Snooks Eaglin in 2006
|Birth name||Fird Eaglin, Jr.|
January 21, 1936|
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
|Died||February 18, 2009
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
|Labels||Money Pit, Black Top, various|
|Associated acts||George Porter, Jr.
Born Fird Eaglin, Jr., his vocal style was 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.
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 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 & Heritage Festival 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 & Heritage Festival 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.
- 1958 New Orleans Street Singer recordings made by Dr Harry Oster, of Louisiana State University. March 1958
- 1959 New Orleans Street Singer (Smithsonian Folkways)
- 1971 The Legacy of the Blues Vol. 2 (Sonet)
- 1978 Down Yonder - Snooks Eaglin Today! (GNP Crescendo)
- 1987 Baby, You Can Get Your Gun! (Black Top)
- 1989 Out of Nowhere (Black Top)
- 1992 Teasin' You (Black Top)
- 1995 Soul's Edge (Black Top)
- 1996 Soul Train from 'Nawlins: Live at Park Tower Blues Festival '95 (P-Vine) (Released in 1997 in the U.S. as Live in Japan [Black Top])
- 2002 The Way It Is (Money Pit)
Harry Oster recordings
- 1961 That's All Right (Prestige/Bluesville)
- 1991 Country Boy Down in New Orleans (Arhoolie)
- 1994 New Orleans Street Singer (Storyville)
- 1995 The Complete Imperial Recordings (Capitol)
- "Snooks Eaglin". Blues Access. 1936-01-21. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
- Bill Dahl. "Snooks Eaglin | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
- Line notes to the 1987 album Baby, You Can Get Your Gun!
- Some sources including most of the obituary articles claim he was born in 1937.
- Keith Spera. "New Orleans guitarist Snooks Eaglin dies at 72 | NOLA.com". Blog.nola.com. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 161. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
- OffBeat magazine, February 1995 issue "Snooks Eaglin on Parade"
- Blues & Soul Records Magazine No. 8, Mar. 31, 1996 (Blues Interactions) "Snooks Eaglin Interview"
- Blues & Soul Records Magazine No. 6, Sept. 20, 1995 (Blues Interactions) "Snooks Eaglin Story & Discography"
- [dead link]
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. pp. 108–109. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- [dead link]
- [dead link]
- Illustrated Snooks Eaglin discography
- Blues Access Magazine cover story by Karl Bremer
- New Orleans Street Singer Album Details at Smithsonian Folkways