It’s not a great secret, but the spicy story of Eskew Reeder Jr., better known to the world as Esquerita, still requires a periodic retelling, the tale relating to newcomers that Richard Wayne Penniman aka Little Richard wasn’t the only wildly flamboyant piano rocker to inhabit the supposedly squaresville decade of the 1950s. But if that was the only reason to keep Esquerita’s name alive he would’ve been forgotten long ago. Fact is the man rocked with reckless abandon and his stuff holds up gloriously.
The life of the man known as Esquerita holds quite a few chapters, all of them interesting if too many fraught with darkness, desperation and (worst of all) an unhappy ending to ever translate into a big screen biopic, for the feel-good stuff all happens early and there’s no late in life redemption. The chronicle of this South Carolina native hits its highpoint with his one real chance for commercial success, the opportunity coming amidst the wild atmosphere of the decade from whence rock ‘n’ roll was born (or if you prefer was finally bequeathed with a name).
Due to the influence of Gene Vincent, Esquerita ended up signed to Capitol Records, where the label obviously hoped to repeat the same pattern of copycat success against Little Richard that they’d scored via Vincent’s Blue Caps in reaction to the retail juggernaut that was Elvis Presley. Obviously Esquerita came nowhere close to scoring a hit single, though Capitol can’t be said to have given up on him without trying. They even released a self-titled LP in 1959 and tossed on an exclamation point after this manic maestro’s name in hopes of stirring up some excitement in the marketplace. No dice sadly; the man was destined to be a solid if enduring underground figure.
Esquerita continued to haunt recording studios until the end of the ‘60s, mellowing his style and even using a different moniker (The Magnificent Malochi) in hopes of changing his chart fortunes, but by the next decade he’d been absorbed into the undiluted rawness of the old New York City subculture. When he was discovered playing a weekly gig at the nightclub Tramps by future members of the A-Bones Billy Miller and Miriam Linna, he was described as having suffered numerous hard life knockdowns, only to find himself back on the bandstand every Monday night.