Born: January 21, 1936 | Died: February 18, 2009 Primary Instrument: Guitar, electric
Snooks Eaglin, guitarist, vocalist
Snooks Eaglin was an idiosyncratic New Orleans rhythm & blues guitarist known for his fleet-fingered dexterity and boundless repertoire. Even in a city and musical community known for eccentric characters, Snooks Eaglin stood out. The digits on Eaglin's right hand flailed at seemingly impossible angles as he finger-picked and strummed a guitar's strings. A set by the so-called Human Jukebox could range from Beethoven's Fur Elise to Bad Company's Ready for Love.
He thrived on feedback from onlookers, gleefully took requests and challenged his musicians to keep up. Utterly unselfconscious, he would render fellow guitarists slack-jawed with a blistering run, then announce from the stage that he needed to use the bathroom.
Eaglin was born Fird Eaglin Jr. in 1937. As an infant, he was diagnosed with glaucoma and a brain tumor, which robbed him of his sight. He earned his Snooks nickname after his mischievous behavior recalled a radio character named Baby Snooks.
Given a guitar at age 5 by his father, he learned to pick along with songs on the radio. He attended the Louisiana School for the Blind in Baton Rouge with pianist Henry Butler. By 14, he had dropped out to work full-time as a musician.
His first steady job was with the Flamingos, a popular seven-piece rhythm & blues band that also included a young Allen Toussaint on piano. Post-Flamingos, Mr. Eaglin briefly billed himself as Lil' Ray Charles. In the late 1950s, he performed on street corners and recorded two acoustic albums for a folk label. His studio work included the guitar parts on Sugarboy Crawford's Jockamo.
In the early 1960s, Mr. Eaglin released a handful of singles for Imperial Records under the name Ford Eaglin. He logged three years in the house band at the Playboy Club off Bourbon Street. After the British Invasion decimated the market for New Orleans rhythm & blues, Eaglin semi-retired. The launch of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970 brought with it fresh opportunity.
Eaglin performed with Professor Longhair during the pianist's comeback gigs. He also contributed to Longhair's landmark New Orleans House Party album and the Wild Magnolias' early recordings.
In 1987, Mr. Eaglin released Baby, You Can Get Your Gun!, his first formal, full-length album on Black Top Records. Several more well-received albums on Black Top further heightened his profile. After Black Top Records closed its doors, Eaglin released “The Way It Is” on Money Pit Records in 2002
His annual appearances at Jazz Fest were hugely popular. In addition to legions of local fans, Mr. Eaglin's admirers included prominent musicians from around the globe. Mr. Eaglin died on his mother's birthday, Feb. 18, 2009
Source: Keith Spera