ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Jimmy McCracklin Panic's OnModern Recordings, Vol. 2: Blues Blastin'
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 1
Jimmy McCracklin Double DealingHigh On The Blues
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 2
Jimmy McCracklin Come on Home (Back Where You Belong)I Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin She Felt Too GoodBlast 'em Dead!
Jimmy McCracklin Every Night, Every DayThe Walk: Jimmy McCracklin at His Best
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 3
Jimmy McCracklin Blues Blasters BoogieModern Recordings, Vol. 2: Blues Blastin'
Jimmy McCracklin Steppin' Up In ClassI Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin Deceivin' The Modern Recordings 1948-1950
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 4
Jimmy McCracklin I Don't CareI Had to Get with It: The Best of the Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin ThinkI Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin Just Got To KnowI Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 5
Jimmy McCracklin What's Going OnI Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Percy Mayfield Strange Things HappeningPoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield Highway Is Like A WomanPercy Mayfield Sings
Percy Mayfield Stranger In My HometownHis Tangerine and Atlantic Sides
Percy Mayfield My BluesMemory Pain
Percy Mayfield To Me Your Name Is LoveWalking on a Tightrope
Percy Mayfield The Devil Made Me Do ItBlues … And Then Some
Percy Mayfield Please Send Me Someone to LovePoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield My Jug And IHis Tangerine and Atlantic Sides
Percy Mayfield The Big QuestionPoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield Lost MindPoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield My Mind Is Trying To Leave MeWalking on a Tightrope
Percy Mayfield I Don't Want To be PresidentHis Tangerine and Atlantic Sides
Percy Mayfield The River's InvitationPoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield Weakness Is A Thing Called ManWeakness Is A Thing Called Man

Show Notes:

Today we spotlight two key figures of the post-war West coast scene, Jimmy McCracklin who passed just a few weeks back, and his contemporary, singer Percy Mayfield. In his heyday, from the late 40's through the 60's, Jimmy McCracklin led one of the toughest, hardest rocking blues bands on the West Coast. He was a prolific and witty composer, a fine singer/pianist and along the way scored a number of hits on the charts. Still he remains something of a neglected figure and his stature seems to have always been higher in the black community. It's not hard to see why Percy Mayfield has been so frequently covered and so often mentioned with admiration among his fellow blues singers; he was a master of the moody blues ballad, he had flawless timing and phrasing and as a writer his songs had a frank, penetrating insight into the dark, complex side of the human condition. While his hits were confined to the 50's, Mayfield cut a superb body of work through the 70's.

Jimmy McCracklin: Stinger Man

Jimmy McCracklin grew up in Missouri and spent his formative years in St. Louis. His earliest musical influence was pianist Walter Davis who his father took him to see as a youngster. "He could just shake me up", said McCracklin, "he was beautiful." McCracklin was a promising light heavyweight boxer and starting in 1938 spent time in the Navy during World War II. He left St. Louis and moved to the West Coast in the mid-40's. His first blues efforts were self financed recordings, making his recorded debut for the Globe logo with "Miss Mattie Left Me" in 1945. On that waxing, J.D. Nicholson played piano but afterwards most of McCracklin's output found him handling his own piano chores.

McCracklin formed his own trio, the Blues Blasters, in 1946 along with guitarist Robert Kelton and drummer Little Red. The first records under his own name were issued in 1948 on the Trilon record label with subsequent records issued on a number of tiny L.A. labels such as Down Town before landing with Modern in 1949-50, Swing Time the next year, and Peacock in 1952-54. Gradually the group was enlarged to include a full rhythm section and horns with more emphasis on the beat and plenty of honking sax. Lafayette "Thing" Thomas started playing with the band in the late 40's eventually replacing Kelton and his blistering guitar work would remain a prime ingredient in McCracklin's combo into the early '60s. By the early 50's he had a tight five piece group and was accompanying a variety of West Coast artists while gaining a strong local reputation, particularly at the Club Savoy in Richmond. The club scene was hopping in Oakland, Richmond and San Francisco with popular blues spots like the Rhumboogie, Three Sisters, Esther's Orbit Room, Shelton's Blue Mirror and Club Long Island offering steady employment.

By 1954, the pianist was back with Modern and cut a series of sessions for Bay Area producer Bob Geddins' Irma label in 1956 (many of which later turned up on Imperial). "The Walk," a rudimentary dance number with a good groove was issued on the Chess subsidiary Checker Records in 1958. The song hit big reaching number five on the R&B charts and also cracking the top ten on the pop charts. He left Chess after a few more 45's, stopping briefly at Mercury (where he cut the sizzling "Georgia Slop" in 1959, later revived by Big Al Downing) before forming his own record label in 1961, Art-Tone, scoring a big hit with "Just Got to Know." A similar follow-up, "Shame, Shame, Shame," also did well for him the next year. Those sides eventually resurfaced on Imperial whom he signed onto in 1965. He hit twice in 1965 with "Every Night, Every Day" (later covered by Magic Sam), "Think" and "My Answer" in 1966.Jimmy McCracklin: The Walk

He penned the funky "Tramp" for fellow West Coast bluesman Lowell Fulson who took it to the top of the R&B charts in 1967, only to be eclipsed by a duet cover by Stax stars Otis Redding and Carla Thomas a few months later. McCracklin went on to cut a string of LP's for Imperial, changing his sound just enough to effortlessly slip into the soul era. He signed with Stax Records in 1971 cutting the excellent album Yesterday is Gone, which was released on CD in 1992 as High on the Blues. In the 90's McCracklin recorded a pair of strong records for the Bullseye Blues label and in 1999 cut Tell It to the Judge! on Gunsmoke. He was still performing into the 2000's and I was thrilled when I got a chance to meet him and see him perform at the 2008 Pocono Blues Festival.

