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Author Topic: Snooks Eaglin--New Orleans Street Singer, Smithsonian Folkways SFW CD 40165  (Read 8170 times)

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Online Johnm

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PROGRAM:  Looking for a Woman; Walking Blues*; Careless Love; St. James Infirmary; High Society; I Got My Questionnaire; Let Me Go Home, Whiskey; Mama, Don't Tear My Clothes*; Trouble In Mind; The Lonesome Road; Helping Hand; One Room Country Shack*; Who's Been Foolin' You*; Drifting Blues*; Sophisticated Blues; Come Back Baby; Rock Island Line; See See Rider; One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer; Mean Old World; Mean Old Frisco; Every Day I Have The Blues; Careless Love 2*; Drifting Blues 2; The Lonesome Road Blues 2:  (asterisked tunes previously unreleased)

It was with great excitement that I discovered this CD in a record store a couple of months ago.  I will never forget the shock and amazement I felt upon first hearing this music in its first incarnation, as a Folkways album.  Snooks's mastery of the guitar was so far beyond anything else I had heard that there didn't seem to be any basis for comparison; it was almost as though he existed as the sole inhabitant of a musical universe of his own creation.

Smithsonian Folkways is to be congratulated for doing this re-issue project up right, including 5 previously un-released and 3 alternate takes (most instructive) and getting Elijah Wald to write the notes, which are excellent.  Wald's discussion of sources for Snooks' program is so complete, in fact, that I won't discuss sources here, but instead will refer interested parties to his liner notes for that information.  I would like to indulge in some guitar-centricity, because there is not much point in talking about Snooks without obsessing on his playing.

Snooks was 22 years old when he recorded this music and already possessed of one of the most remarkable technical mechanisms any guitarist has ever had.  If Blind Blake was the man who played "piano-style" guitar, Snooks played an entire band's function on his guitar.  His repertoire of grooves seems unbounded here, and his approach to harmony has a wonderful freshness, often surprising, but then inevitable after the fact.  His utilization of hammers and pull-offs in his runs shows a super-human degree of control and like many of the great Celtic singers, he often executes his most hair-raising flourishes on the verge of silence. 

Snooks opens the program with the mambo, "Looking for a Woman", and immediately demonstrates that as a native of the Crescent City, he has in spades what Jellyroll Morton referred to as "the Spanish tinge", utilizing flamenco-ey strumming against a moving bass line.  The solos have to be heard to be believed. 

"Walking Blues", played in A standard, sounds to be a cover of "Drifting Blues".  Snooks seemed to favor A standard for his bluest blues, and he uses it here for "I Got My Questionnaire", Mama, Don't Tear My Clothes", "Trouble In Mind", Who's Been Fooling You", Sophisticated Blues", "Come Back, Baby", "Rock Island Line", "See See Rider", "Mean Old Frisco", and "Every Day I Have The Blues".  "Trouble In Mind" and "See See Rider" are relatively plainly played and are sung beautifully by Snooks;  "See See Rider" is my favorite cut on the record.  For "Who's Been Fooling You" and "Rock Island Line", Snooks utilizes strumming against powerfully popped notes in the bass. 

"Careless Love" is given a very sunny, upbeat interpretation in G standard.  The alternate take of "Careless Love" is a real ear-opener, for he plays it in a different meter, 12/8, than the originally issued take's 4/4.  This leads one to conclude that Snooks didn't have "a way" of playing a tune, but rather chose in the moment whatever way of playing the tune struck his fancy.  Like Rev. Davis, Snooks seems to have preferred the closed voicing of the G position for playing in G, and he employs it on "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer", as well.

Snooks plays "St. James Infirmary" in D minor and manages to breathe some new life into that very tired number with some nifty harmonic colors.  "High Society", played in C standard, has been much-celebrated, and rightfully so, for Snooks reduces an entire Dixieland band arrangement into a solo guitar piece.  He has some little fluffs, but who cares?  The rendition is nonetheless perfectly amazing, and I have always felt that if you never screw up, you are playing things a little too close to the vest. 

