The line-up for this July's Pocono Blues Festival includes San Francisco warbler Sugar Pie DeSanto who will have as a special guest, Jimmy McCracklin. McCracklin who will celebrate his 87th Birthday a couple weeks after this festival is in his seventh decade as a performer. After World War II he stayed on the West coast where he mixed jump blues with the morose stylings of one of his big influence, Walter Davis. With guitarists ripping off single note solos and a tenor sax wailing on his jump numbers, his band's name the Blues Blasters was right on, yet he also could put down those doomy Bay are blues like contemporaries Jimmy Wilson, and Roy Hawkins (who had the original recording of The Thrill is Gone that McCracklin and Hawkins collaborated on.
What triggers this blog entry is my recent purchase of Blues Blastin': The Modern Recordings Volume 2 on English Ace Records. McCracklin has already a fair body of recordings when he was signed to the Bihari Brothers label and it was during this period that Thing Thomas joined the Blues Blasters contributing his slashing guitar. Its an interesting mix of material from Gonna Tell Your Mama, a cover of J.B. Lenoir's Mama Talk to Your Daughter; the doomy The Panic's On; the philosophical My Mother Said, with its lyric "When I had money, I would always have friends who cried, she said when you're down you got no friend, lord mother did not tell no lies," on which McCracklin plays some downhome harp; the rocking Blues Blasters Boogie, with its booting sax opening before Thomas takes a solo, opening simply enough before he takes off; That Ain't Right, a take on Jimmy Reed's You Don't Have to Go, with more harp from McCracklin; Darlin' Share Your Love (Oh Baby), a pleading vocal with Thomas guitar slashing through the braying horns; an alternate take of Deceivin' Blues, with some really solid piano and scintillating guitar which reworks the classic post-war blues, Sunny Road; and the rocking boogie woogie, I'll Get a Break Someday. This compilation also makes available Thomas' marvelous single of Lost Mind b/w Don't Have to Worry, with the earlier number being a slow blues with Thomas slashing guitar very much in a T-Bone Walker vein. Saxophonist Johnny Parker handles the insistent Tired of Everybody.
If McCracklin's career had ended with these recordings, he would have been well remembered, but subsequently he recorded prolifically for such labels as Mercury (Georgia Slop); Chess (The Walk), Art-Tone (Just Got to Know); Imperial and associated labels (Think, My Answer); then Hi, Stax, Ichiban, Bullseye Blues and Evejim, which omits some labels. He was able to adapt to changing musical fashions and still sound contemporary, yet the core of his blues remains timeless.
McCracklin certainly merits a multi-label retrospective and certainly I look forward to seeing this legend live, and hope his performance lives up to a quarter of my unrealistic expectations. May he keep blasting the blues for many more years.