Classics: October 2022

Eddie Quinn’s Gibson L-5
Classics: October 2022

Had you been a music-loving resident of Bogalusa, Louisiana, at the height of the jazz age, you would’ve caught wind of a young virtuoso who made the violin sound like angels singing and dropped jaws with his fluid guitar playing.

Eddie “Snoozer” Quinn, born in 1907, was a musical genius in the days before guitar amplification, so his name is known by only the most devout fans of jazz guitar.

After finishing high school, Quinn joined dance-hall bands that toured the South and Southwest, playing clubs in small towns and cities including Shreveport, Houston, San Antonio, Galveston, and even Nueva Laredo, Mexico. The bands included Mart Britt’s Sylvan Beach Orchestra, the Louisiana Ramblers, and Peck Kelley’s Bad Boys; bandleader Kelley gave Quinn the nickname “Snoozer” after joking about how he was so good he could play in his sleep.

By October of 1928, Quinn had moved back to Louisiana, and happened to be visiting a friend in New Orleans one night when The Paul Whiteman Orchestra was playing the St. Charles Theatre. His host attended, and afterward was boasting about Quinn with members of Whiteman’s band. Suddenly, Quinn found himself playing an impromptu audition for Whiteman, who at the time was one of the best-known bandleaders in the country.

“We know about that night thanks to the oral histories of early jazz musicians captured by the Tulane University Hogan Jazz Archive, and by memoirs of Johnny Wiggs, who played cornet in a band with Snoozer at the time,” said Katy Hobgood Ray, Quinn’s great-great niece and co-author of the new biography Snoozer Quinn: Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar Pioneer (see our review in this month’s “Hit List”). Johnny explained that Snoozer could shake someone’s hand while playing guitar with his left hand only. He played ‘Tiger Rag’ while shaking Whiteman’s hand and was immediately asked, ‘When can you come to work with me?’

“Snoozer’s early experience, especially on vaudeville and minstrel stages in traveling shows around the South, helped him develop skills like using hammer-ons and pull-offs with his left hand. And, he could entertain as a soloist, which would have been especially important.”

As with his other band stints, Quinn was with White man briefly, leaving before the end of 1929 (a June, 1930, feature on Whiteman and his 29-piece band includes Eddie Lange as sole guitarist and Bing Crosby, listed as a “Rhythm Boy”).

“There wasn’t really a place for Snoozer in that band,” said Ray. “Whiteman only wanted him for after-parties, to show off his tricks. But, one positive thing that came from the gig was that Snoozer got to know New York musicians who became fans of his incredible virtuosity. Higher-profile jazz guitarists such as Eddie Lang, Dick McDonough, and Carl Kress would hang out with Snoozer, listening to him play.

From 1928 through circa ’41, Quinn played a Gibson L-5.

“He was incredibly innovative. While most jazz guitarists of the day were using a plectrum, he pioneered a fingerstyle approach. And while his contemporaries had a linear style of soloing that came from the Italian mandolin tradition, Snoozer’s style was more akin to ragtime piano – he could play a melody line, harmony, and a rhythmic bass part at the same time.”

But of course, like other guitarists in the big-band era, Quinn and his instrument struggled to be heard above horn sections.

“Fortunately, record companies recognized he had something special,” Ray noted. “In 1928, Victor Records recorded him playing solo. Unfortunately, they didn’t believe the music would be commercially viable, so the sides were never released.”

In his prime and for most of his life, Quinn played a Gibson L-5. Though family lore doesn’t include how it was attained, Ray believes he bought it in Houston, New Orleans, or Shreveport, as he lived in all three during those years, teaching guitar lessons and hanging out in music stores.

“He had that guitar until 1941, and there are photos and even silent-film footage of him playing it,” Ray said. “I assume it’s what he played on the Victor recordings and a 1928 Columbia session with Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer. But, like that music, the L-5 is missing.”

There are professional recordings of Snoozer’s guitar work, but only as accompaniment in orchestras or with vocalists such as Bee Palmer or Jimmie Davis.

When he found it in the basement, Terry Quinn had no idea the guitar was his uncle’s Gibson L-0. “My mother told me to leave it alone because it might have Snoozer’s TB,” said Quinn. “But, I sprayed it down with Lysol and put new strings on it. It played good that day, and still does. It’s got a big, fat neck – comfortable for a guy with a big hand.”

Quinn spent the last two decades of his life in Louisiana, playing in orchestras and dance bands, doing solo spots for radio shows, and playing as a hotel-lounge “stroller,” going from table to table. Throughout his life and career, he forged friendships with top other bandleaders and musicians of the day including Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, and the Dorsey brothers.

“Even the great Les Paul gave credit to Snoozer for influencing his playing technique,” Ray noted. “Les said that Snoozer was the one who taught him to pull and hammer strings.”

By the mid ’30s, Quinn’s health began to decline, thanks in part to alcoholism and later, tuberculosis. While a patient in the TB ward at New Orleans’ Charity Hospital in 1948, Quinn was visited by former bandmate Wiggs, who was by then a music educator, having long been retired from gigging. Recognizing the importance of Quinn’s guitar work, Wiggs recorded him in a nurse’s lounge, using an acetate cutting machine.

Eddie “Snoozer” Quinn and his friend Louie Armstrong doing a ham-up instrument swap.

“Snoozer was gravely ill at the time, but those recordings offer insight on his musicality and unusual technique,” said Ray.

Quinn was just 42 when he died in 1949. The Gibson L-0 he used on Wiggs’ acetates spent a decade in the basement of a house belonging to Snoozer’s brother, Alton Quinn. Dusty and missing half of its strings, it was a mystery when rediscovered by Snoozer’s 12-year-old nephew, Terry. After Ray began researching Snoozer’s story, Terry asked her to become caretaker of it and his violin, and today they’re both displayed in her home.

“I play the L-0 sometimes at my own gigs, but I mostly play a Gibson B-25, which has a much smaller neck that suits my small hands much better,” said Ray.

Do you have a classic/collectible/vintage guitar with an interesting personal story that might be a good fit for “Classics?” If so, send an e-mail to for details on how it could be featured.

This article originally appeared in VG’s October 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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