"Let Me Go Home, Whiskey" is Snooks' first number in the program played in F standard, which seems to have been his favorite position for "uptown" blues.  Snooks returns to F for "The Lonesome Road", "Helping Hand", and the previously unreleased take of "Drifting Blues".  "The Lonesome Road" features a walking bass Ray Price type of shuffle aginst chords strummed on the off-beats.  "Helping Hand" is Snooks' version of Jimmie Rodgers' "Waiting for A Train", and it is one of the prettiest songs on the record,  with a beatifully conceived arrangement featuring a 12/8 feel and moving bassline, much like Fat's Domino's "Blueberry Hill".  The previously unreleased take of "Drifting Blues" is a shocker, with Snooks drifting into previously unhinted at harmonic waters and ripping off a tremendously exciting solo in which he worries the 9 note as though he had a grudge against it.

Snooks goes to E standard for "One Room Country Shack", Mean Old World" and the previously released take of "Drifting Blues".  And while Snooks certainly is every bit as expert in his execution here as on the other tunes, he does sound less distinctively himself in E, as though the key did not particularly appeal to him.

I realize that I have given Snooks's singing short shrift here; in fact, I like it quite a lot, especially on the slower numbers.  I think most blues musicians mature as players before they mature as singers, though, and Snooks was already so far along instrumentally at the point these recordings were made that it would be completely unreasonable to expect vocal development to an equal degree.  He sang really well then, and I'd venture to say I would like his singing from recent years even more. 

If you play guitar yourself or simply enjoy great guitar-playing, you owe it to yourself to hear this recording, because it captures in time a point in the development of one of America's great musicians when he was at the top of his game, revelling in what he could do.  It's really exhilarating to hear someone make music like this.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: February 13, 2007, 11:13:56 PM by Johnm »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Interesting, thoughtful and informative review.

Here's a link to one of the original LP

http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=747&topic=1816.0

Sorry don't know how to create "short form" URLs

Offline lindy

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For all you Snookaholics . . .

Snooks will be doing his first Rock and Bowl gig since Katrina tomorrow evening. He still does a half-dozen or so numbers from "Street Singer" in his set, but he now augments it with a righteous version of "Boogie on Reggae Woman" and other renditions of more recent hits.  He'll be playing with George Porter (bassist for the Funky Meters) and some poor unnamed drummer who will be sweating beads by the time Snooks gives up the stage. Please keep your eye on the Rock and Bowl calendar for news of his once or twice a month gigs at the RnB; y'all invited to come down and hear him, and especially to come visit N.O. for Jazz Fest--April 28/29/30 and May 4/5/6/7. The city needs your money, and the musicians need your patronage. A lot of superb musicians in this town are playing to crowds of 10 or less.

Lindy

Offline Rivers

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Well I went out music shopping today and there it was, first thing I saw in the store. Bought it and totally agree, what a great record. I've been looking for some acoustic Snooks ever since I heard one or two cuts (I think from this record) many years ago. It's been like a missing link in my collection.

I am curious as to what Snooks is doing with his right hand. Got to be a flatpick on some tracks and fingers/fingerpicks(?) on others? That flamenco roll / half roll 'rasquedo' thing he does throughout the first track is a real gas and has to be pickless. But elsewhere the runs are so loud and fast and the chord attack very chunky.

Other comments, he has that thing going where you hear stuff that's not actually there. He stops playing and the musical flow just implies it. I don't recall hearing any other player do it quite so well. I also think he has a great right-hand muting technique. Interesting to hear a lot of the songs in the neglected key of F.

A fun record to be sure, thanks for the review, I will be giving it a lot of listening.

Cheryl and I plan to get down to New Orleans early this year Lindy, Rock & Bowl will definitely be on the itinerary and I hope I get the opportunity to buy you a beer. We'll be shooting for Jazz Fest, projects permitting.

