Eddie Kirkland is an unique musician, a stunningly energetic performer even in his eighties… only James Brown or Tina Turner come to mind as his peers in that realm of performance. As a guitarist, he sounds like himself and not like one of those B.B. wannabes; on the harmonica he gets a big, fat, warm sound; as a singer he is unmatched for feeling and soul, a consummate performer who never holds back, who always sounds like he MEANS it. Eddie is also an incredibly good and prolific song-writer. So why isn’t he rich and famous, like the aforementioned Mr. King (they both cut their first records in the same year) or his overly lauded former employer, John Lee Hooker? Damned if I know. Often originality is NOT highly prized or rewarded in the music business. The listening public, or those who “feed” material to them, seemingly are more content with the familiar and unwilling to take chances – or so we are lead to believe. They don’t want “the next big thing”… too much risk… but they want the next cab off the rank AFTER the next big thing! Followers, not leaders. Certainly my experiences on the borders of the “music business” have shown that the emphasis is on the second word of that phrase. Music is yet another commodity to be bought cheap and sold dear. And there is the factor of luck, of being at the right place at the right time with the right “product”. Unlike B.B., that has never taken place for Kirkland.
The trip up North to the festival at New Paltz began a pattern in Eddie’s life that essentially continues to this day. Then, it was up to New York State in the summer months to play with his “northern” band from the Ulster County region; the winter months down South, playing with his Macon, GA band. While not a hard and fast rule, that was the general scenario for a number of years, nay, decades. As a side bar, I got in touch with John Sinclair when I heard that he was planning on having an afternoon of Detroit blues musicians at the last Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival held in Michigan in 1973 (O&S 30). He and his Macon band, including Fred Robinson, drove non-stop from a gig down South to make the festival… sound familiar?! He ended up being the closing act that afternoon, having blown away the audience and the other performers with his high-tension energy performance. Hooker, listed as the closer, wouldn’t follow hi, and opened up that night’s sets! Earlier that same year after the Chapel Hill performances, I purchased two songs from producer Jackie Avery in Macon (“Snake in the Grass” and “Georgia Woman”) to firm up the second Trix LP (3308: “The Devil… and other blues demons”).
At the end of that same year I attempted to record Eddie and his southern band at a gig outside Macon – at the time I thought the results weren’t up to snuff, but I’ll have to go back for another listen whenever I’m reunited with my tapes from storage in NJ. The problem was not or performance quality, mind you. In April of 1974 I recorded Eddie and his northern band in my house on my Tascam 4-track recorder with some degree of ping-ponging of tracks and over-dubbing. Usually Eddie would drive North in his vehicle-of-the-moment full of guitars, amps, clothing, tools, and spare parts and stay with Billy Troiani, or at The Astoria Hotel in Rosendale – on a couple of trips he brought Fred along with him, which stopped when Fred got married and started having kids. Eddie was always well-received in the bars and clubs in which he played and it became a tradition for many there to look forward to the local summer performances. On some trips we were able to get he and the band gigs through Judy Kleinsinger at Hospital Audiences Inc. at various New York State prisons! These ran the gamut from Sing Sing (no longer a maximum security facility) to Greenhaven (which definitely is and is where the state’s electric chair was being stored) through to Mattewan (for the criminally insane). At that last venue, Eddie was asked to stop the first of his two shows because his energy was getting through to the Thorazined crowd, making them move and the staff nervous. The power of music! At another gig he shared to bill with jazz baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne and his group, an interesting and educational combination. These jobs were during the day and didn’t interfere with the usual night time ones… and they paid well, at least union scale. On those and local gigs I was becoming more than just a record producer: with the purchase of a reasonable PA system in 1972, I became the sound-man, band photographer, and roadie as well. On-the-job training once again! (I believe that my system was used for the Thursday and Friday night performances at the Chapel Hill shows in March of 1973.)
Before the winter of 1974 I loaded up my van with the PA, some band equipment, my clothes, some LPs, and my two dogs and headed South. Following along were Billy Troiani and Denis Minervini (in their car) who, along with the ever popular Fred Robinson, made up a mixed band for Eddie. A tour of college (US)/university (UK) towns had been booked by a White promoter in Macon – he also foisted a not very good tenor sax player (also White) on us who almost got us busted for shop-lifting at our first stop! Ands off we went: The Attic (Greenville, NC), The Double Door (Charlotte, NC) and other clubs whose names I’ve forgotten In Lexington, KY, Raleigh, NC,. Bowling Green, KY, plus towns I’ve also forgotten. In all the places he played, the crowds for Eddie and the band were wildly enthusiastic and even the roadie got lucky from time to time. Back and forth we went through most of the southeastern states (save FL), doing good business, getting folks up and moving, and wanting the band to come back a.s.a.p. Eddie Kirkland & the Energy Band I dubbed them on that tour. I didn’t travel with the band like that again, although I did assist a while longer whenever Kirkland came North, doing the sound and lugging the equipment.
By 1975, drummer Denis Minervini and his wife Ann had “taken charge”(1) and pushed me off to the sidelines as far as personal involvement was concerned, although they kept using my PA! Just before that time is when the “Foghat’s Salute to the Blues” concert took place at the concert hall in NYC called Town Hall… it was to raise money to buy blues recordings for the library at Lincoln Center, which was sadly lacking in them. On the show with Eddie were folks like Honeyboy Edwards, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker. Eddie was there because Dave Peverett had gotten a copy pf Kirkland’s album on TruSound (maybe one of the ones I brought to the UK in the sixties!) and loved it and had to have him on the bill. Eddie did his set backed by Foghat and he stole the show… as usual. The complete show was filmed or video-taped, and portions were shown on national TV as an episode of “Don Kirchner’s Rock Concert” series. What went to air consisted of Foghat’s set, Eddie’s set, and the finale with all the performers! That’s what made the cut for the “hour’s” TV show (with commercials!). Eddie, of course, pulled out all his stops for his segment, with much vaulting about, including his patented backwards somersaults while playing the guitar, and playing his final chord while sliding on his knees towards stage front. Bedlam, as he kicked ass and took names once again.
There was further Foghat involvement with Kirkland a couple of years later. Eddie had to go into the hospital to have his head attended to (he has a plate in it) and there was a benefit show held at a large venue north of New Paltz, NY called Speakers with Charles “Honeyboy” Otis w. Guy & Pip Gillette, a.o. The benefit was necessary because “American Health Care” is either ran oxymoron, or a contradiction of terms… you get the care you can afford to pay for, and Eddie needed help there. (Even as a veteran going into a V.A. hospital.) Among the “others” who came and performed in support of Kirkland were all the members of Foghat, who had an open date that night and used it in support of his situation! They liked him… they really liked him! Eddie performed once again with the band to close the show… once again, bedlam. This was an opportunity that should have been capitalized upon, but wasn’t. Once again, you need the right time, right place, right management – not that I was a great help, but I was no longer involved and a chance was missed. And so it goes.
- (1) Denis Minervini blew a major opportunity in 1975 for Eddie to record for a major label, Capitol Records – they wanted an LP of Otis Redding-associated songs, Redding being one of Eddie’s former employers of note. This was not necessarily Eddie’s idea of a good time, being such a good writer himself, but Denis queered the deal by demanding $500 up front for himself… not even for Eddie… to broker the deal. Of course, that offer disappeared. Had I been involved, I’d have held out for a two-album deal – one that they requested and one that Eddie wanted.
Peter B. Lowry
Published in B&R 252 (Sep 2010), pp. 10-12. Edited, to dotted line.
Published in B&R 253 (Oct 2010), pp. 18-19. Edited, from dotted line.