Snooks offers a gift for the wretched
by John Sinclair
Snooks Eaglin is the Crescent City's secret weapon, a blind bombardier of the
electric guitar who plays, nearing age 60, with more intensity, taste, mastery,
and musical command than most anyone you can think of. And the kicker is, he
gets better all the time.
The past 10 years -- since Snooks signed with BlackTop Records -- have been
good to Eaglin's fans, giving us many hours of musical enjoyment by way of his
albums (Baby, You Can Get Your Gun, Out of Nowhere, Teasin'
You, and Soul's Edge), his exhilarating performances at JazzFest and
around New Orleans, and some rare personal appearances outside Louisiana. His
early work as a street singer is available on several CDs; his great R&B
sides of 1960-'63, produced by Dave Bartholomew, were reissued by Capitol in
1995 as The Complete Imperial Recordings.
His new Live in Japan is a splendid document of his first Japanese
tour, five dates with Little Sonny and Robert Jr. Lockwood that culminated in
the Park Tower shows of December 9 and 10, 1995, happily captured there on tape
by Blues Interactions Records. BlackTop has graced us with its American
release, which is his first full-length live recording (though he can be heard
on stage at Tiptina's in the BlackTop Blues-a-Rama series.)
Snooks took the stage at the Park Tower with the musical backing of a stellar
Crescent City rhythm section anchored by his favorite runnin' pardner, bassist
George Porter Jr., and drummer Jeffrey "Jellybean" Alexander. They're augmented
by keyboard ace John Autin, whose piano and Hammond B-3 organ flesh out the
stripped-down sound of Eaglin's customary trio quite nicely.
Snooks sounds very much at home before his Tokyo audience. He's relaxed and
definitely ready to play, and he whips through his delightfully eclectic
repertoire with fiery abandon, cooking like crazy from the first notes of Bill
Doggett's "Quaker City" all the way through the wonderful James (Wee Willie)
Waynes classic, "Travelin' Mood," that closes the set.
The familiar material is drawn mainly from his last two BlackTop albums,
Teasin' You and Soul's Edge, with the added attraction of
Eaglin's fervent take on Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman" and the
steaming Bill Doggett instrumental. He addresses the blues ballads with his
usual emotive force, delivering impassioned readings of Earl Connelly King's
"Don't Take It So Hard," Charles Brown's immortal "Black Night," and the fine
Dan Penn composition "Nine Pound Steel."
Considered a sort of a human jukebox because of his enormous repertoire of
popular songs and R&B evergreens and obscurities, Snooks generally makes
his personal music out of the creations of others, charging their songs with
his own soul, wit, energy, drive, and utter mastery of the expressive language
of the electric guitar. Here, as usual, he honors some of his favorite New
Orleans songwriters -- Smiley Lewis, Earl King, Dave Bartholomew -- with
rollicking romps on "Down Yonder," "Josephine," "Lillie Mae," and "Yours
Truly." And he puts his special twist on the obscure Earl King anthem "Soul
Train." (Two more Earl King tunes, "Teasin' You" and "My Love Is Strong," were
included on the Japanese release but do not appear here.)
This live set is highlighted by one of Snooks's rare originals, an Ash
Wednesday reflection on Carnival in New Orleans called "I Went to the Mardi
Gras" that bids to enter the musical pantheon of Mardi Gras songs along with
the likes of "Jock-a-Mo," "Mardi Gras Mambo," "Go to the Mardi Gras," and "Big
Chief." The tune was written with Tommy Ridgely, whose splendid BlackTop album
Since the Blues Began was brightly illuminated by Snooks's
sizzling guitar work, and it'll be heard at Carnival time for years to come.
If you're a Snooks Eaglin fanatic (like this writer), you'll be playing this
live set again and again, enjoying the opportunity to hear the man in concert
and relish his twisted comments between songs. If you don't have his BlackTop
CDs, this album will serve as an introduction to one of the outstanding R&B
figures of our time in a typically rewarding set at the peak of his
considerable power as a guitarist, singer, and bandleader.
In any case, Live in Japan makes an excellent addition to the Snooks
Eaglin oeuvre, and that's always good news. Our poor miserable world and its
wretched inhabitants need more music like this, whether they're in Japan or the
USA, and Snooks stands ready, as always, to answer the call.