Fird "Snooks" Eaglin, known as the "human jukebox" died on Wednesday, Feb. 18. He was 72. It was his mother's birthday.
Eaglin was known for his deft finger picking, plucking strings with his thumbnail, and for his astonishing repertoire of an estimated 2,500-plus songs.
Blinded by illness before he was 2 years old, Eaglin taught himself to play guitar at age 5 and formed his first band, the Flamingoes, at 13, along with teenagersAllen Toussaint and Ernie K-Doe. Eaglin was also a member of James "Sugar Boy" Crawford's Cane Cutters and played on its 1953 Mardi Gras classic "Jock-A-Mo."
Eaglin often played acoustic guitar for tourists on the streets of the French Quarter, where he met LSU folklorist Dr. Harry Oster. Between 1958 and 1961, Oster recorded several sessions of country blues with Eaglin, which were released on the Smithsonian Folkways label. In 1960, under the direction of Dave Bartholomew, the guitarist cut some sides for the Imperial label as Ford Eaglin. He also played on the Wild Magnolias' seminal, self-titled 1974 album and in the '80s and '90s put out several albums on the local Black Top label. His last studio album, The Way It Is, appeared on Black Top in 2002.
Eaglin was a frequent WWOZ guest. Before Hurricane Katrina, a live Eaglin set, broadcast from the Armstrong Park studio during Billy Delle's Wednesday evening "Records From The Crypt" show, was the traditional closer for the the station's annual fund drive.
Delle and Eaglin met in the early '80s and stayed close friends. Some nights after a club show, Eaglin would call Delle to let him know how it had gone.
"My wife would roll over in the bed and hand me the phone," Delle recalls. "I'd think, 'Snooks, I'm glad you killed 'em, but it's 3 o'clock in the morning.'"
Mid-City Lanes Rock 'N' Bowl owner John Blancher was also friends with Eaglin. He remembers a day in the early '90s, when he had taken his son to Eaglin's St. Rose home on a Saturday morning to cut his lawn.
"It was around noon, and I sat under his carport and drank Crown Royal and Coke with him," Blancher recalls. "I had my acoustic guitar, and I'd play a song, and he'd play a song, and I'd play a song ... and at the time I thought, 'Gee, if Paul McCartney and Robert Plant ever know about this they're gonna be jealous as hell of me.'"
Eaglin had been battling prostate cancer since September 2008, a condition he kept close to the vest. His last live performance was in July.
Eaglin is survived by his wife, Dorothea "Dee" Eaglin.