Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Jerry McCain Still Got The Blues All Over Him

Harmonica player Jerry McCain who first recorded for Trumpet Records in the early 1950s continues to record today with recent efforts under the Music Maker Foundation’s rubric. Here are three reviews of albums by hot dating from 1993, 2000 and 2002 to showcase what a superb blues artist he has been and continues to be.

From Jazz & Blues Report December 1993 (Issue 187).

I Got The Blues All Over Me (Wild Dog Blues / Ichiban). [Ichiban issued several albums by him, and while this might be hard to find on a physical CD (Copies of unopened copies of this can be expensive), it is available for download.]

Harp legend Jerry McCain’s four decade career included sides on Trumpet and continued with a variety of labels. His recording, Steady, is a definitive harmonica instrumental, displaying his full-bodied tone, and subtle phrasing. While he has recorded quite a bit over the years for a number of labels, it often has been in spurts. This is at least his fourth album for Ichiban and may be the best yet, with the instrumental Tumblin’ in the Sea, showing that he still can play with the fat tone of his classic 45s, while other songs have him playing in a Sonny Boy II manner, as on Lucy Pearl, where he is backed just by acoustic guitar. He contributes original, oft witty songs, which he delivers in a slightly raspy voice. The studio band occasionally comes across as stiff, but this is a minor complaint. This is a solid effort, full of good songs, great harp and solid singing.

From Jazz & Blues Report September-October 2000 (Issue 247).

This Stuff Just Kills Me (Cello / Sire) [When this was issued Ichiban had stopped producing new CDs so the Music Maker Foundation picked up the slack. Unfortunately this seems to only be available as a collector’s item and not even as a download.]

One of the harmonica masters who probably has never received his due, Jerry McCain has a terrific new album on Cello/Sire that is part of the series of albums associated with the Music Makers Foundation. Since first recording for Trumpet in the fifties, McCain has produced a body of recordings that feature stellar harp, strong songs and fine vocals. Possessing a full-bodied tone and an irresistible swing in his playing, McCain’s instrumental Steady, has to be regarded as one of the essential blues recordings, while the flip side, She’s Tuff, may be best known from the Fabulous Thunderbirds rendition, but his original is equal to any cover. Madison Mood on this release gives full spotlight to his commanding harp tone and technique, being a wonderful atmospheric slow blues. He has remained a witty, contemporary songwriter who is not afraid to touch topical themes as he does on such tracks here as his anti-drug song, Ain’t No use For Drug Abuse or Mama’s Gone, where he comments on the effect on the kids of Mom not being at home. In contrast, on the title track McCain is celebrating his woman whose love is so good it drives him out of his mind. In addition to McCain’s soaring sax-like harp there is some terrific piano here, perhaps from the legendary Johnny Johnson, although Carl Sonny Leyland, heard on much of this is no slouch. (I am working from an advance copy without the personnel on each track). In singing about his own virility, McCain wryly notes he ain’t worrying about getting up or falling down as he is the Viagara Man. Producer Mike Vernon assembled a great band that includes Leyland, Leroy Hodges and John Primer with guest appearances from Johnnie Johnson, Jimmy Vaughan and the Double Trouble rhythm section. McCain is at top of his game here and the result is This Stuff Is Killing Me may be his most consistent and strongest album.

From Jazz & Blues Report September-October 2002 (Issue 259).

Absolutely The Best (Fuel 2000) [This reissue of his Jewel Recordings from the sixties will unfortunately be hard to find, but you may be able to find this used for a reasonable price. New copies on amazon from third party sellers go for about $40 or more. I do note that bluebeatmusic.com lists a CD by the late Jelly roll King, Frank Frost and McCain, Southern Harp Attack!! that is on the Japanese P-Vine label and contains 13 of the 15 recordings on Absolutely the Best along with 13 recordings for Frost for a price of $21.50, relatively reasonable for such material.]

One of the post war masters of blues harmonica, Jerry McCain has recorded steadily since the fifties when he first sent some demos to Trumpet Records. If he had only recorded Steady/ She’s Tough, his status would be assured because of the wonderful harp tone, his swinging playing and his wry, soulful singing. Somebody’s Been Talking, The Complete Jewel Singles on England’s Westside label, and available on Fuel 2000 in the Untied States as Absolutely the Best in the United States, brings together the six 45s that were issued on Stan Lewis’ Jewel label between 1965 and 1972 along with previously unissued renditions of Bill Doggett’s Honky Tonk. The material here is varied, including the wry She’s Crazy About Entertainers, a slow stop-time blues about his woman who would rather be with James Brown, Otis Redding or some other big star of the time, while Somebody’s Been Talking focuses on a nosy next door neighbor who is blabbing all over town. Toss in several New Orleans flavored numbers like I Don’t Care Where I Get My Loving, and Love Ain’t Nothing to Play With, some harp showcases like Midnight Beat and 728 Texas (Where the Action Is), named after the Jewel Records street address in Shreveport) and one has an entertaining collection. He does not play harp on all the tracks, and if his playing tone is not as tight and fat sounding as on Steady (perhaps he was not playing his harp through an amp), he shows his fertile musical imagination throughout. While not the best collection of his early recordings, it is welcome to have this available.

This reviews are so old but likely received review copies from record company or their publicity form.

1 comment:

Mike Rugel said...

Good to see these reviews again. Reminds me of some great music I tend to forget about.