Justifiably legendary bluesman Snooks Eaglin died of a heart attack in his native New Orleans this past Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at the age of 72. The blind street musician rose to fame in the 1950s, picking up admirers with his incendiary guitar work and a voice that earned him the title "Little Ray Charles." The nickname that really stuck though was "Human Jukebox" because of Eaglin's incredible memory and ability to digest and morph anything on the airwaves. Unlike a lot of blues musicians, Eaglin sidestepped his genre ghetto to embrace funk, soul, pop and rock, but always filtered through his dirt field and concrete slapping beginnings. He played with nearly everyone of note in New Orleans over the years, from Allen Toussaint in the '50s to George Porter Jr. in the '80s, but a Snooks session always felt like his shindig regardless of the larger lights around him.
Sadly, in 2009 he was figure mostly known to older music diehards instead of the revered giant he truly was. Unfortunately, many contemporary listeners, especially younger ones, seem to think music history begins with Phish or perhaps the Grateful Dead, but Eaglin floats in the DNA of both bands in subtle ways. With a reported repertoire of over 2500 songs, Snooks Eaglin managed to remain current and alive in his own listening and playing in a way many of his blues peers haven't.
The uninitiated (or those seeking some solace in his music) are directed to check 1978's grandly funky Down Yonder, 1992's Teasin' You (w/Porter Jr.) and the fab Arhoolie Records compilation Country Boy Down In New Orleans, which gathers up the cream of his early work. What always impressed about Snooks was his unceasing energy and bounteous spirit, which carried him into several big, fruitful chapters long after most men whose careers began almost 60 years ago. As much as the far more famous John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy, Eaglin helped spark the '60s white blues revival that's carried forward till today, and he did so with enormous stage craft, blistering instrumental & vocal skill and a force of will that'd make Friedrich Nietzsche grin.
Eaglin was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year but was scheduled to return to the stage at this year's JazzFest. Though he didn't play often these days, the regulars at New Orleans' Rock n' Bowl are gonna miss his impromptu visits. And so are we. A whole bunch in fact.
"We're gonna get the blues on you this trip!" roars Eaglin at the beginning of this absolutely nasty, in the best way, romp from the Lone Star Roadhouse, the host to many, many classic blues performances.
Eaglin offers some quality parenting advice.
This is the kind of tune (and delivery) that made Snooks such a hit with the ladies, who could always be found swaying like a lively riverboat at his gigs. The man was a massive charmer!
We conclude with an informal session at the Rock n' Bowl and the unrushed simmer of "Life in the Middle."