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Author Topic: Snooks Eaglin in review 1961  (Read 2345 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Snooks Eaglin in review 1961
« on: November 19, 2005, 12:07:27 PM »
I'm not sure if this is the place for this, if not please relocate.
I've just been reading the booklet by Elijah Wald to Snooks Eaglin New Orleans Street Singer (SFW CD 40165) in which he quotes on a couple of ocassions Alexis Korner's observations on the original Folkways release. As there is no bibliographic citation of this in the booklet I thought disinter the magazine in which it was published (Jazz Monthly June 1961, p10-11) for scrutiny here. Be aware it is lengthy:

SNOOKS EAGLIN by ALEXIS KORNER
? ?It is far easier to copy than to recreate. That is to say: it is easier to produce a good facsimile. But current usage has tended to confuse the meanings of 'recreation' and 'copy'; the difference between them is no less than that between shadow and substance. A pure copy, after all, adds nothing to the original and, especially in the arts, 'copy' implies a degree of inferiority which must decrease the vital content. The form, however, may remain unaffected. The creative artist knows what he wishes to express? by instinct as often as by logic?while the copyist can do no more than retrace the physical manifestation of the original. And, to make a good copy, he must subdue his own personality entirely to that of the originator.
? ?On the other hand there is re-creation. This can only occur when the artist brings new life, new content, to an established form. He may apply all the techniques known to the copyist, yet he will apply them so that they assist in a fresh use of his chosen idiom. This is conscious artistry (Art, in any case, is never entirely accidental) which must stem from a desire to create shape. sound and colour. But the expression of such desire must have a focal point to give it internal discipline. Form gives it that focus. Without form there is no communication.
? ?Snooks Eaglin. in this sense, is a formal musician and a creative artist of extraordinary ability. Snooks Eaglin is also a blind musician. He hears music, he feels physically the act of playing music, but he literally cannot see the ultimate effect of what he hears and feels. Despite the romantic tradition which tends to invest blind blues players with heightened musical powers, there are many mediocre talents. In fact, as a reaction to the threefold romanticism which surrounds Eaglin's circumstances?he is blind, he is a street singer, he comes from New Orleans?I tended to be sceptical of his ability. It was just too much of a good thing. After all, one cannot make excuses for a musician on the grounds of physical disability. It is an unfortunate fact that music either succeeds or it does not; good intentions, and other mitigating circumstances, do not excuse the utter failure of mediocrity. Snooks Eaglin does not 'mean well' . . . he succeeds. He sets his own high standards and it is by these that we should judge him. It IS enough to say that, on record, Wes Montgomery and Snooks Eaglin, in their different ways, are the two most exciting jazz guitarists to have been heard since the 1940's.
? ?Eaglin was born in New Orleans some time in 1936 and, until this year, he had never left the city. When he was only nineteen months old he became blind as the result of an operation on a brain tumour. He also had glaucoma. On his sixth birthday he was given a guitar by his father and, by listening to the radio and to records at every possible opportunity, he taught himself to play. This was to such good effect that at the age of eleven he won first prize on a Negro talent show broadcast by Station WNOE; he played Twelfth Street Rag.
? ?At this time he also sang in local Baptist churches. Then, in 1952, Eaglin joined forces with a group of young local musicians and, as a member of the newly formed 'Flamengoes', he started to play regularly on the streets. The group played Rhythm and Blues, Hill Billy, Rock and Roll and Calypsos; Eaglin's repertoire steadily widened.
? ?In March 1958, Dr. Harry Oster, of Louisiana State University, recorded the first full LP of Eaglin's music (issues on Folkways FA2476) and followed this soon after with an LP on Folk-Lyric FL107. The second LP, "Possum Up A Simmon Tree", featured Eaglin with washboard and harmonica. It gave a good cross section of the music which Eaglin and two of his friends, Lucius Bridges (washboard) and Percy Randolph (harmonica), played on the streets. Then came a magnificent LP on Heritage HLP 1002. Here Eaglin played 12-String guitar on most tracks and produced a Malaguena which, for all its inaccuracies, remains a superbly arrogant performance.
? ?As it is not really practical to consider these LPs in order of importance, I will start with the first one mentioned above.
? ?Folkways FA2476?sixteen titles, of which two are purely instrumental?shows the superbly forthright approach with which Eaglin plays both the blues and jazz. His guitar playing carries an aggressive conviction which overcomes the potential difficulties of mixing idioms, a forcefulness which contrasts strangely with the mournful reticence of his singing. He approaches music through melody rather than through harmony. This results in a complete freedom of movement, and in a sense of dynamics too often lacking in current blues and jazz guitarists. Here is a musician who can swing on one note. Sophisticated Blues. one of the two instrumentals, is a fine example of this very thing. In a break, towards the end of the track, Eaglin, with perfect judgment, swoops down onto a note, holds it, slides it and then, using finger vibrato, produces a calculated dynamic which has to swing the beat into the next bar. And this same blues brings to the front one of the most unusual aspects of Eaglin's guitar style. Here, obviously, is a piano blues; so Eaglin plays piano-style guitar. The heavy block basses, the pulled off runs are trademarks of 1940's Chicago blues/ boogie piano and, appropriately, Eaglin's particular swing is in the tradition of Big Maceo or Roosevelt Sykes rather than Bill Broonzy or Blind Blake.
? ?The other instrumental, High Society, is one of the most magnificent failures that I have ever heard. Taking trombone parts, slapped bass breaks and a fragment of the traditional clarinet solo in his stride, Eaglin very nearly brings it off. The swing is tremendous but occasional technical errors just mar an otherwise perfect performance. For most other guitarists, however, this would have been an outstanding achievement.
