"The farthest out that man has ever gone!"
The main source of the information provided here is Steve Kolanjian's liner notes for the Capitol Collectors Series compilation CD Esquerita(1990), although I have fleshed out the story using a number of other sources (see Esquerita Bibliography).
Esquerita was born Eskew Reeder, Jr. in 1935 in Greenville, South Carolina. He lived across the street from the young Jesse Jackson in the "Greasy Corner" community, and later went to Sterling High School (from which Jackson graduated in 1959). He was basically a self-taught pianist, and was accomplished enough to be playing in church by the age of 9 or 10. He spent his early years playing piano in E.W. Watson's Tabernacle Baptist Church. In his late teens, he dropped out of high school to join a gospel group based out of New York called the Heavenly Echoes, with whom he appeared on their Baton Records single "Didn't It Rain" in 1953.
Returning to Greenville after the breakup of the Heavenly Echoes, Esquerita established himself as the house rock and roller at the Owl Club on Washington Street under the moniker "Professor Eskew Reeder". It was there that he was 'discovered' by Gene Vincent's rhythm guitarist Paul Peek . On the strength of demos recorded at Greenville radio station WESC, Gene Vincent convinced Capitol Records to sign Reeder, who at this point changed his name to "Esquerita". A backing band was put together, including Tony White on bass, Vincent Mosley on guitar, Ricardo Young on drums, and a backing-vocal group from Atlanta called the Gardenias.
Demos with the new band were recorded at Sellers Recording Studio in Dallas, and then it was up to Nashville where a two day session on May 15/16 1958, produced the first Capitol recordings: "Oh Baby", "Rockin' The Joint" and five other sides.
As a gesture of gratitude to Paul Peek for helping to get his career on track, Esquerita wrote "The Rock Around", which became Peek's first solo single for the NRC label. Esquerita played piano behind Peek on both sides of the 45.
In August of the same year, another 21 songs were recorded in Nashville, a couple of which ("I Live the Life I Love" and "This Thing Called Love") feature the backing vocals of the Jordanaires who were in town at that time to attend Elvis' mother's funeral. Twelve ot the 21 were issued by Capitol as an LP titled "Esquerita!" in May 1959.
In 1962 , Big Joe Turner took Esquerita down to record with Allen Toussaint for Joe Banashak's Minit Records in New Orleans. Banashak was looking for a smoother groove, and consequently much of Esquerita's best, raw-edged Minit material was never released. In 1963 he moved to the Everest label, producing one single ("A Tear"/"Johnny Little"). Then later in the same year, Esquerita travelled up to Detroit, recording four songs for Berry Gordy's fledgling Motown label (none of which has ever been released). In 1964, he produced two 45's for Instant Records, another New Orleans label, and also in the same year he contributed piano work on a VeeJay remake album of Little Richard's greatest hits, playing alongside Jimi Hendrix.
In 1965, Herb Abramson of Atlantic Record's supervised a session for the Triumph label, but the material wasn't released for another 22 years, when it finally surfaced on the Bear Family Records' "Sock It To Me Baby" CD.
The next stop was Columbia's Okeh Records, where Esquerita put out another two singles as "S.Q. Reeder", and played piano on some of Little Richard's studio material (Penniman was also on Okeh at this time). In '67, Esquerita recorded "Dew Drop Inn" for Cross-Tone, another Columbia label. (check out The South's Swankiest Night Spot: The Legend of the Dew Drop Inn for some background on the song...).
Changing his name to "The Magnificent Malochi", he signed with Brunswick in 1968 (once again following close behind Little Richard). Only one single ("As Time Goes By"/"Mama, Your Daddy's Come Home", (featuring Dr. John on organ) and another composition recorded by Little Richard ("Stingy Jenny") resulted.
There were a couple of reissues of the Capitol material in the 70's: an album called "Wildcat Shakeout" released in England, and a French two-record package featuring all 28 songs recorded at the 1958 Nashville sessions.
Beyond that point, little is known about Esquerita's activities other than that he spent some time in jail at Rikers' Island under the name 'Mark Malochi'. In 1983, Billy Miller tracked down Esquerita for an interview in issue #3 of Kicks Magazine and discovered the Voola still active, doing occasional gigs in lesser known New York clubs. He died three years later, on October 23, 1986 in Harlem, and was buried in a pauper's grave.
Check out the Esquerita LPs and CDs and Esquerita Bibliography
And for those in search of some hard to come by info or recordings, or just in need of ranting on about the sheer greatness of the Voola, traipse on over to the Esquerita Talk and Trade board
© Copyright 2004 by Eric Squire