It's not hard to see why Percy Mayfield has been so frequently covered and so often mentioned with admiration among his fellow blues singers; he was a master of the moody blues ballad, he had flawless timing and phrasing and as a writer his songs had a frank, penetrating insight into the dark, complex side of the human condition. Songs like "River's Invitation", "Please Send Me Someone To Love", "Life Is Suicide", "My Jug And I" and "Stranger In My Own Home Town', to name just a few, were adult songs for adult listeners, filled with a darkly hued, poetic sensibility, devilish wit and hipster coolness.

As Percy Mayfield told an interviewer "Well, my native home was in Louisiana. I was born in Minden, Louisiana, August the twelfth, 1920. …And I came to California in 42'. I was properly raised in Houston. See, I went everywhere. But I never did anything like show business around there before I came to L.A. I just wanted to be a songwriter. You see, I been singin' all my life, when I was a boy growin' up I was singin' in choirs and things…" He tried his hand as a singer with the local band of George Comeau. The vocal part did not lead to success but he had written a song called "Two Years Of Torture" and with it hoped to provide a successful hit for blues and jazz vocalist Jimmy Witherspoon. He went to Al Patrick's Supreme Records label in L.A. and the folks there thought Mayfield's demo of the tune sounded good enough to be recorded by them. It was released in late 1949. Through the early months of 1950 "Two Years Of Torture" was a steady seller in California, especially in Los Angeles. By July of the year the recording master was picked up by local music entrepreneur John Dolphin and re-released on his Recorded In Hollywood label.

Percy Mayfield
Percy Mayfield

Art Rupe was impressed enough to sign Mayfield to an exclusive recording contract with his label Specialty Records. The first release for the label by Mayfield is "Please Send Me Someone To Love" backed with "Strange Things Happen." The record eventually climbed to number one on the R&B charts. By November Mayfield was a top draw in the Los Angeles area. Rupe signed Mayfield to a new five year contract. The hits came steadily as Mayfield scored with "Strange Things Happening" (#7 R&B), "Lost Love" (#2 R&B) "What a Fool I Was" (#8 R&B), "Prayin' for Your Return" (#9 R&B), "Cry Baby" (#9 R&B), and "Big Question" (#6 R&B ) cementing his reputation as one of the blues premier balladeers.

In September of 1952 while returning to Los Angeles from a date in Las Vegas, Mayfield was seriously injured in an auto accident. His career was put on hold while a long recuperation period began. A tragic result of the accident was the serious disfigurement of Mayfield's facial features which which had a profound effect on him. Even though his touring was drastically curtailed after the accident, Mayfield hung in there as a Specialty artist through 1954, switching to Chess in 1955-56 and Imperial in 1959. Around this time Mayfield went around to various labels with a song he had written. The song was called "Hit The Road, Jack", and it came to the attention of Ray Charles who was also starting his own record label called Tangerine. Charles hired on Mayfield as a writer and also gave him a chance to record for the label.

Mayfield penned some prime material for Ray Charles in the 60's including "Hide Nor Hair," "The Danger Zone," "My Baby Don't Dig Me", "At The Club", "On The Other Hand, Baby" among others. He recorded two LP's for Tangerine (with the Ray Charles band), My Jug And I and Bought Blues. This was a particularly fertile period that found Mayfield waxing gems like a funky remake of "River's Invitation" which hit #25 on the charts, the autobiographical "Stranger In My Own Home Town”, harrowing tales about his bout with alcoholism on "My Bottle Is My Companion" and "My Jug And I" and his last chart hit, the humorous "I Don't Want To Be President" (#64 R&B) released in September 1974 on Atlantic the month before Nixon resigned. Mayfield's Tangerine sides have been collected on Rhino's limited addition His Tangerine And Atlantic Sides.

Percy Mayfield: River's InvitationAfter leaving Tangerine in the late sixties Mayfield recorded a fine album for Brunswick in in 1968 called Walking on a Tightrope. Featuring guitarist Wayne Bennett and a strong band, Mayfield is in top form on the title track plus gems like "May Pain Is Here To Stay" and "P.M. Blues." In 1970 he signed to RCA Victor cutting three albums for the label: Blues…And Then Some, Percy Mayfield Sings and Weakness Is A Thing Called Man. These albums are currently out of print and generally overlooked. Where his earlier work feels timeless, these recordings sound slightly dated, however, they are very strong outings and there's a number of fine songs including "To Live The Past" (#41 R&B), "The Highway Is Like A Woman", "Weakness Is A Thing Called Man" and "The Devil Made Me Do It." Mayfield spent the rest of the 1970's in relative obscurity, unable to get a record deal. He performed on a limited basis until his death in 1984. Since his passing his stature as a songwriter continues to grow and his songs remain oft covered.

 

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