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Friday, November 30, 2012
Eddie Kirkland - Gypsy of the Blues
Eddie Kirkland (August 16, 1923 – February 27, 2011) was an American electric blues guitarist, harmonicist, singer, and songwriter.
Kirkland, known as the "Gypsy of the Blues" for his rigorous touring schedules, played and toured with John Lee Hooker from 1949 to 1962. After his period of working in tandem with Hooker he pursued a successful solo career, recording for RPM Records, Fortune Records, Volt Records, and King Records, sometimes under the stage name Eddie Kirk. Kirkland continued to tour, write and record albums until his death in February 2011.
Kirkland was born in Jamaica to a mother, aged 11, and first heard the blues from "field hollers",and raised in Dothan, Alabama until 1935,when he stowed away in the Sugar Girls Medicine Show tent truck and left town. Blind Blake was the one who influenced him the most in those early days.He was placed on the chorus line with "Diamond Tooth Mary" McLean.He joined the United States Army during World War II. It was racism in the military, he said, that led him to seek out the devil. After his discharge Kirkland traveled to Detroit where his mother had relocated. After a days work at the Ford Rouge Plant, Kirkland played his guitar at house parties, and there he met John Lee Hooker. Kirkland, a frequent second guitarist in recordings from 1949-1962. "It was difficult playin' behind Hooker but I had a good ear and was able to move in behind him on anything he did."
Kirkland fashioned his own style of playing open chords, and transformed the rough, porch style delta blues into the electric age by using his thumb, rather than a guitar pick. He secured his own series of recordings with Sid Nathan of King Records in 1953, at Fortune Records in 1958 and, by 1961, on his own album It's the Blues Man, with the King Curtis Band.Kirkland became Hooker's road manager and the two traveled from Detroit to the Deep South on many tours, the last being in 1962 when Hooker abandoned Kirkland to go overseas. Kirkland found his way to Macon, Georgia and began performing with Otis Redding as his guitarist and band leader.As Eddie Kirk, he released "The Hawg" as a single on Volt Records in 1963.The record was overshadowed by Rufus Thomas's recordings, and Kirkland, discouraged by the music industry and his own lack of education to change the situation, turned to his other skill and sought work as an auto mechanic to earn a living for his growing family.
It was during the mid 1970s that Kirkland befriended the British blues-rock band, Foghat. Kirkland remained with Lowry, Trix, and was based in the Hudson Valley for twelve years. It was during this period that Kirkland appeared on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert with Muddy Waters, Honeyboy Edwards, and Foghat. These were also the years that Kirkland again energized his sound. "Eddie's thumb pick and fingers style give him freedom to play powerful chord riffs rich in rhythms and harmonic tension. He plays like a funky pianist, simultaneously covering bass lines, chord kick, and counterpoint".A documentary short entitled PICK UP THE PIECES was made about a year in Eddie's life (2010) and it could be viewed on youtube.com up until Eddie's death when the family asked that it be removed. It followed Eddie's struggles as an uneducated African American trying to make it as a Blues musician and it chronicled his hard life that included taking three lives in self defense, his stint in the armed forces resulting in an unfair discharge, his struggles with poverty, his many children ( he claimed 73), and his love of music.
Kirkland died in an automobile accident on the morning of February 27, 2011 in Crystal River, Florida.