Hours before this issue of OffBeat shipped, we learned that Snooks Eaglin passed away on February 18. This is a sad loss, as one of the city’s most idiosyncratic musical thinkers is gone. We’ll do more next month, but for now, we want to remember Snooks with an excerpt from our February 1995 story on Eaglin by Keith Spera.
When Snooks performs, a small contingent of fans position themselves near the stage. They don’t dance, but watch the spectacle of Eaglin’s fingers as they work the guitar strings. The digits on his right hand flail out at impossible angles as he finger-picks and strums his way through a song.
One such devotee is Ed Conway, twenty-seven-year-old guitarist with fast-rising local rock band the Bingemen. “Snooks’ right had technique is…” Conway shakes his head. “I’ve gone to see many shows where I’ve stared at his right hand, trying to figure out how he does it. I can’t figure it out.
“He’s very inspiring. He’s the one guy in town that inspired me to throw away my distortion pedal and clean up my amp. He’s got such a stoic tone—it’s totally clean, and he draws so much from each note.”
More eclectic than his style is his repertoire. A medley containing Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” and Bad Company’s “Ready for Love” turned up in the birthday show at the Wolf. “It’s a heads-up gig,” says George Porter, Jr. of playing with Snooks. “Most of the stuff comes from the early blues and R&B, from when I was a kid. But it’s not just knowing the songs—you have to know the concept, and how the chords relate. Sometimes Snooks uses chord inversions that throw me on my butt. But he always covers for me. He’ll say over that mic: ‘Don’t worry, nobody heard that.’”
The chair that Snooks sits on during performances is not a pedestal. When the audience at the Rock ’n’ Bowl doesn’t clap with sufficient vigor, he good-naturedly scolds as only Snooks would: “We’re not playing for that Leitz-Eagan funeral home! I want to hear some hand clappin’!”