Born James David Walker, 13 August 1921, St. Louis, Missouri
Singer / pianist / harmonica player / songwriter / arranger.
At the age of 89, Jimmy McCracklin is "still doin' it", as the title of his forthcoming 2010 CD states. Still performing and recording after an incredible sixty-five years in the music business. Born James David Walker, he experienced the divorce of his parents when he was still very young and Jimmy adopted his stepfather's name, McCracklin. He grew up in Missouri, moving to Ohio at the age of 16, in pursuit of a career in boxing. He achieved substantial success as an amateur boxer, but a car accident left him with permanent shoulder and eye damage, bringing his boxing career to an abrupt end. During the Second World War he served in the Navy, stationed at a base in Long Beach, California. After the war Jimmy opted to stay on the West Coast, settling in San Francisco.
In 1945, McCracklin teamed up with blues pianist J.D. Nicholson. The duo went into the studio to make their own dubs, which they hawked around to local indies. Jimmy's first single was issued by the Globe label ("Miss Mattie Left Me") in 1945 and for the next four years he recorded for a large number of tiny West Coast labels, several of which were owned by Bob Geddins from Oakland. A deal between Geddins and the Bihari brothers led to a new recording contract for McCracklin, with Modern Records in L.A. It was for this label that he made what were probably the most significant recordings of his early career (1949-50), though nothing charted. After stints with Swingtime and Peacock, Jimmy was back with Modern in 1954. By this time his band, the Blues Blasters, featured a new guitarist, the brilliant Lafayette Thomas (1928-1977), who would stay with him for fifteen years, replacing McCracklin's original guitar player Bob Kelton.
The first decade of his recordings (1945-55) was extremely diverse, ranging from slow unobtrusive country blues to exuberant jump blues. McCracklin mentions Walter Davis, a blues singer and pianist from St. Louis, as his main influence.
His long-awaited first major hit came in early 1958. McCracklin was broke ("we had just enough money for food") and saw how black rock n roll artists like Chuck Berry had great success. Jimmy always adjusted easily to changes in public taste and he decided to "lower" himself to the level of rock n roll. He wrote "The Walk", an exceptionally simple and repetitive song. According to Charlie Gillett, he made the record to prove just how easy it was to meet the simple taste of the rock 'n' roll audience. Released on the Chess subsidiary Checker, "The Walk" climbed to # 7 on the pop charts and # 5 R&B. The Chess brothers (Phil and Leonard) really promoted the record and wanted more. But apparently "The Walk" had been released without McCracklin signing a formal contract. Jimmy claims that the Chess brothers refused to pay him royalties. On top of that, a fictitious name ("Bob Garlic") was added as co-writer, as a means of snatching half of Jimmy's composition credits. Not until 1983 did McCracklin get back what was his all along : the legal rights as sole author of "The Walk". He performed his hit on American Bandstand and recorded more rocking songs like "Everybody Rock", but when the Chess brothers told him there was no money, he knew he had to go elsewhere.
Jimmy's next stop was with Mercury (1959-60), where he also cut some spectacular rock 'n' roll sides, such as "The Wobble" and "Georgia Slop" c/w "Let's Do It (The Chicken Scratch"), both released in 1959. "Georgia Slop" was revived by Big Al Downing in 1964 ; both versions are well worth collecting.
Frustrated by his experiences with Chess (no royalties) and Mercury (no promotion), McCracklin decided to start his own Oakland-based label, Art-Tone Records, together with Bob Geddins. With his first release for Art-Tone, he scored his biggest R&B success, "Just Got To Know" (# 2 R&B, # 64 pop, 1961). "Shame, Shame, Shame" (Art-Tone 827, 1962) also did well (# 17R&B). In 1963 he forged an alliance with Imperial Records (later the Liberty-Imperial-Minit group of labels) that led to his longest tenure with any company : seven years. In 1965-66 he had four major R&B hits (the biggest of which was "Think", # 7, an adaptation of the Checker recording "Later On"), three of which also crossed over to the lower reaches of the pop charts. These were his last chart entries as a singer, but in 1967 he saw his composition "Tramp" go Top 5 (R&B) in two versions : Lowell Fulson (the original, # 5), and Otis Redding with Carla Thomas (# 2). McCracklin was / is a prolific songwriter, with 265 titles in the BMI database.
After an excellent album for Stax in 1972, Jimmy McCracklin recorded less frequently, but he never stopped playing the clubs and from the 1990s onwards he has been a regular fixture on the blues festival circuit, even finding time to play the occasional European rock 'n' roll revival show. He has received several Lifetime Achievement awards and continues to enjoy a tremendous amount of respect in the entertainment industry.
- Official website : http://www.jimmymccracklin.com/ - Discography (by Pete Hoppula) : http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/jimmymccracklin.htm - Acknowledgements : Ray Topping (liner notes for Ace 720 and 993), Wayne Jancik, Bill Dahl (All Music Guide).
- Recommended listening :
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