Online Johnm

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Hi Rivers,
I'm glad you found the CD and are enjoying it.  Re Snooks right hand, (and Lindy will correct me if I'm wrong) my understanding is that Snooks never uses picks of any kind, has pretty long nails, and holds his wrist fairly flat and cocked slightly to the right. 
One thing I didn't comment on in the review is Snooks's uncanny ability to subdivide articulation in his right hand--he can be popping the bass with his thumb and plucking legato with his fingers simultaneously, or break up his articulation in other ways. On "Looking for A Woman", a couple of the places where he is popping the bass notes while doing the rasguedo strumming are unfathomable (to say nothing of the speed and accuracy of the runs).  One of the only guitarists I have heard apart from Snooks who had a similar ability to micro-assign articulational detail in the right hand was the late Brazilian guitarist, Luiz Bonfa, who also had a recent re-issue on Smithsonian Folkways that is terrifically good.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Rivers

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Wow, no flatpick. There's hope for me yet. Unfathomable is a good adjective in this case John. I have no conception of how he's achieving a lot of what I hear on the record, particularly the long fast runs. When he starts one of those monsters you think "he'll never make it", then he does, just! Adds to the excitement, he's right out there on the edge as you say. Will have to listen again on headphones.

Offline lindy

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No picks for Snooks. He does everything with 1 finger and 1 thumb.  The other fingers look like they?re curving away from the guitar, with fingernails that are so long that they?d get in the way in any other position. His hand is kinda cocked to the right as JohnM mentioned, but not radically.

I?ve seen Snooks a half-dozen times, but never with an acoustic guitar, so it may be that his technique was very different on acoustic. I?ve never seen him do anything remotely resembling a finger picking / alternating bass style. Last Friday the only song he did that was also on "Street Singer" was One Scotch, One Bourbon, and One Beer.

Look forward to that beer, Rivers. Three other good guitarists you may want to check out while you?re in town are John Fohl, John Rankin, and David Doucet. The last two play weekly gigs at the Columns Hotel Tues (Rankin) and Monday (Doucet).

On Sunday I marched in the second line that y?all may have read about, three people got shot at the very end of the parade. Please remember how the press tends to miss the real story. I cannot deny that there?s still major vestiges of the old violence in this city, but I?m also saddened that the positive energy of such a great event ? four hours of 5,000 people and three brass bands marching and dancing through devastated black neighborhoods ? got wiped out by some idiot with a gun. Up to that point, the parade was a powerful statement made by the black community here that ?Hey, this is our culture, you can?t take it from us.? The headlines the next day said ?Three people shot on second line? and the reporters completely overlooked the optimism that was felt leading up to that moment. Living in this town is like riding an emotional roller coaster these days.

Lindy

Offline Stefan Wirz

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Offline MTJ3

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Johnm, Terrific notes.  I have coveted that album for a long time, but in years gone by, I could never afford the album when I could find it or find it when I could afford it.  As a consequence, I bought other acoustic stuff by Snooks that was good, but didn't, IMHO, approach this album.  (Either that or it didn't fill the nostalgic need.)  If you want only one acoustic album by Snooks, I think this would have to be it.

I think that the approach to "Looking For A Woman" probably owes a particular debt to NO piano players of the 40s and 50s, most especially and most likely, Professor Longhair.  In fact, my immediate reaction on rehearing this recently was that it was Snooks's ingenious solution to the technical problem of how to transcribe Fess's habanera style for guitar.  (A 50,000 foot comparison of Snooks's playing with Gary Davis's in terms of mechanics is interesting--to me, a lot of the interest or excitement that both players generate is a result of not just being free from to the tyranny of alternating or drone bass but of strumming (a poor description of the complexity of the operation, especially with Davis) chords--an activity that most fingerstyle players eschew.  The resulting "textured energy" is one of the things that also makes Scrapper Blackwell's solo playing so great (and so infernally difficult to transcribe accurately).)

Stefan, Perfect photo selection.  If one surfs around, one can also fairly readily find on the web a number of other photos of Snooks shot from slightly different angles depicting that or a very similar hand position.  The booklet notes to this album also have some nice photos in that regard.

