Eddie Kirkland: ‘My first wife told me, ‘I bet you love that guitar better than you love me.’ The wife I got now, she told me the same thing. I said, ‘I love you, baby, but I love my guitar, too. If you walk out and leave me, my guitar ain’t goin” nowhere.’ I can take it everywhere.’

Transcending The Blues

Eddie Kirkland

August 16, 1923-February 27, 2011

Detroit blues legend Eddie Kirkland, 87, who played with the likes of John Lee Hooker and Otis Redding, was killed in an automobile accident On February 27 while doing what he did since the 1940s--“touring the country and playing the blues.”

Known as the Gypsy of the Blues, Kirkland never slowed down. He would tour the country by himself, even making roadside repairs himself on his vehicle when needed.

According to his website, Kirkland performed the last show he’d ever play on February 26, at the Dunedin Brewery in Dunedin, Fla., the final stop in a four-city run through the state.

The next morning, a bus hit Kirkland’s car, a 1998 Ford Taurus wagon, in Crystal River, Fla. According to police reports Kirkland attempted to make a U-turn at an intersection, putting him directly in the path of a Greyhound bus. The bus struck the vehicle on the right side and pushed it approximately 200 feet from the point of impact.

Kirkland suffered serious injuries and was transported by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital, where he died a short time later. The bus driver and 13 passengers on the bus were not hurt.

‘I got my own style. I’ve played the lowdown dirty blues, disco, rock 'n' roll, psychedelic, soul, funky, I’ve played country, I’ve done it all.’

Kirkland's first wife, the former Ida Mae Shoulders, preceded him in death. Survivors include his second wife, Mary; five daughters from his first marriage (Jo Ann, Jerdien, Bernette, Marlene and Vernadine; two sons from his first marriage (Charles Edward and Oldlan; three daughters from his second marriage (Dixie Renee, Yvette and Mary; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Kirkland was born in Jamaica and raised in Dothan, Ala. He was first introduced to the blues as a small child on a plantation in the late 1920s.

"Back then I had a little act,” he told an interviewer. “I put the harmonica inside my mouth and beat the ‘hambone’ at the same time.” His “little act” led to his first job in show business, at $20 a week ("that was big money back then, five shows a day"). He joined the Army during World War II but was bounced out with a dishonorable discharge for striking an officer. He headed for Detroit where his mother had settled and took a job at the Ford plant while trying to break into the local blues scene in his off-hours. Under the spell of Lightnin' Hopkins, Kirkland developed his own guitar style and began playing local bars and house parties, sometimes with Eddie Burns. It was on the house party circuit that he first encountered John Lee Hooker. Aside from his work backing people, Kirkland recorded solo records (sometimes billed as Eddie Kirk) with Volt Records, King Records and at Fortune Records. In 1961 he recorded an acclaimed full-length album, It’s the Blues Man!, with legendary saxophonist King Curtis backing him. He also made multiple appearances with ‘70s rockers Foghat. His latest album, Booty Blues, was released in 2005.

From 1949 to 1962, Kirkland toured and recorded with blues legend John Lee Hooker. In a November interview, Kirkland recalled his chaotic times on the road with Hooker.

“I would fight for him,” he said. “John couldn’t fight: He was a little-bitty man. I fought for him and I kept him from losing a lot of money.

"After a show, if he was with a woman or something, I would take his wallet out of his pocket until the next morning. He’d say, ‘Where is my wallet?’ I’d say, ‘I got your wallet right here in my pocket. I got it because you were drinking last night and they would’ve robbed ya.’”

John Lee Hooker and Eddie Kirkland, ‘It’s Stormin’ and Rainin’ (1952): ‘We hear Kirkland’s finger picking anticipate Hooker’s every move.’

