Benjie White talks about jazz guitarist Snoozer Quinn

LISTEN: Benjie White talks about the “guitar whiz” Snoozer Quinn:

New Orleans Owls (jazz band) at Chess, Checkers and Whist Club, formerly Cosmopolitan Hotel. Musicians left to right: Mackie, R.; Rau, E.; Mackie, D.; Smith, M.; White, B.; Golpi, R.; Crumb, E. The band and spectators at right are costumed; possibly for costume party or Carnival. This photo and information is from Wikipedia (public domain).

New Orleans Owls (jazz band) at Chess, Checkers and Whist Club, formerly Cosmopolitan Hotel. From left to right: Dick Mackie, Monk Smith, Red Mackie, Benjie White, Rene Gelpi, Earl Crumb, Eblen Rau (standing behind Gelpi). The band and spectators at right are costumed; possibly for costume party or Carnival. This photo and information is from Wikipedia (public domain) and from A Trumpet Around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazz, by Samuel Barclay Charters.

On March 16, 1961, the New Orleans jazz man Benjie (Benji?) White was interviewed by Dick Allen and Paul Crawford at his home in New Orleans (103 Maryland Drive). At one point, White discussed the jazz guitarist Snoozer Quinn, whom he called “a whiz.” I have included an audio excerpt here for your enjoyment. The original interview is held in the oral history collection of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University.

White was a saxophonist and clarinet player (and he also could play violin) and one of the founding members of the New Orleans Owls.

Here is an entry about the New Orleans Owls on Red Hot Jazz. The Owls are one of the few New Orleans jazz bands recorded in New Orleans in the 1920s.

According to White, the other original members of The Owls were Red Mackie (bass and piano), Dick Mackie (cornet), Monk Smith (tenor sax and guitar), Rene Gelpi (banjo) and Eblen Rau (violin). Other early associates: Eugene “Jinx” Diboll, Fred Ogden, Guy Lyman, Earl Crumb.

Said White: “It’s a funny thing…. When we started playing, there were very few white bands in existence. Most all of them, good jazz bands, were really colored jazz bands. It was a little peculiar feeling for us to break into this jazz feel here, under those conditions… It was, because…except for the fact that most of us had had a year of college or so and were pretty well known in New Orleans….take most of those boys who were with us were from excellent families, … [we] didn’t consider it a livelihood, we considered it a lark. But the thing got control and became a livelihood with us, for quite a number of years.”

LISTEN: New Orleans Owls

Many thanks to the Hogan Jazz Archive for allowing me to post clips from their oral history collection. Bruce Raeburn, Lynn Abbott, and Nicole Shibata have all been wonderful in their assistance on my Snoozer projects.

More info: Wilfred “Benjie” White was born August 30, 1901 in New Orleans. Lived on First Street, Valmont, Pine, 1467 Calhoun Street,  Attended LaSalle, Williston in Easthampton, two years at Tulane University in the College of Commerce and Business Administration.

Eddie “Snoozer” Quinn was born on October 18, 1907

On this day, October 18, 1907, little Edward McIntosh Quinn was born in Pike County, near McComb, Mississippi. Born to Louis Benjamin Quin and Philonea (Fitzgerald) Quin (the spelling would change a few years later), Eddie was a middle child in a family with five boys. There was Richard “Dick” (born 1892), William “Willie” (1898), Robert “Hillary” (1901), Edward “Eddie” (1907), and Alton “Foots” (1913). In addition, a paternal niece named Fannie Quinn lived with the family for some time; she was Hillary’s age (1901).

Little Eddie was blessed with musical genius, and his talent would reveal itself as soon as he was old enough to toddle up to the family piano.

Worth mentioning about the baby is his slight birth defect, as it would affect him for the rest of his life: 

 “Snoozer was born—when he was born, they had to use forceps, and his head was lopsided like that from forceps; his head came almost to a point; he was a funny looking guy.” (Monk Hazel, New Orleans drummer.)

The Quinn family moved to Bogalusa, Louisiana around 1911, when Quinn was about three years old.   Bogalusa was a natural move – it was home of the Great Southern Lumber Company which in 1905 had established a train line called the New Orleans Great Northern Railroad to transport lumber products. And father Louis’ occupation, according to the 1910 federal census, was “car repairer” for the railroad house.

Interestingly, Philonea was one of four sisters, all of whom moved their families to Bogalusa around the same time, to settle within two blocks of one another. Clearly, Bogalusa was a viable destination for the region in the 1910s when America was transitioning from a rural farm economy to an industrial one.