Ready for Eddie

By Keith S. Clements

It was a tough choice to decide whether to hear Homesick James with Mark Hoekstra's new band, the Killer Tornadoes, at the Cherokee Blues Club, or hear Eddie Kirkland at Uncle Pleasant's. These two very respected bluesmen were both booked the same night, with not much publicity, on May 23.

Since I had heard both Homesick and Mark perform before, I took a chance on Eddie.

Parked out in front of "Uncle P's" was the typical van of a contemporary touring blues band. The grey-and-black vehicle with Florida plates looked as if it had been around the world a few times, with two spare tires tied down to the roof. The windows were blackened and a TV jerry-rigged on the front dashboard. When we walked into Uncle P's, the place was nearly empty, but people gradually drifted in as it got closer to showtime.

Eddie's road band includes Timo Shanko on bass, who has played with him for a few years, Ray Anthony on drums, and Curtis Prince on second guitar. Eddie said during a break that this evening was the first time he and Curtis had performed together, so during the performance they were watching each other pretty closely. Curtis did remarkably well for his first appearance playing with Eddie. After a couple of undistinguished warm-up numbers by the backup band, Eddie hitched up one of his four hybrid guitars and started in on a very personal version of "Every Day I Have the Blues."

His guitar sound is distinctly his own, an amplified sound that is a cross between country and urban. He frequently turns up the tremolo to get a deep resonating sound like Lonnie Mack. These alternating tones sounded at times like a background horn section. My favorite sounds came out of his odd-shaped, wood-body Peavey guitar.

Eddie puts his own vocal stamp on every song he sings and frequently segues the lyrics of several blues songs together. His version of "C.C. Rider" had a shouting, declamatory, forceful style. Eddie closed out the first set with an extended version of one of his signature tunes, "Pick Up the Pieces," which has a haunting rhythm and intensely emotional lyrics.

Break time provided Eddie and Curtis an opportunity to work on the van to repair a water leak. The second set started off with Eddie blowing some hard-driving harp, which continued through most of the set. Eddie uses the instrument to get a deep, rich sound much like his guitar. Eddie is best known for his stinging guitar work, but I'm here to tell you his harp playing is just as good. (The harp is the first instrument he learned to play.)

Particularly outstanding was "Sure Ain't No Moon In Sight," which is a poignant, slow blues, followed by an up-tempo, rocking version of "I Got My Mojo Working," which is nothing like Muddy's version. After the harp came another treat with some wonderful slide guitar on such pieces as "Take My Hand and Lead Me On," which is a real bump-and-grind roadhouse workout, and "Shop Around When You Put Them Down," which demonstrated the depth of his picking and sliding. In addition to all of these talents, he has a deep, hoarse voice that he uses sparingly, while at times it can also have a bluesy richness that sounds like Little Milton.

Eddie now resides in Georgia and has recently recovered from an illness. He and the band were on a hop, skip and a jump tour up to Champaign, Ill., Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and eventually to Calgary, Canada. Later this year they will be going over to Italy for a Blues Festival in Sicily.

Eddie deserves better luck. He has been in the shadow of playing behind another great bluesman, John Lee Hooker, during the time when Hooker was recording some of his best music in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Eddie's recording has been sparse, with only a handful of LPs under his own name, plus being on several anthologies of Detroit blues. His latest release, on St. Louis-based Pulsar Records, is called Have Mercy. Unfortunately the label has gone bankrupt and Eddie is trying to find another recording company. His calling card says "Original Rockin' Soul and Blues" and he is truly a talented blues original that deserves a big break and wider audiences.