Writing at his Houndblog blogspot in 2009, Jim Marshall noted: “Kirkland was one of the few guitarists who could second Hooker's unique style. Since Hooker kept to no regular meter he would drive other musicians nuts and made most of his recordings solo. Kirkland however was able to lock into to Hooker's unusual sense of timing, and on the early discs for Modern we hear Kirkland's finger picking anticipate Hooker's every move.”

By 1953 Kirkland had developed a full-blown individual style and cut some first-rate blues sides for King—“No Shoes,” “Please Don't Think I'm Nosey,” “Mistreated Woman” and “It's Time For My Lovin' To Be Done”—that sounded like nothing else coming out of the blues world. Six years would pass before Kirkland appeared on record again, on the Fortune label, and he made the most of his opportunity, cutting a powerhouse “I Must’ve Done Something Wrong,” with “I Need You Baby” on the B side. (The Yardbirds cut “I Must’ve Done Something Wrong” on their first album.) In 1960 Kirkland cut the first of two versions of “Train Done Gone,” this one for the tiny Detroit-based LuPine label. Other un-issued sides for LuPine later showed up on the Relic LP Three Shades Of The Blues. In 1961, he re-recorded “Train Done Gone” for Tru-Sound in New York City with a band that featured King Curtis on sax. Jim Marshall’s Houndblog entry indicates “an entire LP of material was cut for Tru-Sound and it's worth hunting down (it was re-issued by Red Lightning in the ‘80s), it's a killer, as much rock 'n' roll as blues, it's one of the best albums ever made.”

Eddie Kirkland, ‘Train Done Gone’ (1961) on the Tru-Sound label

In 1964, after shortening his name to Eddie Kirk ("Eddie Kirk is my Georgia name"), he was back at King where he recorded “It's Monkey Time” and “Hawg Killin' Time” with a group that featured Wayne Cochran on bass. A year later, Kirkland cut the tune for Volt in Memphis as “The Hawg Part One” b/w “The Hawg Part Two” on Volt, with Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn and Al Jackson Jr. from Booker T. & the MG's backing him. A second Volt single cut at the same session (“Them Bones” b/w “I Found A Brand New Love”) was issued the same year. For the next three years Kirkland was again without a label, during which time he relocated to Macon, Georgia, and signed with manager Phil Walden (Otis Redding's manager, later to hit paydirt with the Allman Brothers and his own Capricorn label). He spent most of the years 1965-68 backing soul stars like Otis Redding, Mabel John and Joe Tex.

In 1968 he returned to Detroit and to Fortune, cutting his third version of “The Hawg,” but retitled “The Grunt,” using his daughters as background singers. In 1972 Kirkland signed with Trix Records, a label launched by folklorist Peter B. Lowry and specializing in Piedmont blues. For Trix, Kirkland cut two powerful albums, Front and Center and The Devil And Other Blues Demons. The Complete Trix Recordings was released in 1999.

Eddie Kirkland, ‘I Love You,’ live in Oklahoma

Jim Marshall: “He spent twelve years in the New York area where he performed regularly before moving down to Florida. I never saw him put on a bad or lackluster show, and while the quality of his recordings took a dip after 1970, Kirkland was and is still a great and excitable live performer. He took to billing himself as ‘The Swami of the Blues,’ and sometimes as ‘The Road Warrior of the Blues.’ He somehow got himself shot in the head. Eddie Kirkland, who with one lucky break could have been a huge star, was reduced to making a living as an auto mechanic.”

After seven decades in the business, Kirkland told the Lansing City Pulse his style transcended the blues.

“I got my own style. I’ve played the lowdown dirty blues, disco, rock 'n' roll, psychedelic, soul, funky, I’ve played country, I’ve done it all,” he said.

“My first wife told me, ‘I bet you love that guitar better than you love me.’ The wife I got now, she told me the same thing. I said, ‘I love you, baby, but I love my guitar, too. If you walk out and leave me, my guitar ain’t goin” nowhere.’ I can take it everywhere.

"That’s what keeps me alive. There’s not many 87-year-old men driving as many miles as me.”

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