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Tuesday 7 December 2010

Jimmy McCracklin - Twist With Jimmy McCracklin (Crown LP 5244)

Side 1:
1. I Can't Tell
2. I'm Gonna Tell Your Mother
3. My Mother Says
4. That Ain't Right
5. Please Forgive

Side 2:
1. Couldn't Be A Dream
2. Oh Baby
3. You Don't Seem To Understand
4. Reelin' And Rockin' Twist

Many thanks to El Enmascadero Del Platter for this 1962 Crown LP. If anyone can actually do the twist to any of these tracks, then Mister You’re A Better Man (or Woman) Than I. For the moment let us just accept the fact that we are entering Mondo Exploitation with this album. Let’s just go with the flow.

In fact the story of this LP begins a year before it was issued, and it begins not with cheapo exploitation label Crown, but with the far more prestigious Atlantic diskery. The Twist (a dance for morons) had swept the US of A in August 1960 when Chubby Checker’s cover version of a Hank Ballard B-side had reached number one in the pop charts.

Danny and the Juniors had a number twenty seven hit with “Twistin’ USA” in October 1960, but 1961 was the year The Twist started to break out with Chubby’s next Twist record “Let’s Twist Again” reaching number eight in the US pop charts in July and number two in the UK Hit Parade in December, thus turning The Twist into a worldwide phenomenon. There were other Twist hits towards the end of that year – “Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee & The Starlighters in December and a comeback for Chubby’s “The Twist” in November. In 1962 there was a veritable of flood of 45s to Twist to – by Gary U.S. Bonds, The Marvelettes, Sam Cooke, King Curtis, The Isley Brothers and Bill Black’s Combo, among others.

It was inevitable that the record companies would try to sell LPs on the back of the craze and one of the first and most successful so to do was Atlantic which in late 1961 cobbled together a bunch of Ray Charles tracks originally recorded between 1953 and 1959 and released them under the title “Do The Twist! With Ray Charles” (Atlantic 8054). The front cover bears a remarkable resemblance to the Jimmy McCracklin album on Crown, of course.

The Ray Charles album was a big seller, entering the album charts in December 1961 and reaching number eleven. The back of the album had instructions on how to Twist, so for all you would-be early 1960s type swingers, here’s how to do, do, do it:

With the Atlantic example of reaping success with a bunch of old R&B sides packaged as a Twist album, how could the Bihari brothers possibly not try to reach for the stars with their own Crown budget label? They had a mountain of R&B sides by well known names which could be profitably (perhaps) repackaged and so in 1962 there issued forth twelve Twist LPs on the cheap ‘n’ shoddily packaged Crown label. The Jimmy McCracklin collection with its front cover shamelessly ripped off from the successful Ray Charles album was the first in the series.

The rather paltry nine tracks on the LP were from McCracklin sessions for Modern which dated back to 1954 and 1955. There was one exception – “Reelin’ and Rockin’ Twist” was recorded for Modern in 1950 and originally released as “Rockin’ All Day.” Many of the tracks on the LP were given new titles, most of which didn’t disguise their origins. One cannot help but wonder at the reaction of eager young twisters placing this platter on the turntable in anticipation of an energetic gyratory dance session only to be regaled with the low down blues of “I Can’t Tell.” There must have been howls of dismay throughout the land. The reaction was probably similar to that of eager young rock and rollers when they put on a Hen Gates and His Gaters LP and found themselves listening to wild honk tracks by Freddie Mitchell and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.

This LP may have been a disappointment to the youth of 1962, but to R&B fans in the year 2010 it is a delight, because what we have here is one hell of a blues album. The 1955 tracks find Mr. McCracklin in a “down home” mood, being recorded in a style not dissimilar to that of Jimmy Reed. This style of blues really suits Jimmy McCracklin’s voice and he can blow a reasonable blues harp too. “I Can’t Tell” is a moody blues similar to “I Just Want To Make Love To You” by Muddy Waters. “I’m Gonna Tell Your Mother” is a good stomper, while “My Mother Says” and “That Ain’t Right” are just good blues which you couldn’t possibly Twist to.

