June 20, 2006

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?


Blogger John Paul said...

Wow Dan. I didn't know there were volumes of Blacktop samplers. I know I told you that you should go hear my homies The Bel Airs when they played Memphis cuz New Orleans is what they do. They do Chicken fried snake from the Blacktop Sampler and Certain girl. They do Over you and tons of Lazy Lester. They make me proud. Todays posts are in a league of thier own but you allways were the cat daddy. Imperial is a label not talked about much even though Fats Domino and Albert Collins were on it. Oh I allmost forgot Ricky Nelson. You're still the best. You could tell me the moon was blue and I'd believe it

3:06 PM, June 21, 2006  
Blogger The Reaper said...

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.

That's putting it mildly Dan. Except for Snooks' voice, Travelin' Mood sounds like an out-take from the Earl King Imperials, a total dead ringer. I'd be surprised if it wasn't the exact same session players. Not that I'm complaining. :-)

I'll be in NOLA next week. Send me an email through the Afroskull site if you're going to be in the city at any point; perhaps we can grab a beer.

6:50 PM, June 21, 2006  
Blogger John Paul said...

Trick bag and Come on are two of the best ever. Is there Come on pt 1 and pt 2 or am I just full of it

6:57 PM, June 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen Snooks at the Rock n Bowl about 10 times in the last year. The really good shows are always when he has George Porter, Jr. on bass. I enjoy watching Porter almost as much as Snooks.

Snooks is going to be at the Rock n Bowl on July 1. I always now his future bookings, I rarely miss a show.

He's my favorite musician in the city.

Dan, I'm still catching up. Thanks for you work here at HOTG.

10:14 PM, June 21, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks for that vote of confidence, John Paul. I'm trying to steer y'all straight here. And, yes, "Come On" was a two-parter. I've got a post on that somewhere in the archives.

Hey, Reap, Looks like the only players on both the Earl and Snooks sessions were Booker, and possibly Smokey Johnson on a few of Earl's songs. The session listings for Earl's Imperial sides show Bob French on drums; but Smokey has said that he sat in for Bob, who got drafted (I think), on some of those. Anyway, Snooks seems to cop a bit of Earl's guitar thing, too - maybe they used the same amp. But they also had the same producer, same studio, same engineer (Cosimo) and same instrumentation at around the same time. . .I'll contact you soon about New Orelans.

Thank you, Randy. Glad to hear that you're still hittin' those gigs. That's an education in and of itself!

11:14 PM, June 21, 2006  
Blogger The Reaper said...

Well, Booker would do it. The man was a complete rhythm section unto himself.

Thanks for the info re: Bob French and Smokey Johnson. I've always wondered who was drumming on "Trick Bag." I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that it was Smokey on that one, it sounds kind of like his feel. Such a weird, funky beat! I find it almost impossible to cop that feel correctly on the drums.

I'll give you a call when I'm on the ground in NOLA. Hope we can make it happen!

12:18 AM, June 25, 2006  

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