RIP Snooks Eaglin

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BEE BRANCH | Although Snooks Eaglin, the amazingly eclectic New Orleans guitar player who died Wednesday at the age of 72, was truly one of a kind, his music was deeply rooted in the funk and rhythm and blues of the Crescent City.

Blind since childhood and with amazingly long, gnarled fingers and fingernails, he could pick just about anything and was, indeed, known as the “Human Juke Box” for his ability to play nearly any requests shouted out from the crowd, including “Malaguena,” more about which in just a minute.

Snooks never travelled much, meaning that roots music aficionados had to come to him, most often in recent years at the Mid City Rock ‘n Bowl, where he was a mainstay for the last two decades, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, most of which I’m sure he played, usually accompanied by the great bassist George Porter, a founding member of the Meters. The pictures here are of the two at Snooks’ last Jazz Fest gig last year.

My most memorable encounter with the rollicking, rocking Snooks was a couple of years ago when we went to hear him at the Parrish, the House of Blues’ intimate upstairs room on Decatur Street. There wasn’t much of a crowd, so we were able to belly right up to the stage only a couple of feet away from Snooks, who was sitting in a folding chair.

At one point, a young woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if Snooks was “a dirty old man” because he had used a racy euphemism in a song; seems her yuppie date had clued her in on what the word “trim” meant in context and she assumed the worst about the small, bent, sightless man behind the guitar.

“No,” I said firmly, “he’s a guitar player.”

Then I asked him to play “Malaguena,” which I knew was in his repertoire, but which elicited a snorting, condescending laugh from the young woman’s boyfriend. My request did, however, put a smile on Snooks’ grizzled face.

“I learned that song off an old Carlos Montoya record,” he said of the great Spanish Flamenco guitar player. “Carlos could play!

“Burn, Carlos, Burn!” he shouted as he began a virtuoso rendition of the classical piece, which wiped the smirk right off that yuppie’s face.

At least one set by Snooks Eaglin some time during the week has been a long-standing tradition for our Jazz Fest sojourns, the next of which is now only a few weeks away.

But it won’t quite be the same this year knowing Snooks won’t be playing somewhere around town.

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