? ?As a singer Eaglin distinguishes himself here through not knowing the proper words for the chorus of Rock Island Line, through an immensely personal performance of the old Jimmy Rodgers song, Waitin' for A Train ? a confirmed rock man, Eaglin's accompaniment is in 12/4 time?and through excellent performances of The Driftin' Blues, Lookin' For A Woman and Come Back, Baby. These three tracks also demonstrate further facets of his guitar playing. The Driftin' Blues has the running blues style of the 1940's, with treble improvisations worked in 8/4 over Common time, and occasionally over a 2/4 bass. Lookin' For A Woman, on the other hand, is based on a calypso/rhumba beat with pure jazz improvisation of real quality. Eaglin's natural sense of rhythm and his agility with single string runs in 16/4 at medium fast tempo, are the outstanding instrumental features of this track. His instrumental technique is proved to be far in advance of most other recorded street musicians excepting always Blind Gary Davis?and the ferocity of his runs has a flavour of Reinhardt. Come Back, Baby, in complete contrast with the other two tracks, shows a proper appreciation of the 'drone' in country blues. The basic devices which he uses are extremely simple: octaves played in unison with the voice, also a note whined on the second beat of the bar. Though these are not used consistently throughout the song, they set the entire mood. The result is a long, sleazy sound which makes this a most moving blues.
? ?For sheer delicacy of approach, the simple See, See Rider is also exceptional. This blues seems to bring out fully the poignancy of Eaglin's singing, with its strange nasal tone and gospel rough edges. His 'borrowings' from other singers and players, particularly from Lightnin' Hopkins, Amos Milburn and Ray Charles, never seem to detract from the greatness of his own work . No matter how it goes in, it comes out as pure Eaglin.
? ?"Possum Up A Simmon Tree" (Folk-Lyric), is less successful but has at least one really notable track, and several good ones. Locomotive Train, with very fine harmonica by Percy Randolph, recreates the sound of the old jug bands?particularly that of the Memphis Jug Band and of Gus Cannon?with their easy, riding 2/4 beat. Lucius Bridges's washboard playing, not always satisfactory on this LP, comes out best here and Eaglin's playing emphasizes another of his qualities. He always appreciates the implication of 2/4 inflections in 4/4 time and this makes him an ideal rhythm musician for this type of group. Another interesting track is John Henry, where Eaglin is to be heard playing white Mountain Style guitar. This is doubtless the Hill Billy influence. There is also a striding Down By The Riverside with Eaglin using part of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody (the inevitable one) as a motif for his shuffle beat solo work. The title track is overlong and Mardi Gras Mambo is amusing for a short time; it does not keep up through the track. The rest of the LP is pleasant, with occasional 12-string guitar accompaniments and quite a lively sound.
? ?"Message From New Orleans" (Heritage) is, in its way, as good as the Folkways LP. Most of the work here is on 1 2-string guitar and the surging, rhythmic quality of Eaglin's medium and fast blues makes this a most important release.
? ?Eaglin is an extremely eclectic musician and nothing can prove this better than his performance of a Malaguena. This is 'New Orleans Flamenco' and, as such, it would hardly please the true aficionados of Flamenco or Cante Jondo; it is far too inaccurate. But there is much to commend it. It has the arrogant, strutting sound of the Spanish Bullfight bands and, as an experimental solo for 12-string guitar, it is 'something else'. There are strange twittering sounds on the tape which could be finger noises, but they give an odd outdoor atmosphere to this startling performance.
? ?Who Can Your Good Man Be will surely become a minor classic in modern blues. The treatment of this slow blues is 'a la Platters', a heavy rock rhythm similar to Waitin' For A Train (Folkways), but the breadth of sound is increased immeasurably by the use of 12-string guitar. Eaglin can handle this powerhouse instrument with touching delicacy and his vocal matches the control of his accompaniment. The melody is played mainly on bass strings, with just a shimmer of sound from the treble and, quite suddenly, there appears a full chord. The richness. range of tone, harmonics and double structure of the notes on such chords, gives the essential feeling of a wide open organ stop. It is an amazing performance and with the Malaguena, would justify the purchase of this LP. But there are many other good things here as well. I Must See Jesus is an excellent example of current gospel singing and, to counterbalance the lamentable washboard playing on Give Me The Old Box-Car, (this is the only track with washboard) there is the enchanting sound of Eaglin's sandpaper yodelling. Mama Don't You Tear My Clothes, She's A Black Rat, Who's Been Foolin' You? and That's All Right are the four tracks which show Eaglin's wonderful swing at its best. One can easily imagine a drummer backing him?the atmosphere is like that of Bill Broonzy with Kansas Fields?yet there is no drummer. The snapping off beat is due to Eaglin's method of damping the strings with the palm of his right hand so that the 1st and 3rd beats are allowed to ring through, while the 2nd and 4th are cut. It sounds just like a drummer using brushes, and very good drummer at that. Blue Shadows Blues is harmonically interesting and has excellent slow blues solo playing. Eaglin manages to 'mumble' phrases with just the right degree of intensity and creates, once again, a completely intimate and personal blues.
? ?Unfortunately we have not seen Snooks Eaglin in Britain yet ?I hope that we shall soon have that pleasure?so we must judge him entirely from his recordings. He is a young man with virtually unlimited musical possibilities. He is, musically speaking, incorruptible in that he has been 'corrupted' from the very first. You cannot corrupt eclecticism such as Eaglin's. His is no pure tradition, susceptible to outside influences. The Mills Brothers, Stride Piano, Boogie Woogie, Lightnin' Hopkins, Amos Milburn, Ray Charles, Hill Billy, Calypso, Rock and Flamenco . . . they all go into his music. Then they get 'the treatment' and they reappear . . . as pure Snooks Eaglin. This is a great talent, a young talent, a talent which can yet mature and broaden. It has one essential gift: it is always contemporary in the truest sense of the word.

