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The Guitar of Snooks Eaglin--Queries and Tips

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Hi all,
Snooks Eaglin does a great version of "St. James Infirmary" on his recently released "New Orleans Street Singer" CD on Smithsonian Folkways, and introduces a couple of nifty touches in his version that some of you might enjoy.
Snooks plays "St. James Infirmary" out of D minor in standard tuning, and opens with a 2-bar intro/vamp as follows:

    | E7flat9--A7#5 | Dminor--A7 |

Snooks's chord voicings are models of efficiency; he is simply voicing the chords on the top three strings with whatever root is appropriate in the bass.  Note that in this scheme the D string is neither fretted nor sounded in the E7flat9 and A7#5 chords.  Voicings are as follows:

   E7flat9: 0XX131  A7#5:  X0X021  Dminor:  XX0231  A7:  X0X223

Once Snooks starts singing the song, he utilizes the following progression for its 8-bar form, for the first verse.  In the first and fifth bars, the Dminor gets two beats, and the Gminor and A7 get one beat apiece.

   | Dminor--Gminor-A7 | Dminor--A7 | Dminor | A7        |
   | Dminor--Gminor-A7 | Dminor | E7flat9--A7#5 | Dminor--A7 |

You can see that the last two bars of the form mirror the intro.  Snooks fingers his G minor chord:  3XX333, and it resolves beautifully into the A7 chord that follows it.  Snooks simplifies the chord progression after the first verse by eliminating the A7 chord in the first and fifth bars and choosing instead to split those bars between D minor and G minor.  This less busy sound swings harder.  Occasionally Snooks substitutes an A7 chord for the A7#5 in the next to last measure of the form.

At the conclusion of the last verse, Snooks tacks on two instrumental repetitions of the last two bars (leaving out the A7 following the D minor chord), thus book-ending the sung portion of the rendition with the same intro/outro.

If you wanted to vary the intro/outro there are a lot of cool options available that are not notably more difficult than the chord voicings Snooks used.  One possible alternative:

   Bflat7: X1X131  A7#5:  X0X021 Dminor: XX0231 Bminor7flat5:  X2X231


   E7flat9/B:  X2X131 Bflatminor6:  X1X021 Dminor/A:  X0X231 Dminor/C:  X3X231

There are lots of other options you can select.  I think because of the minor tonality of "St.James Infirmary" and its Trad Jazz origins it holds up pretty robustly to harmonic variation--certainly much moreso than, say, a Henry Thomas song, which would sound pretty violated if you worked to create harmonic "interest" by adding a lot of Jazzy voicings.
All best,

J bone:
I just found this post, I've been looking for a breakdown of this tune for quite some time.  The only one I found was the Arlo Guthrie version which is quite a bit different (but still pretty good).  I like the Snooks version, it's very laidback and just kind of rolls along. 

I've been trying to figure out how Snooks plays these songs, does he finger pick and strum with his fingers, or is he using a flatpick?  It sounds like a bass guitar playing the bass line, but I imagine it's probably him playing the bass with his thumb.  I just don't know how he would get that strumming sound while thumping away at the steady bass.

Anyway, Thanks John for this post!


Check out this thread in which I asked the same question:;Itemid=114&topic=1953.0

Also clicking on the Snooks tag at the bottom of this thread will get you all the tagged Snooks threads.

J bone:
Thanks for the link Rivers!  I'll check it out. 

Those tags are a pretty cool feature.  I just discovered this forum and I haven't seen those on any of the other forums I've visited.  I think I'll be checking in more often here.

Thanks again.

Hi Jay,
Welcome to Weenie Campbell if you've just arrived recently!  According to Lindy, a long-time Weenie and resident of New Orleans, Snooks played thumb and index only in the right hand when he saw him perform on several occasions, and I imagine he has employed pretty much the same right hand approach throughout his career.
All best,


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