Online Johnm

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Hi MTJ3, and thanks very much for the good words.  I think you are dead on the money in attibuting Snooks's approach on "Looking for A Woman" to the New Orleans piano tradition and Professor Longhair, in particular. 
I like the emphasis you place on strumming, too.  It is indeed an important aspect of the technical arsenal of Snooks, Rev. Davis, Scrapper Blackwell, Charlie Patton and others.  One of the things I particularly like about strumming and brush strokes is that they completely eliminate the sort of "typewriter" quality that fingerpicking can have when it consists of single notes struck by the thumb in opposition to single notes plucked by the fingers.  Utilizing an array of strums and brush strokes can introduce a more orchestral, or at least pianistic sound, and it really shows off interior movement between chords, as in Snooks's rendition of his instrumental "Sophisticated Blues".  There are not a lot more exciting sounds in country blues solo guitar than the way Scrapper would rake his chords, too.  There's always something to work on!
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Snooks Eaglin--New Orleans Street Singer, Smithsonian Folkways SFW CD 40165
« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2006, 11:47:43 PM »
Quote
I think that the approach to "Looking For A Woman" probably owes a particular debt to NO piano players of the 40s and 50s, most especially and most likely, Professor Longhair.  In fact, my immediate reaction on rehearing this recently was that it was Snooks's ingenious solution to the technical problem of how to transcribe Fess's habanera style for guitar. 
Whilst I agree, all I can observe is that Oster's 1958 Folkways booklet tells us that it was originally a song recorded by pianist Jimmy McCracklin. Having now listened to the McCracklin, I think it was his approximation of the "habanera" style which Eaglin in turn honed. The song was popular enough for McCracklin to record an 'answer disc' called I Found That Woman. Not owning the CD I guess this must be all explained in the booklet, but what the hell.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Snooks Eaglin--New Orleans Street Singer, Smithsonian Folkways SFW CD 40165
« Reply #11 on: February 11, 2006, 03:34:14 PM »
Went to the Alamo Draft House here in Austin the other night, they were doing a fundraiser showing Michael Murphy's new film 'Make It Funky' about New Orleans' musical heritage shot just before Katrina. Gumbo was included.

Snooks plays a couple of songs in the movie backed by the bassist from the Meters and to be sure his right hand position is very distinctive, cocked to the right fingers extended. He uses a lot of jazz chords and chord runs, I believe I spotted 6ths, 9ths, min7flat5s, dims, 13ths, that sort of thing. Very much a chord melody guy in his approach and compelling to watch. Add to that his distinctive voice and stage presence and you know you are witnessing greatness.

Apart from Snooks' short set the film is well worth seeing if you dig any aspects of New Orleans music and who doesn't. I found things to criticize, particularly the inclusion of Keith Richards, who came across like a dotty and slightly tipsy dowager empress, which wasn't fair on him, or us! But there's enough really good stuff to make it worthwhile. Sound and cinematography I thought were outstanding. http://www.bestofneworleans.com/dispatch/2005-11-15/openact.php
« Last Edit: February 11, 2006, 03:38:38 PM by Rivers »

Offline lindy

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Check it out:

http://www.nola.com/music/

go down to a group of links under the heading "MUSIC GALLERIES" and click on "Snooks Eaglin at Rock and Bowl." Pictures #24 and 25 show his right hand and amazingly curved fingers very clearly.

Lindy

Offline lindy

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I'm sorry to report that Mr. Eaglin has been quite ill the past few months, he hasn't appeared on stage since last summer, and on a couple of occasions this winter he's been in need of blood transfusions. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers these days.

A friend sent me this link of a TV clip from 30 years ago, Snooks at his very best, in a trio setting, look closely at his right hand technique:



Lindy

Offline Bunker Hill

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I'm sorry to report that Mr. Eaglin has been quite ill the past few months, he hasn't appeared on stage since last summer, and on a couple of occasions this winter he's been in need of blood transfusions. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers these days.
This is sad news. Perhaps it is time to remind ourselves of his recording career which dates back to the early 50s. http://www.wirz.de/music/eaglfrm.htm and maybe check out some of the tags to other discussions hereabouts.

 


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