie and Antoinette K-Doe arrived. Since Ernie was “The Emperor of the Whole Wide World”, the K-Does made an entrance befitting his title. Snooks, who was blind, went into a medley of K-Doe’s hits, even got Ernie up to sing Mother In Law. As a bar owner it was one of my proudest moments, right up there with Phil May of the Pretty Things trying to french kiss me (I’ve got photos to prove it), ? & the Mysterians playing the Lakeside Christmas party and Andre Williams calling me “his nigga”. Snooks was truly one of a kind. He played guitar in a finger picking style that I could never quite figure out, he made it look so simple, it wasn’t, but he could make his guitar sound like a whole band.
Snooks also recorded as a guitarist with Sugar Boy Crawford & the Cane Cutters on several 1954 sessions for Chess. These are some of the greatest records ever made. While only three singles were issued on the Checker subsidiary there was enough material for a two LP set, in fact one came out in the 1970’s although it’s long out of print. You can find the whole mess here. Note that PW means password which you’ll need to unstuff the file.
Whether he was weilding an electric six string guitar (as on the Imperial sides) or an acoustic 12 string (as heard on the Arhoolie/Folk Lyric LP’s), Snooks was a stylist unsurpassed. Goodbye Snooks.