The four tracks from 1954 are recorded in a sax led R&B style. “Please Forgive” is a slow blues while “Couldn’t Be A Dream” is a hilarious account of the worst date you could ever go on. “Oh Baby” is another slow blues but the more up tempo “You Don’t Seem to Understand” is the nearest thing to a Twist record on this collection. All of the tracks so far are from Jimmy McCracklin’s second tenure at Modern but the final track “Reelin’ and Rockin Twist” is from his first spell with the label. It’s a catchy jump blues recorded with Jimmy’s classic Blues Blasters group – Jimmy himself on vocals and piano, with Little Red on drums and Robert Kelton on guitar. The group is probably augmented by Lafayette Thomas on second guitar and Maxwell Davis on sax.

“Twist With Jimmy McCracklin” was followed by more R&B LPs you could try to Twist to – “Doin’ The Twist” with Joe Houston, “Twist With Jimmy Beasley,” “Twist With B.B. King” (you could bop to tracks like “Groovin’ Twist” and “Rockin’ Twist” as well as the more familiar “You Upset Me Baby” and “Woke Up This Morning”), “Twist With Etta James” (“Twist With Me Henry” she pleaded, or did she?) and a second offering from Joe Houston – “Twisting In Orbit” featuring the inevitable “All Night Long Twist.”

There were more Twist LPs on Crown credited to Steve Douglas and the Rebel Rousers, Joe Barragan and the Twist Stompers, and Mike Adams and the Red Jackets. There was a piece of particularly shameless exploitation with an LP called “Peppermint Twist” with the title in huge letters across the front cover, and “The Twisters” in considerably smaller letters beneath. In even smaller letters and even lower down was a track list which featured the other artists who performed on the LP – B.B. King, Marvin and Johnny, Young Jessie, Rosco Gordon, Shirley Gunter and the Queens, The Flairs, The Dreamers, Joe Houston and Jimmy Witherspoon. Ye Gods, a line up to die for!

Like all dance crazes, The Twist eventually faded, although it sort of hung around long enough for me to dance it at my primary school leaving dance in 1965, to the wild sound of a 45rpm disc of Lulu and the Luvvers belting out “Shout.” Crown went the way of all poor quality vinyl and crap stuck together record sleeves, and that Ray Charles “Do The Twist” LP on Atlantic was renamed “The Greatest.”

But Jimmy McCracklin just kept rolling on. He had already been recording for seventeen years when this LP was released. The nine tracks on this album demonstrate that he could adapt to different R&B styles. In 1958 he had even had a big pop hit with his own dance craze tune “The Walk” on Checker. When R&B became Soul he was able to make the transition. His versatility as a performer and talent as a songwriter has kept his musical career going right up into the present decade. From the forties to the noughties and perhaps on into the teens? I hope so.

1962 Chess LP courtesy Joan K
Check out these links -

Both Sides Now Discography of Crown LPs 1961-63 (great sleeves on display)

The Hound on Lafayette "The Thing" Thomas - Jimmy's long time guitar player

Track details – original title where applicable, year recorded, original release:

1. I Can't Tell (I Got Eyes For You, recorded 1955, Kent 369)
2. I'm Gonna Tell Your Mother (Gonna Tell Your Mother, recorded 1955, Modern 967, Kent 369)
3. My Mother Says (My Mother Said, recorded 1955, Kent LP 5027)
4. That Ain't Right (recorded 1955, Modern 967, Kent 369)
5. Please Forgive (Please Forgive Me Baby, recorded 1954, Modern 951)
6. Couldn't Be A Dream (recorded 1954, Modern 951)
7. Oh Baby (Darlin’ Share Your Love, recorded 1954, Modern 934)
8. You Don't Seem To Understand (Give My Heart A Break, recorded 1954, Modern 934)
9. Reelin' And Rockin' Twist (Rockin’ All Day, recorded 1950, Modern 20–762)

Recommended purchases:

Jimmy McCracklin settled in Los Angeles in 1945 after being based in Long Beach during his war service in the Navy. He was an admirer of piano bluesmen like Walter Davis and Memphis Slim, although he didn’t play piano on his own recordings until he formed the Blues Blasters trio in 1947. He started recording for small LA labels in 1945, kicking off his career with “Miss Mattie Left Me” which he recorded for Globe with J.D. Nicholson providing piano accompaniment.

