Let’s say you were around in the early days of rock and roll, and one night you just happened to catch the act of a flamboyantly-pompadoured black performer, pounding on the piano and singing with utter abandon. Little Richard? Not necessarily. You might have been watching Steven Quincy Reeder, performing as his alter ego, Esquerita.
Reeder, who sometimes called himself Eskew (or SQ) was one of the pioneers on the R&B side of early rock and roll. The South Carolina native (some sources list New Orleans as his birthplace) was a self-taught pianist who began his career in gospel music, but eventually moved into something very different. Using makeup and dressing in a flashy style, he also piled his hair high and wavy — even adding a wig at times — and completed the picture with rhinestone sunglasses.
Working in and around New Orleans and other parts of the South, he became a popular regional performer, and along the way inspired a few others; among them — it’s said — Little Richard. Although it’s difficult to confirm that as fact, especially since Little Richard hit the recording studio earlier, there’s not much doubt that the two performers had some similarities. Eventually Reeder was able to begin making some records of his own, and had good-selling platters with songs like “Rockin’ The Joint” (clip) and “New Drop Inn” (video below). Even though none of his records approached the top of the charts, his music — and his outrageous image — still grabbed a lot of attention.
As the years passed, Reeder often worked his way into a lot of good musical opportunities, appearing alongside a variety of performers that ranged all the way from Jimi Hendrix to Elvis Presley’s back-up singers, the Jordanaires. But even though he always had his fans, major stardom never came calling and he eventually began reinventing himself — again.
Performing as Eskew Reeder, he managed to record a number of songs in a style that was probably a little less outrageous than his earlier work, but still had plenty of zing. Among them was his rockin’ organ version of a song that had been a big hit for a guy I’ve written about before, Jim Lowe. Reeder’s take on “Green Door” was good stuff, and the same could be said about many of his recordings, but in later years he pretty much disappeared from the national scene. He reportedly died in New York in 1986, a victim of AIDS.