Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Steven Quincy Reeder, 20 November 1935, Greenville NC; d 23 October 1986 in Harlem of AIDS) These biographical details are not certain but are all we have; researchers are still working on the mystery. He was an R&B pianist, singer, bandleader, also known as S.Q. Reeder, Eskew Reeder, The Voola, The Magnificent Malochi, The Fabulash. Self-taught on piano, he began playing in E. W. Watson's Tabernacle Baptist Church at age 9 or 10. He allegedly lived across the street from young Jesse Jackson, and attended Sterling High School in Greenville from 1947 to 1950, where Jackson graduated later, but dropped out of high school and eventually joined a New York-based gospel group called the Heavenly Echoes, appearing on their single 'Didn't It Rain' in 1953 on the Baton label. Sometime during this period Reeder was evidently on the road, and passed through Macon, Georgia.

Esquerita was known for a manic style and for wearing heavy makeup and two wigs, piling his pompadour even higher than Little Richard's. For decades the orthodoxy has been that Reeder was an influence on Richard. Early Little Richard recordings were made at WGST Radio Station in Atlanta, and they do not show the style that was to make Richard famous. Richard's first recording sessions in New Orleans for Specialty Records, still before Reeder had made any records, were not going particularly well, and taking a break from the session, producer Bumps Blackwell had gone with Richard to a local cafe, where Richard began clowning, jumping on a piano and singing a raunchy song, 'Tutti Frutti', in true Esquerita fashion. Producer Bumps Blackwell knew a good thing when he saw it, and a cleaned-up version of the song in that style soon set the nation's jukeboxes on fire.

Richard told Charles White, author of The Life And Times Of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock (first published in 1984), that he had met Reeder in his home town of Macon after he made his first record in 1951 ('Every Hour' was getting some local airplay). Richard was still learning to play piano, he said,

Then I met this guy, a piano player called Esquerita. I've never heard of anybody with that name before. I don't know where it comes from, but he really was SQ, too! SQ Rita. He used to joke about his name (you know, excreta!). But they said his real name was S. Q. Reeder.

Richard used to sit around the all-night restaurant at the Greyhound bus stop in Macon, because there was nothing else to do.

One night I was sitting there and Esquerita came in. He was with a lady preacher by the name of Sister Rosa, whose line was selling blessed bread. She said it was blessed, but it was nothing but regular old bread that you buy at the store. Esquerita played piano for her and they had a little guy singing with them by the name of Shorty. So Esquerita and me went up to my house and he got on the piano and he played 'One Mint Julep' way high up in the treble. It sounded so pretty. The bass was fantastic. He had the biggest hands of anybody I'd ever seen...I said, 'Hey, how do you do that?' And he says, 'I'll teach you.' And that's when I really started playing.

Returning to Greenville after his gospel career, Reeder established himself as the house rock'n'roller at the Owl Club on Washington Street as Professor Eskew Reeder, where 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 now used Esquerita as his stage name. The backing included Tony White on bass, Vincent Mosley on guitar, Ricardo Young on drums, and a backing-vocal group from Atlanta called the Gardenias. Demos were recorded at Sellers Recording Studio in Dallas, and then sessions in Nashville in May 1958 produced the first Capitol recordings: 'Oh Baby', 'Rockin' The Joint' and five others. In August another 21 songs were recorded in Nashville for Capitol; 'I Live the Life I Love' and 'This Thing Called Love' included the Jordanaires, who were in town to attend Elvis Presley's mother's funeral. Twelve of the 21 tracks were issued by Capitol, the album called Esquerita! in May 1959. It was to be his only proper album, as opposed to compilations or reissues.

Reeder also co-wrote 'The Rock Around' with Peek and played piano on it, Peek's first solo single for the NRC label. (This was also said to have launched the first incarnation of the National Recording Corporation.)

Big Joe Turner is said to have taken Reeder 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 Reeder's best, raw-edged Minit material was never released; he was using the name Eskew Reeder, and the singles released in 1962 were 'Green Door'/'I Waited Too Long' and 'Never Again'/'We Had Love'. In 1963 he released 'The Flu'/'Undivided Love' and 'I Woke Up This Morning'/'I Woke Up This Morning Part Two' on Instant, another New Orleans label, now calling himself Eskew Reeder Jr. The same year there was another single, 'A Tear'/'Johnny Little' on Everest, and he recorded for Berry Gordy in Detroit, but nothing was ever released. Around 1964 he contributed piano work to a Vee-Jay album of remakes of Little Richard's greatest hits, playing alongside Jimi Hendrix. In 1965, Herb Abramson (one of the founders of Atlantic Records) supervised a session for the Triumph label, but the material wasn't released until it finally surfaced on a Bear Family CD from Germany called Sock It To Me Baby.

The next stop was Columbia's Okeh Records, where there were two more singles as S.Q. Reeder: 'I Want To Know'/'Just In Time' and 'Tell The World About You'/'Two Ton Tessie'. He also played piano on some of Little Richard's studio material (Richard was also on Okeh at the time). Another single was 'Dew Drop Inn'/'You Better Believe In Me' made for for Cross-Tone, another Columbia label, in 1967 as Eskew 'Esque-Rita' Reeder. Changing his name to The Magnificent Malochi, Reeder signed with Brunswick in 1968 (once again following close behind Little Richard). 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.

Then he began to fade from the scene. 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 '84, 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, Bill Lowery, who had founded the National Recording Corporation in Atlanta in 1958 and was involved in the Peek sessions, was approached by Reeder on the street in New York in 1985 after a conference at BMI. Lowery confirmed that Reeder was down on his luck and working as a parking lot attendant, but was still as flamboyant as ever. It's said that he spent some time in jail at Rikers' Island under the name Mark Malochi. A few months before his death he was seen washing windshields for tips at an intersection in Brooklyn.

Compilations and reissues in various countries have included I Never Danced Nowhere! on Charly in 1990 (the 1962 New Orleans tracks), Sock It To Me Baby '94 on Bear Family (the Abramson/Triumph tracks from 1965), and Vintage Voola on Norton '97 (pre-Capitol tracks, presumably the demos, including the Paul Peek single). The original capitol album has been reissued several times; then a Best Of Esquerita in France '78 was said to collect all 28 Capitol tracks on two LPs; A French Fan Club label, an offshoot of the French indie New Rose, compiled all 28 Capitol tracks in a two-disc vinyl set in '89 called Believe Me When I Say Rock & Roll Is Here to Stay; this was available on CD as Capitol Collectors Series: Esquerita '90 and more recently on Collectables as Believe Me When I Say Rock & Roll Is Here to Stay. Ian Cranna wrote in Q:

Esquerita may not have been a particularly memorable writer nor did he have such a dramatic, swooping vocal range as his famous pupil, Little Richard, but there's an infectious raw Rhythm And Blues energy in his playing and pleasing vitality in his gruffer, more soulful vocals that sounds much less time-warped than a lot of other early rock'n'roll. Nor is it all frantic hammering and hollering--there's slower material and plenty of other instrumentation featured here too, all of which make this set thoroughly enjoyable in its own right.