Known as the Gypsy of the Blues, Kirkland never slowed down. He would tour the country by himself, even making roadside repairs himself on his vehicle when needed. On Nov. 19, Kirkland made his last stop in Lansing at Leroy’s Classic Bar & Grill; local blues guitarist Harry Oman, who was a close friend of Kirkland, booked the event.
According to his website, Kirkland performed the last show he’d ever play on Saturday, at the Dunedin Brewery in Dunedin, Fla., the final stop in a four-city run through the state.
The next morning, a bus hit Kirkland’s car, a 1998 Ford Taurus wagon, in Crystal River, Fla. According to police reports Kirkland attempted to make a U-turn at an intersection, putting him directly in the path of a Greyhound bus. The bus struck the vehicle on the right side and pushed it approximately 200 feet from the point of impact.
Kirkland suffered serious injuries and was transported by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital, where he died a short time later. The bus driver and 13 passengers on the bus were not hurt.
Kirkland was born in Jamaica and raised in Dothan, Ala. He was first introduced to the blues as a small child on a plantation in the late 1920s.
After moving to Detroit in 1942, he plugged into the emerging blues scene. Aside from his work backing people, Kirkland recorded solo records (sometimes billed as Eddie Kirk) with Volt Records, King Records and at Fortune Records. In 1961 he recorded an acclaimed full-length album, “It’s the Blues Man!,” with legendary saxophonist King Curtis backing him. He also made multiple appearances with ‘70s rockers Foghat. His latest album, “Booty Blues,” was released in 2005.
From 1949 to 1962, Kirkland toured and recorded with blues legend John Lee Hooker. In a November interview, Kirkland recalled his chaotic times on the road with Hooker.
“I would fight for him,” he said. “John couldn’t fight: He was a little-bitty man. I fought for him and I kept him from losing a lot of money.
"After a show, if he was with a woman or something, I would take his wallet out of his pocket until the next morning. He’d say, ‘Where is my wallet?’ I’d say, ‘I got your wallet right here in my pocket. I got it because you were drinking last night and they would’ve robbed ya.’”
After seven decades in the business, Kirkland told the City Pulse his style transcended the blues.
“I got my own style. I’ve played the lowdown dirty blues, disco, rock ’n’ roll, psychedelic, soul, funky, I’ve played country — I’ve done it all,” he said.
“My first wife told me, ‘I bet you love that guitar better than you love me.’ The wife I got now, she told me the same thing. I said, ‘I love you, baby, but I love my guitar, too. If you walk out and leave me, my guitar ain’t goin’ nowhere.’ I can take it everywhere.
"That’s what keeps me alive. There’s not many 87-year-old men driving as many miles as me.”