on 23 December 2010
These recordings were made by Harry Oster, a folklorist, in New Orleans in 1958. They attracted a lot of attention at the time, as a 22 year old singing and playing the blues beautifully, seemed to show there was a future for the rural blues. Well, Snooks had been playing with r'n'b bands, and went on to play with Dave Bartholomew and many others, so these recordings showed nothing at all about the future of the rural blues.
At the time Snooks had been working as a street singer in New Orleans. The tunes on the disc vary from well known blues from other singers (these are original versions, not copies) to all manner of old pop songs to examples of tom tom drumming. I have no idea where Snooks got it all from. It seems to be far too natural to have been learnt off the radio and I can only presume Snooks was a bit of a gannet who picked stuff up from anywhere. Later on in his career he was claimed to know over 2500 songs and I can well believe it.
He doesn't really sound like anybody else. His guitar sometimes sounds a little like Jesse Fuller and his singing occasionally like Lightnin' Hopkins but these are just glancing similarities. There are no real influences anywhere.
Most tracks are just Snooks with guitar, acoustic and either 6 or 12 string. The playing is superb, technically adept and with great variety. The man is a virtuoso, but always to a purpose. His singing is slightly nasal in quality, very expressive , and always suited to the variety of songs he sings.
On some songs he plays washboard or tom toms and sometimes plays with Lucius Bridges and Percy Randolph who between them play harmonica, washboard and also sing. They do not accompany him as such but all three play together and take you back to the sound of the country jukes. The harp playing, particularly on the railroad pieces, is beautiful.
Unfortunately, the production is not up to Arhoolie's usual standards. No dates are given for the recordings and the personnels given for individual tracks certainly don't accord with my ears. Minor faults, but a pity. Sound quality is fine.
It is a bit of a curiosity but a fascinating one none the less.