It’s one of those non-reversible rules of life that says, not everyone who wears a turban is a great rhythm & blues singer, but every rhythm & blues singer who wears a turban is great. Eddie Kirkland, sometimes known as Eddie Kirk is a great blues singer, guitarist and harp player and he wears a turban with sartorial splendor.
Not only that, he’s made some incredible records for the likes of King, Volt, Fortune, Modern/R.P.M., Tru-Sound and LuPine. He was shot in the head. He rocked like a crazy man. Now I shall tell you his story.
Eddie Kirkland was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1923 and raised in Dothan, Alabama. He learned to play guitar and harmonica. In 1935 he ran away from home, jumping on a truck that carried the Silas Green Show as a stowaway:
“Back then I had a little act, I put the harmonica inside my mouth and beat the “hambone” at the same time”, this way he got his first job in showbiz, at $20 a week (“that was big money back then, five shows a day”). He joined the Army during World War II and was given a dishonorable discharge for smacking an officer. He headed for Detroit where his mother had settled and got a job working at the Ford plant and began sniffing around for ways to make it in music. He also trained as a boxer around this period, and influenced greatly by Lightnin’ Hopkins developed his own guitar style. He mostly played local bars and house parties, sometimes with Eddie Burns, and it was on the house party circuit that he first encountered John Lee Hooker. Kirkland was one of the few guitarists who could second Hooker’s unique style. Since Hooker kept to no regular meter he would drive other musicians nuts and made most of his recordings solo. Kirkland however was able to lock into to Hooker’s unusual sense of timing, and as heard on these early discs for Modern we hear Kirkland’s finger picking anticipate Hooker’s every move. Key To The Highway and It Hurts Me So (the latter with a cheesy horror movie organ chord dubbed onto the master tape) were recorded in Detroit in ’52. The same session produced two sides with Eddie singing and Hooker in support– It’s Time For Lovin’ To Be Done and That’s All Right which saw release on Modern’s RPM subsidiary under the name Little Eddie Kirkland. He toured the south with Hooker, and played up and down Detroit’s Hasting Street.
In 1953 Eddie Kirkland cut some excellent blues sides for King– No Shoes, Please Don’t Think I’m Nosey, Mistreated Woman and It’s Time For My Lovin’ To Be Done, at this point he had developed his own unique and exciting style, sounding like no one else. No Shoes is particularly excellent, here’s an alternate take.
Eddie’s next release wasn’t until 1959 when he recorded this monstrous version of I Must’ve Done Something Wrong b/w I Need You Baby for Jack and Devora Brown’s Fortune Records, one of the coolest labels of all time. Elmore James would record the tune for Fire in New York the following year but Kirkland claims to have written it. You might remember the Yardbirds version from their first LP. Eddie Kirkland’s original version didn’t sell and today could you trade a mint copy for a decent car. It is one of the rawest, nastiest sounding records ever recorded. He also appeared on an Andre Williams Fortune disc but can’t remember which one, only that it wasn’t Bacon Fat.
A year later, sometime in 1960, Eddie recorded the first of two versions of Train Done Gone this one for the tiny Detroit based LuPine label. Other un-issued sides for LuPine later showed up on the Relic LP Three Shades Of The Blues.
In 1961, he re-recorded Train Done Gone for Tru-Sound in New York City with a band that featured King Curtis on sax. It’s even wilder than the LuPine version. An entire LP of material was cut for Tru-Sound and it’s worth hunting down (it was re-issued by Red Lightning in the 80’s), it’s a killer, as much rock’n’roll as blues, it’s one of the best albums ever made.
In 1964, his name shortened to Eddie Kirk (“Eddie Kirk is my Georgia name”) he was back at King where he recorded It’s Monkey Time and Hawg Killin’ Time with a group that featured Wayne Cochran, the Gorgeous George of R&B on bass. I’ve never heard It’s Monkey Time but Hawg Killin’ Time was so great he’d cut it three times.
A year later (1965), Kirkland took the tune to Memphis where he cut it as The Hawg Part One b/w The Hawg Part Two on Volt (why was b-side was left off the Stax-Volt box set?). Here Kirkland is playing harmonica and Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn and Al Jackson Jr. from Booker T. & the MG’s are backing him up. A second Volt single– Them Bones b/w I Found A Brand New Love, cut at the same session was issued the same year.
Three years passed without Eddie seeing the inside of a studio, he had relocated to Macon, Georgia where he was managed by Phil Walden (Otis Redding’s manager, later to hit paydirt with the Allman Brothers). He spent most of the years 1965-68 backing soul stars like Otis Redding, Mabel John and Joe Tex.
In 1968 he was back in Detroit and recording again for Fortune, waxing his third version of the same tune, this time retitled The Grunt
. His daughters can be heard in the backround. It’s hard to say which version is best, but they’re all great as you can well hear. The third time was not the charm, unfortunately, as for the third time the Hawg/Grunt sunk without a trace, and like all of Eddie Kirkland’s best sides it is quite rare today.
In 1970 Kirkland made his last truly great recordings with an LP on the Trix label. This time he recorded in Macon, Georgia. He wouldn’t release another record until 1979’s Disco Mary on the Fantastic label, the title telling you why you don’t want to hear it. He’s cut other records since then but none of them are quite as raw as his 50’s and 60’s sides. He spent twelve years in the New York area where he performed regularly before moving down to Florida. I never saw him put on a bad or lackluster show. and while the quality of his recordings took a dip after 1970, Kirkland was and is still a great and excitable live performer. He took to billing himself as “The Swami of the Blues”, and sometimes as “The Road Warrior of the Blues”. He somehow got himself shot in the head. Eddie Kirkland, who with one lucky break could have been a huge star was reduced to making a living as an auto mechanic. He appeared in Dan Rose’s flick Wayne County Ramblin’
(with an all star cast that includes Iggy Pop, Nathaniel Mayer, and Bill Pietsch, you can see the trailer below). As of late Eddie Kirkland has had plenty of health problems as any 86 year old who took a bullet in his head would. He toured regularly until the last couple of years, appearing all over the U.S. and Europe, but he seems to have slowed down quite a bit in the last few years but he’s still alive, and that in itself is no small achievement. Besides, let’s face it 99% of all so called “blues” musicians, black or white, are bores, and that’s one thing Eddie Kirkland never has been. Wild, crude, repetitive, but not for once second boring.