Skip Easterling

Listen to Skip Easterling on "Hoochie Coochie Man"

Skip EasterlingKnown far and wide as The Blue Eyed Soul Brother, James "Skip" Easterling is a true anomaly in the annals of New Orleans R&B; a white country boy whose blues-inflected vocal style gained him legions of black fans across the south during the late '60s and early '70s. Born in New Orleans but raised in Slidell, Louisiana (just across Lake Ponchartrain from the Crescent City), Easterling's love of music came early: when he was fourteen he talked his mother into driving him to Shreveport so he could witness Elvis Presley in action on the Louisiana Hayride.

Easterling's mentor was local blues guitarist Eddie Lang, who cut some stellar records for Modern, RPM and Ron. It was Lang who first brought Skip to Cosimo's studio and hooked him up with Minit/ Instant/ALON Records prexy Joe Banashak in the early '60s.

By mid decade, Skip—still in his teens—was holding down the organ slot at Bourbon Street's Papa Joe's, where he held forth in a legendary combo that included Earl Stanley and Joey Long on guitars, Freddy Fender on bass, Johnny Pennino on sax, Little Joe Lambert on drums and Joe Barry on vocals. Referred to in these parts as "The Greatest Unrecorded Band In The History Of The World," they took the stage nightly at three-thirty a.m. and proceeded to belt out the swamp-soaked rhythm and blues to a packed house of waiters, strippers, musicians, gangsters and general riff-raff, often until almost noon the next day.

In 1966, Easterling collaborated with Allen Toussaint on two sides, "All For You" and "Run Along To Mama," before Banashak appointed Eddie Bo his in-house producer. Although Skip had already garnered air play with some of his earlier discs, Eddie's involvement in the company's sound was when he really began to hit his stride. The first collaboration, "The Grass Looks Greener," was a bona fide soul masterpiece, and a hit in New Orleans thanks to disc jockey Shelley Pope, who played the hell out of it. After Bo produced the devastating ballad "Just One More Time," he had a falling out with Banashak and Huey "Piano" Smith was brought in to produce, resulting in a funk rendition of Muddy Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man" framed with an arrangement similar to those that Wardell Quezergue had recently crafted at Malaco for King Floyd's "Groove Me" and Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff." Tellingly, when "Mr. Big Stuff" held the number one spot on the national R&B charts, it was number two in New Orleans, just behind "Hoochie Coochie Man"!! On the strength of his hit, Easterling toured the South to packed and sold-out houses with the likes of Knight, King Floyd and Barbara Lynn. He even sold out the I.L.A. Hall in New Orleans, an honor generally only reserved for Chitlin' Circuit stalwarts like B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland.

Skip came back hard with "Too Weak To Break The Chains," another soul-drenched destroyer that harked back to "The Grass Looks Greener" and his days with Bo, as well as several other gems including a re-working of Willie Wayne's "Traveling Mood." Easterling later went on to become the organist in Freddie Fender's touring band but gave Fender his notice after the tragic bus crash that killed his old band mate Little Joe Lambert, who was playing drums in the group.

Easterling made a triumphant and long overdue return to the stage at 2004's Ponderosa Stomp, where he tore the house down like it was the I.L.A. Hall back in '71. All hail the Blue Eyed Soul Brother!!

Photo Courtesy of Bob Walker

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