New Orleans jazz players Frank Netto (trombonist, New Orleans Owls) and Godfrey Hirsch (vibraphonist for Louis Prima and Pete Fountain among others) discuss here their contemporary, bandmate, and friend Edward “Snoozer” Quinn. This oral history, collected by musicologists for the Tulane University Hogan Jazz Archive, helps us better understand what kind of player Snoozer was in his prime.
Godfrey Hirsch: Did you ever do anything on Snoozer Quinn?
Curtis Jerde: Do anything? You mean, interview him?
Frank Netto: Well you couldn’t interview him because he died before…You got any record… He died of TB in Charity Hospital.
Godfrey Hirsch: You have any information on him?
Curtis Jerde: Oh, yeah, for sure. Yeah.
Godfrey Hirsch: I think he was from Bogalusa. I think that was his home.
Curtis Jerde: I’m not sure if it was Bogalusa. F
rank Netto: But it was yeah, it was right across the lake somewhere.
Godfrey Hirsch: But he was a fantastic guitar player.
Frank Netto: Oh yeah, no doubt.
Godfrey Hirsch: He was a fantastic guitar player. He was with Whiteman.
Frank Netto: He had that side head there… his head was out of shape.
Godfrey Hirsch: He was with us out at Suburban Gardens with Earl Crumb. And he was just sitting up there just playing between sets, not with the band. He couldn’t play with the band.
Curtis Jerde: He couldn’t play with the band?
Godfrey Hirsch: Not well, no. Because I mean, he was not a chord player. He was a picker.
Frank Netto: Well, he played on “off band” with Whiteman for years.
Godfrey Hirsch: Yeah…. yeah…
Curtis Jerde: Oh, he didn’t play with Whiteman’s band?
Godfrey Hirsch: No, no.
Curtis Jerde: Intermission player, huh?
Godfrey Hirsch: That’s right.
Frank Netto: He was an intermission player
Godfrey Hirsch: Yeah, intermission player.
Frank Netto: Because he made his own tempos and he made his own variations, and he made his own tunes as he went along.
Godfrey Hirsch: He was the first one that started off with this, picking the melody with his fingers on the frets. I don’t know how they do it, but they can pick the melody with their fingers on the frets. With their left hand.
Frank Netto: I notice these bass players with the, the electric bass players today? They do that. You can see them around, they press the t fret down and the note will come out and they regulate their volume that way.
Godfrey Hirsch and Frank Netto were interviewed by Curtis D. Jerde and Richard B. Allen on November 10, 1986 in New Orleans, La. Courtesy of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University
First-ever book dedicated to Snoozer Quinn sheds light on the virtuosic jazz guitarist, with a biography, interviews, photographs, and musical transcriptions.
(May 23, 2022, New Orleans, LA)— For the first time ever, a book devoted to exploring the biography and musicianship of the enigmatic early jazz musician Snoozer Quinn has been made available to the public. Snoozer Quinn: Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar Pioneer, written by Katy Hobgood Ray and Dan Sumner, with a forward by Steve Howell, publishes on June 6, 2022, by Out Of The Past Music, LLC and BookBaby. Available in paperback (104 pages) and eBook, the book is available at snoozerquinn.com/book and on Book Baby and other online retailers. For bulk orders, contact Baker & Taylor.
A legendary figure
Since his passing in 1949, the legend of Edward “Snoozer” Quinn and copies of his rare deathbed recordings have been passed along through generations of serious guitarists like treasured secrets of an exclusive society. Truly a musician’s musician, Snoozer’s marvelous abilities have been extolled by his contemporaries who heard him play, and those who came after — including such luminaries as Les Paul, Eddie Lang, Danny Barker, Frankie Trumbauer, and Bing Crosby.