Jimmy’s Blues 1945-1951 (Acrobat ACRCD 101)

This 2003 CD on Acrobat can still be found with a bit of searching. It has Jimmy’s earliest recordings for LA labels Globe, Excelsior and J&M Fullbright recorded in 1945 -46. In 1947 Jimmy relocated to the Bay Area and started recording for Bob Geddin’s Oakland based labels Trilon and Cavatone. It was at this time that he formed the Blues Blasters trio with guitarist Robert Kelton and drummer Little Red. Some of the Geddins sides were picked up by LA label Modern who signed the trio in 1948. The Blues Blasters remained with Modern through 1949 and into 1950 (see next recommended CD). In 1951 Jimmy recorded for Swingtime with a larger band which included guitar player Lafayette Thomas who would remain a long term collaborator with Jimmy. This CD has 9 of the Swingtime sides.

The Modern Recordings 1948-1950 (Ace CDCHD 720)

This is a superb collection of jump blues recorded by the original Blues Blasters for Modern. Trios were very much the “in” thing on the West Coast after the arrival of the King Cole Trio in the early 1940s. The Blues Blasters, as their name implies, were a more blues oriented combo than the King Cole Trio or even Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers. With piano, drums and electric guitar which were often reinforced by a second electric guitar and saxophone and with Jimmy’s rough edged blues singing to the fore, the Blues Blasters were a powerful band. This is CD is definitely in my top ten of Ace CDs. There are probably about twenty CDs in that particular top ten, I’m afraid.

Blues Blastin’ – The Modern Recordings Volume 2 (Ace CDCHD 993)

In 1954 Jimmy returned to Modern after recording for Swingtime in 1951 and Don Robey’s Peacock label from 1952-1954. He recorded six sides with a full band featuring a sax section and the faithful Lafayette Thomas on guitar. In 1955 he recorded a further session for Modern but this time with a completely different sound. Jimmy accompanied himself on piano and harmonica with Lafayette Thomas on guitar, and a drummer and bass player completing the line up. The result was a basic blues sound which was much closer to Jimmy Reed or even Muddy Waters than the sax led jump sides of his previous Modern sessions. This CD has the complete 1954-55 Modern sessions as well as previously unissued sides from his earlier sessions with the label. There are also sides released under the names of some of Jimmy’s sidemen – Lafayette Thomas (as Jerry Thomas), Johnny Parker and Baby Pee Wee Parham.

Everybody Rock! The Best Of Jimmy McCracklin (Chess CD RED 10)

In 1955-56 Jimmy’s label hopping became ever more frenetic, with sides for Imperial (unissued), Hollywood and Irma (back with Bob Geddins.) In 1957-58 Jimmy stopped off at Chess where he recorded his top ten pop hit “The Walk.” This CD has 18 Chess / Checker sides including not only “The Walk” but also the absolute classic “He Knows The Rules.”

The Mercury Recordings (Bear Family BCD 15558 AH)

After his spell at Chess, Jimmy recorded for Mercury between 1958 and 1960. This CD has every recording he made at the label, but that comes in at a very modest thirteen sides. Included are “The Wobble,” “The Georgia Slop” and “Let’s Do It (The Chicken Scratch)” so it may be worth chasing down if you can find it at a reasonable price. Bear Family issues are from Germany and tend to be pretty expensive in the UK.

And that completes our survey of vintage Jimmy McCracklin reissues, such as it is. Ahead lie the 1960s and a long and fruitful spell with Imperial, Minit and Liberty, but here on Be Bop Wino we wave farewell to Jimmy and return to the 1940s and 50s - the era of real R&B!


The Hound said...

Lafeytte "The Thing" Thomas was the most unrated guitarist in the history of R&B in my opinion. He made some great solo sides for Jumpin', Savoy, and other labels as well as being a mainstay in McCracklin's band for over a decade.

boogiewoody said...

Thanks Hound. I've now included a link to your Lafayette Thomas post above. The music links don't seem to work any more but your rant against creeping corporatism is a magnificent read. More power to your elbow.