In The Mood For Snooks
Well, Summer Solstice is just a day away; and my wife and I have been making some travel plans for a bit later in the season. A few days ago I ran across the first of today’s featured songs in my 45 boxes and thought it would make an appropriate post. Besides, for no good reason, I haven’t posted anything by Fird (a/ka Ferd or Ford) ‘Snooks’ Eaglin, Jr. in the year and a half I’ve been doing HOTG. It’s way past time. So, I am putting up a two-fer of early and later Snooks, studio and live. That fine article on the man that I’ve got linked from Blues Access can’t really be much improved on. Get your deep background there and also at this amazing Snooks discography I found. I’ll just talk about the particular songs and recordings themselves for now.
"Travelin' Mood" (James Wayne)
Ford Eaglin, Imperial 5765, 1961
“Travelin’ Mood” was written and originally recorded by Texan bluesman James “Wee Willie” Waynes. That song b/w “I Remember” was recorded in New Orleans with Dave Bartholomew and his legendary session crew and came out on Imperial 5355 in 1955, with his name shown as Wee Willie Wayne. An earlier Waynes recording of “Junco Partner” (as James Waynes on Sittin’ In With 607, recorded in Atlanta) and “Travelin’ Mood”, to a lesser extent, were very influential, often covered by New Orleans artists (Professor Longhar, James Booker, Mac Rebennack, and Snooks, among others) from the 1950’s onward – so much so that most people now consider them New Orleans tunes. After leaving Imperial in the mid-1950’s, Waynes re-joined the label in 1961, resulting in several releases as James Wayne, all non-sellers, including a re-issue of “Travelin’ Mood” (#5725).
While it is not surprising that Snooks, who had very little original material, would record this song during his stint for Imperial with Bartholomew producing, one wonders why they would release it so soon after the James Wayne re-issue . Since that version did not take off, I guess they thought Snooks’ somewhat heavier R&B approach might click. Like several of his other Imperial sides, the record did well around New Orleans, but not elsewhere. It’s a great performance from Snooks, though, with a fine vocal and some of his idiosyncratic guitar playing in evidence. The backing musicians were James Booker on piano, Frank Fields on bass, Smokey Johnson on drums and Mayer Kennedy, Clarence Ford, Clarence Hall, and William Payne on saxes. Eaglin’s work with Bartholomew resulted in nine singles for the label (all showing him as Ford Eaglin), culled from 26 total recorded songs from three separate sessions between 1960 and 1963.
This was the same period in which Bartholomew was producing some of Earl King’s great sides such as “Come On” and “Trick Bag”; and there are similarities in the sound of the productions for these two artists. Unfortunately for both of them and other locals signed to the label at the time (Fats Domino, Frankie Ford, and Huey Smith), Imperial Records was in a state of decline. It’s owner, Lew Chudd, was losing interest in the business and looking for buyer, and, thus, not investing in the promotion needed to push the records. By 1963, he had sold out to Liberty, thus effectively ending the California label’s nearly15 year association with Bartholomew and New Orleans.
"I Cry Oh" (E. Bocage)
Snooks Eaglin, from Black Top Blues-a-Rama Volume 6, Live At Tipitina's, 1992
I agree with those who think Snooks Eaglin is an artist best appreciated live. His shows can he hit and miss, but he’s on target much more than he’s off. I’ve chosen a CD cut from an out of print Black Top CD of performances of several of their artists at Tipitina’s in 1992. Snooks’ reputation as the Human Jukebox is well-earned, as anyone who’s been to one of his shows can attest; and that is evidenced by this cover of a very obscure Eddie Bo side that originally appeared on Apollo 499 way back in 1956. It seems that if Snooks ever heard a song, he can play it, of course, in his own uniquely funky style. Backing him on the set are famed bassist George Porter, Jr., keyboardist Sammy Berfect (who cut some obscure records as “Bo Jr” back in the day), and the formidable Herman V. Ernest, III (currently in Dr. John’s band) on drums.
Snooks had five outstanding CDs out on the New Orleans-based Black Top label during the 1990s: Baby You Can Get Your Gun, Out Of Nowhere, Teasin’ You, Soul’s Edge and Live In Japan. But Black Top went out of business around the turn of the century, making all of these collectors’ items. If you find any, buy ‘em. I also highly recommend the also out of print Capitol CD comp, Snooks Eaglin: The Complete Imperial Recordings, where you can hear all of his work for the label, including the unissued sides. I’ll try to get back to some of those later, as Snooks is another of those rare, irreplaceable treasures who have contributed so much to the fabric of the Home of the Groove and needs to be heard. And, remember, he’s still alive and giggin’ in his hometown. So, do your best to catch him, awright?