Eddie “Hawg Man” Kirkland, a Macon-based blues artist renowned for his old-school authenticity, touring stamina, and acrobatic showmanship, was killed in a traffic accident near Crystal River, Florida, where he was wrapping up a sold-out, four-city tour. The 87-year-old performer was driving home when he turned into the path of a Greyhound bus.
“Eddie was a uniquely versatile blues player who sometimes shifted into psychedelic rock with his slide guitar and assortment of pedals,” says his business manager, Gary Montgomery, noting that Stevie Ray Vaughan had studied Kirkland’s idiosyncratic timing.
In a career spanning eight decades, Kirkland influenced and played with a roster of legends, including Otis Redding, Little Richard, Ben King, Ruth Brown, Elmore James, and Little Johnnie Taylor. He recorded with Foghat and toured for seven and a half years with John Lee Hooker.
“Eddie really developed the ‘Hooker sound’ on guitar,” Montgomery says, and the bluesman’s nimble stunt-work on stage — leaping from balconies and turning somersaults, even as an octogenarian — awed crowds.
Born in Jamaica to a teen-age mother who emigrated to Alabama, Kirkland liked to say “the music got into me” in the cotton fields, where he claimed that, as an infant, he used a harmonica to charm a rattlesnake, his first audience. Desperate to escape the privations of Dothan, he stowed away in a trunk of the Silas Green from New Orleans traveling tent show and woke up in Indiana, where his audacious charisma — “I can buck-dance, blow the harp, and beat the hambone!”– landed him a job alongside the fabled “Sugar Girl” chorines.
Kirkland kept traveling for the rest of his life, touring the United States and Europe at least 42 weeks a year, earning the moniker “Gypsy of the Blues.” He made Central Georgia his base in 1962.
“No blues in Macon when I came,” Kirkland said in an interview a few years before his death. He was sporting his trademark turban, gris-gris amulets, and Cuban heels. “I was funky before James Brown was funky.”
He cut his first album with King Curtis and later enjoyed a hit with “The Hawg,” released by Stax/Volt in the mid-1960s. Kirkland’s peripatetic life is the subject of a recently released documentary, the affecting “Pick Up the Pieces,” by Macon native Sarah Barnes, who calls him “a national treasure.” He was ranked among the “Top 10 Living Blues Musicians” last year in Living Blues magazine.
The vigorous Kirkland often boasted that he had “fathered 73 children.” He is survived by his wife, Mary, and numerous offspring.