by Bill DahlA full half-century from when he started out in the blues business, Jimmy McCracklin is still touring, recording, and acting like a much younger man. In fact, he vehemently disputes his commonly accepted birthdate — but since he began recording back in 1945, it seems reasonable.McCracklin grew up in Missouri, his main influence on piano being Walter Davis (little Jimmys dad introduced him to the veteran pianist). McCracklin was also a promising pugilist, but the blues eventually emerged victorious. After a stint in the Navy during World War II, he bid St. Louis adieu and moved to the West Coast, making his recorded debut for the Globe logo with Miss Mattie Left Me in 1945. On that platter, J.D. Nicholson played piano; most of McCracklins output found him handling his own 88s.McCracklin recorded for a daunting array of tiny labels in Los Angeles and Oakland prior to touching down with Modern in 1949-50, Swing Time the next year, and Peacock in 1952-54. Early in his recording career, McCracklin had Robert Kelton on guitar, but by 1951, Lafayette Thing Thomas was installed as the searing guitarist with McCracklins Blues Blasters and remained invaluable to the pianist into the early 60s.By 1954, the pianist was back with the Bihari brothers Modern logo and really coming into his own with a sax-driven sound. Couldnt Be a Dream was hilariously surreal, McCracklin detailing his night out with a woman sent straight from hell, while a 1955 session found him doubling credibly on harp.A series of sessions for Bay Area producer Bob Geddinss Irma label in 1956 (many of which later turned up on Imperial) preceded McCracklins long-awaited first major hit. Seldom had he written a simpler song than The Walk, a rudimentary dance number with a good groove that Checker Records put on the market in 1958. It went Top Ten on both the R&B and pop charts, and McCracklin was suddenly rubbing elbows with Dick Clark on network TV.The nomadic pianist left Chess after a few more 45s, pausing at Mercury (where he cut a torrid Georgia Slop in 1959, later revived by Big Al Downing) before returning to the hit parade with the tough R&B workout Just Got to Know in 1961 for Art-Tone Records. A similar follow-up, Shame, Shame, Shame, also did well for him the next year. Those sides eventually resurfaced on Imperial, where he hit twice in 1965 with Every Night, Every Day (later covered by Magic Sam) and the uncompromising Think and with My Answer in 1966.McCracklins songwriting skills shouldnt be overlooked as an integral factor in his enduring success. He penned the funky Tramp for guitarist Lowell Fulson and watched his old pal take it to the rarified end of the R&B lists in 1967, only to be eclipsed by a sassy duet cover by Stax stalwarts Otis Redding and Carla Thomas a scant few months later. Ever the survivor, McCracklin made a string of LPs for Imperial, even covering These Boots Are Made for Walkin in 1966, and segued into the soul era totally painlessly.Latter-day discs for Bullseye Blues prove that McCracklin still packs a knockout punch from behind his piano — no matter what his birth certificate says.
  by Bill DahlA full half-century from when he started out in the blues business, Jimmy McCracklin is still touring, recording, and acting like a much younger man. In fact, he vehemently disputes his commonly accepted birthdate — but since he began recording back in 1945, it seems reasonable.McCracklin grew up in Missouri, his main influence on piano being Walter Davis (little Jimmys dad introduced him to the veteran pianist). McCracklin was also a promising pugilist, but the blues eventually emerged victorious. After a stint in the Navy during World War II, he bid St. Louis adieu and moved to the West Coast, making his recorded debut for the Globe logo with Miss Mattie Left Me in 1945. On that platter, J.D. Nicholson played piano; most of McCracklins output found him handling his own 88s.McCracklin recorded for a daunting array of tiny labels in Los Angeles and Oakland prior to touching down with Modern in 1949-50, Swing Time the next year, and Peacock in 1952-54. Early in his recording career, McCracklin had Robert Kelton on guitar, but by 1951, Lafayette Thing Thomas was installed as the searing guitarist with McCracklins Blues Blasters and remained invaluable to the pianist into the early 60s.By 1954, the pianist was back with the Bihari brothers Modern logo and really coming into his own with a sax-driven sound. Couldnt Be a Dream was hilariously surreal, McCracklin detailing his night out with a woman sent straight from hell, while a 1955 session found him doubling credibly on harp.A series of sessions for Bay Area producer Bob Geddinss Irma label in 1956 (many of which later turned up on Imperial) preceded McCracklins long-awaited first major hit. Seldom had he written a simpler song than The Walk, a rudimentary dance number with a good groove that Checker Records put on the market in 1958. It went Top Ten on both the R&B and pop charts, and McCracklin was suddenly rubbing elbows with Dick Clark on network TV.The nomadic pianist left Chess after a few more 45s, pausing at Mercury (where he cut a torrid Georgia Slop in 1959, later revived by Big Al Downing) before returning to the hit parade with the tough R&B workout Just Got to Know in 1961 for Art-Tone Records. A similar follow-up, Shame, Shame, Shame, also did well for him the next year. Those sides eventually resurfaced on Imperial, where he hit twice in 1965 with Every Night, Every Day (later covered by Magic Sam) and the uncompromising Think and with My Answer in 1966.McCracklins songwriting skills shouldnt be overlooked as an integral factor in his enduring success. He penned the funky Tramp for guitarist Lowell Fulson and watched his old pal take it to the rarified end of the R&B lists in 1967, only to be eclipsed by a sassy duet cover by Stax stalwarts Otis Redding and Carla Thomas a scant few months later. Ever the survivor, McCracklin made a string of LPs for Imperial, even covering These Boots Are Made for Walkin in 1966, and segued into the soul era totally painlessly.Latter-day discs for Bullseye Blues prove that McCracklin still packs a knockout punch from behind his piano — no matter what his birth certificate says.
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