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.