The performer with whom I have had the longest-lived and closest relationship since my meddling in other peoples’ affairs is Eddie Kirkland, and that began in 1979 with my first trip South that was only a field trip and not a record collecting venture. My appreciation of Kirkland really began at college (university/UK) in the early sixties (O&S 27) long before I ever thought about doing research, or writing about the music. I still feel that his LP for TruSound (a Prestige label, now available in the “OBC” series of CDs) is an absolute blues (+) masterpiece, combining down home and uptown in a fashion never before obtained. I still find it an intense and enjoyable listening experience, often raw, that reaches into some unknown region of the body, grabs on tight, and doesn’t let go. It’s totally unlike anything that I had previously heard in the way of blues music. Uniqueness is not always rewarded in the music business, though, and the LP had an unusually short shelf-life (O&# 30) which killed much of its potential impact. I was the one to force the issue with Bastin in 1970 and hie off to Macon, GA. There we took advantage of the hospitality of Jeff Tarrer, another forgotten record collector/researcher (mainly jazz and dance bands: Jeff worked for the GA State prison system and followed his interest on days off and holidays). It had been rumored in BU that Eddie Kirkland had left his “native” Detroit for that middle-Georgia city and was working as a DJ at a local radio station. I never found out the source of that rumor, but it was partially correct. With no luck calling radio stations, we went to the offices of Capricorn Records for assistance… it turned out that Eddie lived literally down the street and around the corner on Plum Street! There he ran a small “motel” upstairs that consisted of six or seven rooms that could be rented for as short a time as an hour. One got clean sheets and a towel in addition to the room and bathroom access for one’s fee.
Eddie Lived in the room or two at the end at the top of the stairs, next to the registration desk and the communal bathroom/toilet with the rest of the rooms strung out along the left side of the corridor. Each room had the name of a US state! Across the street on the opposite corner was a defunct service station/garage where Eddie could park his various vehicles, plus a trailer that was used for musical instruments, a.o., when going to gigs. At that point (1970), his musical career was in the doldrums – his hit record, “The Hawg”, a southern, Black jukebox hit for Volt Records, had definitely faded in the mind of his public (1). He told me later that he had planned on quitting music altogether and opening a garage, working on cars instead. For better or worse, then, Bastin and I showing up gave him second thoughts on that idea and prevented that from happening. To music’s benefit, if not his! We interviewed him and wrote it up for BU in our initial series on the SE and I spoke with Eddie about the possibility of doing some recordings on his own.
Our first session took place over the Xmas break of that year as I took off from my university teaching and headed South for a “quickie” specifically to record him… Baby Tate was taped as well on the way back home. Eleven songs were gotten from Eddie, mainly solo pieces: he played one tune with a rack harp, something new for him, as well as well as his first experience with a twelve-string guitar. His regular band guitarist, a left-hander named Fred Robinson, attempted to play on a couple of tunes, but had problems without a rhythm section! My sister’s then boy friend, Brian Bristol, made it into the discographies as a result, patting time on one tune on a wooden briefcase in which I carried my blank tapes. Eddie played amplified harp with Fred on rhythm guitar. From the results of that first session, Kirkland was more than able and comfortable working in a “down home”, solo style. It boded well for our future.
Since I was still teaching for a living, my field trips normally took place during the summer vacation, a bit on the masochistic side, considering the heat and humidity, but I had no choice as to time. Eddie and I got together again in the summer if 1971 and recorded a baker’s dozen more tunes. (On that particular trip I also recorded Baby Tate again, plus Roy Dunn, Willie Trice, and his brother Richard.) The plot thickened when I got really pushy (for me) and got Tate, Eddie, and Larry Johnson hired to fill a segment of the all-day 1972 Spring Week-end concerts on the uni campus where I taught. Tate and Larry worked solo and together, but I got Eddie together with the only musicians that I knew in the area at that time, The Arm Bros. Their electric band, that is. They were lead by singer/songwriter/guitarist Dan DelSanto – it’s acoustic “half” usually played bluegrass and some country [Dan, Jerry Oland on banjo, Evan Stover on fiddle, Billy Troiani on fretless bass guitar], while the electric one did C&W, honky tonk, and some rock [Dan, Billy, Larry Audette on piano, Denis Minervini on drums]. I asked Kirkland to come up a week early and rehearse with the electric band before the concert, as I thought that that format would go over well with the student crowd. It did, and you can see the size of the crowd from the LP cover photo of Trix 3301, “Front and Center”!
I also had something else in mind in addition to the concert appearance to make it worth Eddie’s coming that far. On the Tuesday following the concerts, Eddie, the band (minus Larry Audette), and I went up to Lake Hill, NY, just outside of Woodstock, to a small 4-track (1/2” tape) recording studio at the end of Mink Hollow Road. Dan had been doing some sessions there and thought it would work well. For those interested in such detail, it was later the site of Todd Rundgren’s multi-media recording complex! Instruments were set up, levels gotten, and three songs were begun. Two days later, ten songs were done with some fluctuations in the band positions: of greatest note is the presence of Little Sam Davis (O&S 2) on a few of them. Eddie overdubbed the vocals and some harp the following day or so as tracks were ping-ponged to make room and the final mixing taking place later on in NYC. At this point, the basis for two distinctly different LPs had taken shape, one solo, one with a band. My “career” as a record producer had well and truly begun!
Needless to say, Eddie was dealt with solo during the lengthy field trip of 1972/73. He was also the seed for the Detroit Reunion that took place the Friday night of the Chapel Hill concerts, getting him together with Boogie Woogie Red and Eddie Burns. For those shows, I imported Billy Troiani and Denis Minervini as a “house” rhythm section (they also backed Tarheel Slim the following night, and Billy played with Frank Edwards the previous one), while Kirkland brought old faithful Fred with him from Macon.
Eddie was unable to partake of any of the revelry off and on stage because he had a problem to deal with. As he and Fred drove up from Georgia with a newly re-built engine, a problem developed with the cooling system that resulted in a need for new piston rings and gaskets in order to get back home. So, Eddie being Eddie, tore down the engine and rebuilt it… in the parking lot of the one motel that took Black patrons… in the rain (the weather was lousy the whole weekend), and only took time off to briefly rehearse with Red and Burns, and to perform on stage. On the Sunday after the shows, he left Carrboro, NC for Macon after I pushed him for a couple of blocks with my van to get him started. The rings were tight and new, and his starter couldn’t crank in over (a blues problem) well enough! And off he went. Eddie is always prepared for emergencies and carries a full set of tools with him, as well as many spare parts, for such occasions as this. Red told me a story, when told of Eddie’s problem, of Eddie fixing a blown tire by nailing a piece of another tire into place… and it worked. A man of many talents. Such is the blues life – not very romantic, is it.
- (1) A hit record like that could generate many years of work, even without benefit of radio airplay and (as Eddie Kirk) he was busy as a musician for about a half-dozen year on the strength of that one record. Tarheel Slim had similar experiences with Little Ann, although they cut many more records to play behind. It was the gigs where musicians made any money, not the records… they were mainly a good form of advertising, as was radio.
Peter B. Lowry
Published in B&R #252 (Oct 2010), p. 10-12. Edited.