I met Quinn, the only boy who has it on Eddie Lang, I believe. – Frankie Trumbauer
Snoozer Quinn is the best of all time. – Danny Barker
I visited Snoozer at his house…. That’s where I learned to pull and hammer strings. – Les Paul
Who was this mysterious virtuoso Snoozer Quinn, and what is his place in the history of jazz guitar? He performed with Paul Whiteman, Louis Armstrong, the Dorsey brothers and many other leading musicians of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as country musician Jimmie Davis. But disfigured from birth and plagued by illness, Snoozer Quinn rejected the “big time” and lived out his short life in rural Louisiana. Working mostly before the era of amplification and the widespread acceptance of jazz guitar as a lead instrument, solo recordings he made for Victor Records in 1928 were never released.
Quinn would have faded into obscurity were it not for Johnny Wiggs who, in 1949, captured Quinn’s solo guitar jazz style for posterity. Quinn was in a tuberculosis ward at New Orleans’ Charity Hospital when Wiggs recorded him, shortly before he died at age 42. Even today, the performance of a dying man gives pause to musicians who wonder how he achieved his unusual sound. These recordings are vital to Quinn’s legacy, and that they only offer a hint of his talent and technique is both marvelous and tragic.
The 1949 deathbed recordings became digitally available for the first time in 2014, at last making Quinn’s music available to a worldwide audience.
Telling Snoozer’s story
Today, with the release of the book Snoozer Quinn: Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar Pioneer, Quinn’s life story is finally brought to light, along with an explanation of his pioneering style.
“Snoozer employed a unique approach to guitar technique to achieve the illusion of multiple guitars playing at once,” says co-author Dan Sumner, a Louisiana-based guitarist, arranger, educator, and music producer. “He played with the fingers of his right hand, not with a pick. His right-hand technique seems to have its roots in the country blues tradition rather than the classical guitar tradition…. he used combinations of adjacent open strings (usually diatonic to the key, but not always) as a way to keep the harmonic rhythm moving while he was shifting his left hand to a different playing position.”
Sumner includes eight transcriptions of Snoozer’s featured solo work from the hospital recordings, in notation and tablature, as well as discussion of Snoozer’s guitar technique, chord voicings, and musical language.
Quinn’s biography was written by Katy Hobgood Ray, his relative and fellow Bogalusan. Hobgood Ray constructed the biography through years of archival research, interviews, and family history. Also included are photographs, a discography, and a section of historical first-person interviews with Snoozer’s friends and fellow musicians, who offer further insight into his abilities and personality.
“I hope that this release of the hospital recordings and this book will bring about more interest in Snoozer, whose legend for too long has been shrouded in mist,” says Hobgood Ray. “I am grateful to Dan Sumner and Steve Howell of Out Of The Past Music for dedicating themselves to preserving Snoozer’s legacy along with me. We hope that Snoozer’s music brings joy and wonder to others, as it has to us.”
Transcriptions include: Singing The Blues, Singing The Blues #2, My Melancholy Baby, After You’ve Gone, Snoozer’s Telephone Blues, Snoozers Wanderings, Nobody’s Sweetheart, Clarinet Marmalade
Snoozer Quinn: Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar Pioneer Format: Paperback and Kindle Artist: Snoozer Quinn Publisher: Out of The Past Music, LLC/BookBaby (June 6, 2022) Language: English Paperback: 104 pages ISBN-10: 1667843419 ISBN-13: 978-1667843414 Item Weight: 1.11 pounds
About the Authors
Louisiana-based arranger, educator, and music producer Dan Sumner is an internationally acclaimed guitarist who performs and tours the world regularly with a variety of acts. He is a sponsored Benedetto Artist and owns and operates Fort Sumner Studio in Monroe, Louisiana, where he has recorded and/or produced dozens of critically acclaimed albums. He has taught music at Loyola University (New Orleans), Indiana University, Capital University, was Assistant Professor of Music Education and Guitar at University of Louisiana – Monroe and was the music director of the Kennedy Center Award-winning Lusher Charter School. He holds degrees in Jazz Studies and Guitar from Capital University, the New England Conservatory of Music with Doctoral studies at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
Katy Hobgood Ray
Born in Bogalusa, raised in Shreveport, and now living in New Orleans and Memphis, Katy Hobgood Ray has been chronicling Louisiana arts and culture since 2000. She worked as a radio host and content producer for NPR’s Red River Radio, and since 2014 has hosted the kids’ radio show and podcast “Confetti Park.” As a songwriter and musician, Katy is active in multiple genres including country blues, jazz, and Americana, and has performed at such festivals as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, French Quarter Fest, the Folk Art Fest, Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo, Beignet Fest, Creole Tomato Fest, and Fête Française. She plays music with the New Orleans-based children’s chorus Confetti Park Players and the Shreveport-based Friends of Lead Belly. Katy is the foremost scholar on the life of Snoozer Quinn, an early jazz guitarist and her relative. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Carleton College and a master’s degree in musicology (with an emphasis in New Orleans music) from Tulane University.
