Today is the birthday of Steven Quincy Reeder, a.k.a S.Q. Reeder a.k.a Eskew Reeder, a.k.a. Esquerita (1935-1986). WHO?, you ask. Well that is why we are doing a post on him!
I have been curious about this personage ever since reading an article about him in the Village Voice in the late 80s or early 90s. (When you hear old curmudgeons like me gripe about negative change — like I did here — this is why. I learned about so much in the world through that paper, once upon a time. No more!).
At any rate, Esquerita was a recording artist whose career dates from the early rock and roll era. he is invariably spoken of in comparison with Little Richard, whom he may have influenced, and who may have influenced him — probably both.
Now: if you think about it, it’s surprising enough that the flamboyant Little Richard became a mainstream recording artist. But compared with Little Richard, Esquerita’s crossover potential was precisely zero. Check out the Kid n’ Play pompadour, the Jayne Mansfield sunglasses, and his sissified stance at the piano (like Little Richard, Esquerita was gay, perhaps more openly and unrepentantly so. He died of AIDS in 1986).
And his lyrics are hilariously risque. Here are some of his verses that make me smile:
Katie Mae’s a girl about six feet two
You’d be surprised at the things the gal can do!
Hey Miss Lucy, You’re too fat and juicy for me
Hey Miss, Lucy, You’re too fat and juicy for me
Every time I wanna rock, you don’t set me free
I’m getting’ plenty lovin’ cuz my baby she’s tops!
I’m getting’ plenty lovin’ cuz she always wanna rock!
I’m getting’ plenty lovin’ cuz I love her so
I’m getting’ plenty lovin’ cuz she don’t want me to know
I’m getting’ plenty lovin’, I’m getting’ plenty lovin’
Cuz my baby she’s tops.
Baby don’t you shake it like that
Baby don’t you shake it like
Cuz when you shake it like that
You drive me just as wild as a bat
Early rock and roll had a certain ambiguity that allowed it to slip by censorial instincts on the part of dee-jays and such. But Esquerita’s music was even less subtle than the stuff that preachers and politicians were complaining about. It less implied than outright SAID that these songs are about sex.
Also going against Esquerita’s entry into the mainstream was a certain roughness of musical execution. This is a quality I’m extremely forgiving of (because it’s how I play and sing), the quality you generally find in genuine rough-hewn homespun folk music. But even I notice in these songs that Esquerita frequently goes off pitch and often sounds close to laryngitis, the guitarist flubs notes sometimes, the piano often sounds out of tune, the drummer’s fills sound loose and sloppy like those in a stripper club band. The music sounds like what you’d be hearing in a smokey, low down bar in the wrong part of town. Only the most rebellious of teenagers would dare to play a record like this.
In the late 60s, Esquerita re-branded himself with other stage names and became increasingly obscure although he continued to perform in night clubs until shortly before he died.
Esquerita was not only ahead of his time, he remains ahead of OUR time, I think, and it’s likely that that will always be the case. Those are the people I like to celebrate above all.
Here’s one of his better known tunes, from 1959.
For more on the history of show business consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc