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Esquerita was the stage name of singer, songwriter and pianist Eskew Reeder Jr, originally known as Steven Quincy Reeder Jr. and also known as S.Q. Reeder and SQ Jr. A native of Greenville, South Carolina, he was born on November 20, 1935, and died in Harlem, New York on October 23, 1986, aged 50, of AIDS. He is credited with influencing rock and roll pioneer Little Richard, though the extent and nature of Reeder's influence or vice-versa is uncertain.
Eskew Reeder attended Sterling High School in Greenville from 1947 to 1950.
Reeder was a self-taught piano player whose roots were in gospel music. His music career started as a teenager, when he dropped out of high school and joined the gospel group "Heavenly Echoes" based in New York City.
The question of Reeder's influence on Little Richard (Richard Penniman) is complicated by the fact that Reeder did not record until after Little Richard's initial mid-1950s recordings for RCA and Back Beat labels, which makes it unclear that Esquerita influenced Richard stylistically. However, early Little Richard recordings made at WGST Radio Station in Atlanta do not show the style that was to make Little Richard famous.
Little Richard also had not intended to use what came to be his (and Esquerita's) characteristic style during his first New Orleans session for Specialty Records. The session producer, Robert "Bumps" Blackwell had been unhappy with Penniman's initial songs on the session, so, taking a break from recording, he went with Richard to a local cafe, where Richard jumped on a piano and began singing an X-rated version of "Tutti Frutti", in true Esquerita fashion. Blackwell felt that a cleaned-up version of the song with the same style of presentation would be just what his boss Art Rupe was looking for, and this song launched Little Richard's career in 1955.
Reeder's first solo studio recordings came about when Paul Peek got him to record some demos at a Greenville radio station (WESC) around 1958. At that time, Peek was a member of the rockabilly group The Blue Caps, led by manic performer Gene Vincent. Peek even co-wrote "The Rock-Around" with Reeder, and Reeder played piano on the 1958 recording that launched the NRC (National Recording Corporation) label. From these contacts and Paul Peek's influence with Capitol Records came a record contract for Reeder; Cub Koda described the results as "some of the most untamed and unabashed sides ever issued by a major label." At this point, Eskew Reeder, Jr. adopted the stage name Esquerita.
The ensuing years found Reeder cutting several singles with various backing musicians in studios in Nashville, Dallas, New Orleans and Detroit. Capitol Records released the LP Esquerita in 1959, his only album in the traditional sense (that is, not a compilation of earlier singles, or re-issues). Some of the musicians he recorded with during this era included Jimi Hendrix, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, and The Jordanaires (Elvis Presley's backup singers). His best known songs from this time include: "Hey Miss Lucy", "Get Back Baby", "Getting’ Plenty of Lovin’", "Rockin’ the Joint", and "Oh Baby". In 1963, he recorded a session for Berry Gordy's Motown Records but the recordings were never released.
In 1968, Reeder changed his name to The Magnificent Malochi and signed with Brunswick Records. He played keyboards on "Takin' Care Of Business" by John Hammond in 1970. Shortly after this, he began to fade from the music scene, but Linda Hopkins released a song written by Reeder called "Seven Days and Seven Nights" in 1973. Around this time, Esquerita formed a new group, consisting of Charles Neville (the saxophone player of The Neville Brothers) who then resided in Brooklyn, New York, and drummer Jerry Katz of Queens, New York. They and a few other musicians played a steady gig at Tommy Smalls Night Club on 50th Street and 8th Avenue in New York City. Several months later the group disbanded.
According to an interview with Billy Miller and Miriam Linna in the ReSearch book Incredibly Strange Music, Reeder occasionally performed at African-American gay clubs under the name Fabulash during the 1970s. He was eventually tracked down by a writer for Kicks Magazine in 1983 or 1984, who found him performing in second-rate New York City clubs. According to an article ("Who Was Esquerita?") by music historian Johnny Carter in an international oldies magazine, music maven Bill Lowery (who originated National Recording Corporation and was involved in the Peek sessions for NRC) was approached by Esquerita on the street in New York in 1985 after a conference at Broadcast Music, Inc.. Lowery confirmed that Esquerita was down on his luck and was working as a parking lot attendant but was still as flamboyant as ever. A few months before his death he was seen washing windshields of cars for tips at an intersection in Brooklyn, NY. In this same article, Esquerita's father, Eskew Reeder Sr., said that his son had died of complications brought on by AIDS in 1986. Esquerita's father (who was born on March 25, 1907) died in February 1989, a little over two years after his son Esquerita's death. Eskew Sr.'s last known residence was Simpsonville, South Carolina.
On March 13, 2012, it was announced that Norton Records will be releasing a new single and new album by Esquerita entitled Sinner Man: The Lost Session. These will include unreleased recordings that were recorded during a session in New York City in June 1966.
Mick Jones (of The Clash) wrote and recorded a song called "Esquerita" with his band Big Audio Dynamite which appeared on the group's Tighten Up Vol. 88 album from 1988. Alternative rock band Lyres recorded their own version of Esquerita's song "Gettin' Plenty Lovin'" which was released on Norton Records in 1992.
Esquerita was an influence on zydeco performer Lynn August, who played drums for Esquerita in the early 1960s. At the age of 12, August was playing drums for Fats Junior who happened to be opening a show for Esquerita, who let August play a couple of songs with him. After Esquerita spoke with August's mom, he was hired as Esquerita's drummer and played with Esquerita for three years, mostly around New Orleans. August said that Esquerita was playing an organ with pedals and only carried a drummer because he was such a great entertainer. Esquerita also encouraged August to take up piano. Lynn August later became known for his accordion playing. When Esquerita left New Orleans around 1963, August joined Jay Nelson's band from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. August later recorded his own version of Esquerita's song "Undivided Love" which appears on his Creole Cruiser album from 1992.