East Texan Steve Howell’s guitar playing and singing are very much rooted in the traditional jazz and rural acoustic blues genres born in the American South. His musical interests also extend to rhythm and blues, pop music from the 1950’s and 1960’s, and rock ‘ roll. His interpretations of tunes from these genres have been enjoyed by audiences in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Oregon, and Great Britain for over forty five years and lauded by critics from the United States and Europe who have unanimously praised his unique approach to breathing new life into time-honored songs from days gone by and reintroducing little-known gems of American music to a whole new audience. He has released ten CD’s and was the recipient of the Texas Music Academy’s 2011 Historical Significance Award. His recordings are in steady rotation on radio playlists in the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, Greece, Croatia, and Australia and on XM and WorldSpace satellite radio. “Fingerpicking Early Jazz Standards,” a set of fifteen of his fingerstyle guitar arrangements has been published by the Hal Leonard Corporation in 2018.
The new Jazz Archivist from Tulane University’s Hogan Jazz Archive is out!
It includes an update on the Claude Blanchard research project. Over the past two year I’ve taken a break from serious archival research to focus on creative projects, but I’ve done some research-related travel and interviews on the side. I’ve gathered some very special historical documents from Claude Blanchard’s descendants, including a scrapbook. This article (“Claude Blanchard’s Orchestra and Affiliates in Texas: An Update on the Ongoing Research”) discusses some of the research in 2014.
Thanks to Lynn Abbott for encouraging me to finish this article, even though the research isn’t finished. (I’ve come to realize the research is never finished.) But maybe someone out there will find something useful!
LISTEN: Benjie White talks about the “guitar whiz” Snoozer Quinn:
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.
A gem of the Jimmie Davis recording session of 1931 is “There Is Evil in Ye Children” — special because the song was composed by Snoozer Quinn. It’s a real Bible-thumper… the lyrics reveal the concern of a parson who wants to save young people from eternal damnation.
There is evil in ye children, gather round Lord there’s evil in ye children, gather round You go out and drink that gin, you’re so easy to give in, Lord there’s evil in ye children, gather round
Lord there’s evil in ye children, gather round (gather round) There is evil in ye children, gather round I know all of your emotions you must quit those foolish notions Lord there’s evil in ye children, gather round
Lord there’s evil in ye children, gather round There is evil in ye children, gather round You go out with good intentions, what you do won’t do to mention Lord there’s evil in ye children, gather round
Lord there’s evil in ye children, gather round There is evil in ye children, gather round You go out ’bout half past nine, nothing good is on your mind Lord there’s evil in ye children, gather round (gather round)
There is evil in ye children, gather round There is evil in ye children, gather round When you want your sins all drowned, come and see old Parson Brown Lord there’s evil in ye children, gather round (old Parson)
There is evil in ye children, gather round There is evil in ye children, gather round When you feel love’s temptation come to me and get salvation Lord there’s evil in ye children, gather round
The form and melody is based on the traditional folk tune “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” which itself is derived from a Negro spiritual called “When the Chariot Comes.” This is a rare example on the Davis recordings where Quinn displays his unusual two-guitar sound. You can hear it in the breaks: Quinn pays a melodic lead enveloped by a driving rhythm part. The sound is comparable to Big Bill Broonzy’s. Quinn exhibits a great country blues sensibility – a relaxed sense of meter, improvisatory melodic style, and bluesy embellishments – as well as fine lyrical abilities and a sense of humor.