Jimmy McCracklin, one of the most prolific blues singers and songwriters of all time, with a recording career that spanned 1945 to 2010, died Thursday (20th December) at¬†Creekside Healthcare Center¬†in San Pablo after a long convalescence. The Richmond resident was 91 and had diabetes, hypertension and other health¬†problems.
“He was the face of Oakland blues,” said promoter¬†Tom Mazzolini, who presented Jimmy McCracklin several times at his long-running San Francisco Blues Festival and took him on a tour of Japan in 1984. “He was probably the most important musician to come out of the Bay Area in the post-World War II¬†years.”
Jimmy McCracklin had been making records for more than a decade when he finally scored a national hit, “The Walk,” for Checker Records in 1958. Recorded in Chicago, where he and his band, the Blues Blasters, had been stranded, the self-penned dance-inspired tune reached No. 5 on Billboard’s pop singles chart and led to an appearance on¬†Dick Clark‘s “American¬†Bandstand.”
It was the first record by a Bay Area artist to place in the pop top 10 during the rock ‘n’ roll era.¬†The Beatles¬†later recorded a brief, impromptu version of the song during their “Get Back” sessions, but it was never released, except on bootleg¬†albums.
“His song ‘The Walk’ has been incorporated into many rock songs,” said Bay Area blues singer-songwriter¬†E.C. Scott. “Some of those people that used that riff don’t even know it came from Jimmy¬†McCracklin.”
One tune that utilizes the song’s distinctive rhythm guitar riff, originally played by Mr. McCracklin’s sideman¬†Lafayette “Thing” Thomas, is the now-standard¬†Freddy King¬†guitar instrumental “Hide¬†Away.”
“He disguised those sexual overtones,” Scott added. “In ‘The Walk,’ he makes you think it’s physical¬†ed.”
Other McCracklin hits placed high on the R&B charts between 1961 and 1966, including “Just Got to Know,” “Shame, Shame, Shame,” “Every Night, Every Day,” “Think” and “My Answer,” all of which Mr. McCracklin wrote. His most lucrative composition was “Tramp,” written for his friend¬†Lowell Fulson. It was a hit three times – for Fulson in 1967,Otis Redding¬†and¬†Carla Thomas, also in 1967, and for the hip-hop trio¬†Salt-N-Pepa¬†in 1987 – and has been widely sampled, by Prince and numerous hip-hop¬†artists.
Jimmy McCracklin was born¬†James Walker¬†on August 13th, 1921, in Helena, Arkansas. He moved to St. Louis at age 9 and as a teenager fell under the musical spell of¬†Walter Davis, a friend of his father’s and one of the most popular blues singers, pianists and songwriters of the¬†1930s.
“I remember,” Mr. McCracklin said in 2003, “my dad asking Walter, ‘How do you put all these truthful and lovely songs and good feelings about a human being together?’ The words he spoke to him I will always remember. He said, ‘I don’t put ’em together because of something that happened to me. I look at life in general. I notice other folks. What I write, I put the truth in there because I want to tell about what happened to me could happen to you or what happened to you could happen to me. This is the way I put my lyrics together. It’s real¬†life.’ “
After graduating from high school, Mr. McCracklin joined the¬†U.S. Navy, probably around 1938 before he was 18. “My mother had to sign for me to get in Navy,” he said. She had taught him to cook, and he worked in that capacity while in the¬†service.
After World War II, he divided his time between singing and boxing in Southern California before moving north to Richmond in 1947 . “I saw what was going on up there, and clubs was better to get jobs in,” he¬†said.
In 1992, Mr. McCracklin showed a Chronicle reporter his scrapbook, which included a letter from friend and former world light heavyweight boxing champion¬†Archie Moore. In the letter, Moore offered his praise of McCracklin’s musical career, “You wear your success with great¬†dignity.”
American blues artist Elvin Bishop mentioned the influence that Mr. McCracklin and his contemporaries had on his work in a 2005 Chronicle¬†story.
“I followed my old blues guys’ example – Lowell Fulson, Jimmy McCracklin,¬†Percy Mayfield¬†– to write about what’s happening in your life, “ Bishop said at the time. “They just put it out¬†there.”
Mr. McCracklin made one of his last appearances in 2010 at a 90th birthday celebration at¬†Biscuits & Blues, where he was saluted musically by Bishop,¬†Craig Horton, Scott and¬†Bobbie Webb, among¬†others.
He was preceded in death in 2008 by his wife of 52 years, Beulah McCracklin, and is survived by his daughter¬†Linette Susan McCracklin¬†and her children, Jimmy and¬†Sarah Busby. Funeral arrangements are¬†pending.
Lee Hildebrand is a freelance writer. E-mail:¬†firstname.lastname@example.org