Offline jostber

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Re: Snooks Eaglin in review 1961
« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2014, 06:00:57 AM »
Sorry to revive this old thread, but Document Records just reissued the Heritage LP "Blues From Maxwell Street" http://www.document-records.com/fulldetails.asp?ProdID=DOCD-5692

Wonder if they will reissue the Snooks album "Message From New Orleans" as well? This is now in the "near impossible to get" category.


Offline jostber

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Re: Snooks Eaglin in review 1961
« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2014, 02:56:58 PM »
Document has also recently released Buster Pickens' album on Heritage:

http://www.document-records.com/fulldetails.asp?ProdID=DOCD-5698

Offline oddenda

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Re: Snooks Eaglin in review 1961
« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2014, 07:56:32 PM »
Interesting how Snooks' concomitant R&B life has been left out of the mix here! He recorded with a fine N.O. band for Imperial Records at Cosimo's studio from 1960-1963. He was a veritable musical sponge and an unique talent, plus a killer guitarist... that "Malague?a is a roaring solo acoustic tour-de-force!
« Last Edit: January 10, 2014, 07:58:11 PM by oddenda »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Snooks Eaglin in review 1961
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2014, 09:37:26 AM »
Interesting how Snooks' concomitant R&B life has been left out of the mix here! He recorded with a fine N.O. band for Imperial Records at Cosimo's studio from 1960-1963. He was a veritable musical sponge and an unique talent, plus a killer guitarist... that "Malague?a is a roaring solo acoustic tour-de-force!
Peter, as to Korner's feature not mentioning Snooks work for Imperial I'm guessing that in 1961 there was no discographical source which might have provided it for him.

 


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