There is always more to Eddie Kirkland than meets the eye. Even though he is a confidently quiet, soft-spoken man, there is a veil of mystery about him. Born in Jamaica, August 16, 1928, Kirkland moved to Dothan, Alabama as a small child where he was raised. He was exposed to a wide variety of music as a child by his foster grandmother -- classical, country, spirituals, and the blues. In addition to his grandmother's records he would listen to the radio where he would hear shows like the Grand Ol' Opery every Saturday night. Eddie loved country music and counts Jimmie Rogers as one of his early heroes. You can still hear some of the singing brakeman's phrasing in Eddie's guitar solos.
At the age of 3 he used to drag his stepfather's guitar around the floor, trying to play it. He later saved enough money from picking cotton to buy a small Stella when he was about 9 and taught himself how to play. He also learned to play the harmonica and enjoyed dancing and entertaining anyone who would watch and listen.
Eddie was always fascinated with the medicine shows that would come through Dothan and when he was 12 he ran away from home by hiding in one of the tent trucks when the Sugar Girls Medicine Show was packing up to leave town. They discovered him somewhere up in Kentucky and asked, "what are we going to do with you boy?" Eddie said he wanted a job. After asking him what he could do, he jumped up on a table in the mess tent they were eating in and began to dance and play his small harmonica. He said, "the clincher was when I pocked the harmonica in my mouth then pushed on my chest and it popped out. I pushed again and made the harmonica blow. That did it," he said, "they just laughed." He got the job and they also found out he was a pretty good dancer so he joined the chorus line with the girls. After a few years on the road he eventually settled in Dunkirk, Indiana where he joined the army. From there he moved to Toledo, Ohio and even had a short stint as a boxer, but after he broke his arm and couldn't play the guitar for awhile that's when he decided to give that line of work up. He didn't want to mess up his fingers and hands so he couldn't play music, which he loved the most.
From Toledo he moved to Detroit where he started playing on the streets and at house parties. It was at one of these many house parties where he first met John Lee Hooker. He was about 19 or 20 then, this was right after the war in the late 40's. Hooker and Kirkland soon teamed up and headed south, scufflin' trying to earn some money. "We were like brothers," recalls Kirkland. Eddie would drive, write songs, and back Hooker up. Eddie had his first recording with Hooker in 1952. He continued to tour and record with Hooker throughout the 50's and 60's.
In the early '60s when he and Hooker split up Eddie moved to Macon, Georgia where he hooked up with and toured for about 3 years with Otis Redding. Hooker and Kirkland didn't play together again for almost 14 years when in 1976 while in New York they had a tearful reunion at a show Hooker was playing with Muddy Waters, Honeyboy Edwards and Paul Butterfield.
A bundle of energy on stage, Kirkland attacks his guitar strings with a vengeance and holds an almost death grip on his microphone as he plays, sings and blows his harmonica with a fierce intensity. Kirkland keeps himself in excellent shape and the way he moves on stage its hard to believe he is in his early 70's.
His band, appropriately called The Energy Band, opened with Freddie King's Hideaway, then did a T-Bone Walker and Albert King number before they called up the "Gypsy of the Blues," Eddie Kirkland. You can tell by the respect they show that this young band idolizes him. Kirkland, dressed in his red shirt, black vest and colorful headband, proceeded to play what has become a trademark opening song for him, "Everyday I have The Blues." Eddie has a unique stuttering guitar style with unusual chording and staccato bursts on the strings that ring out with a reverb soaked sound. He also has a powerful and very expressive voice. He probably could have sang even without a microphone.
Wanting to mix it up and keep close with his audiences he did a walk about the room playing directly to individual patrons. During the second set he picked up his harp and really got the house rocking. He even got into some soul and R&B at the end of the show reminding us of his days on the road with Otis Redding. Eddie Kirkland is definitely THE MAN. He is a real road warrior in every sense of the word, playing in dark barrooms and clubs all around the country. Often touring 11 months out of the year it won't be long before he comes through town again and I suggest you don't miss his next show.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Ray Stiles, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.