New Orleans Street Singer

Snooks Eaglin

album cover

On the Street with Snooks, the Human Jukebox

Much of what's essential about Snooks Eaglin, the blind New Orleans street singer who had a brief run as an R&B barnstormer in the 1960s, is contained within "Careless Love" from this disc of 1958 solo recordings. It's stone simple—like many buskers, Eaglin transforms nursery-rhyme ditties into sneakily profound statements. The song sits in that gentle side-to-side shuffle that underpins so much music from New Orleans—though he liked to perform with a band, all Eaglin really needs to get things rocking is his own steady-handed guitar accompaniment.

And "Careless Love" typifies a distinctly New Orleans singing style you don't hear very often. Eaglin is a master of the woe-is-me whimper—he sounds pitiable as he tells of being tied to a lover's apron strings. When he realizes this paramour has been lying ("You said you love me, didn't mean a thing"), the phrase comes with such fresh bitterness, the relationship might have dissolved moments before. There's no shouting and no showbiz here—Eaglin's preferred discourse is blues intimacy, and his slight Louis Armstrong inflections give each repetition (the song is essentially three lines) new wrinkles.

New Orleans Street Singer was recorded after folklorist Harry Oster heard Eaglin busking on the streets of the French Quarter. "Careless Love" and assorted other gems established Eaglin as an acoustic bluesman, and because it was released by Folkways during the height of the folk revival, many music lovers believed this was Eaglin's only trick. In fact, Eaglin cut a number of hot R&B sides with bandleader Dave Bartholomew in 1961. New Orleans natives knew, but it took a series of electric-blues records for Black Top in the 1980s to round out that first impression: Eaglin's one of those people who can play anything.

Genre: R&B
Released: 1959, Folkways
Key Tracks: "See See Rider," "Mean Old World," "Rock Island Line," "Careless Love"
Catalog Choice: Teasin' You. The Spirit of New Orleans: The Genius of Dave Bartholomew
Next Stop: Earl King: Sexual Telepathy
After That: Joseph Spence: Good Morning Mr. Walker
Book Page: 249

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#1 from David Horgan, Washington, D.C. - 02/20/2009 12:50

Snooks Eaglin passed away yesterday, Feb, 18th, 2009.

Read a nice obit about him here:

FYI - the album, New Orleans Street Singer, was originally released on by Folkways in 1959 but was reissued in 2005 with 7 previously unreleased tracks. The album cover art listed here is for the re-issue, which is the one to get:

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