Jimmy McCracklin at Eli Mile High Club, Oakland, 2005 (Photo by Caroline Crawford)
Jimmy McCracklin: West Coast Bluesman, Prolific Songwriter, Pianist and Singer
Conducted by Caroline Crawford and Ronnie Stewart in 2002, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of
California, Berkeley, 2014.
Bluesman Jimmy McCracklin was one of the most prolific songwriters on the West Coast from the 1940s until his death in 2010. His first hit, “The Walk,” was recorded by his band the Blues Blasters on Checker Records in 1958, and was later covered by the Beatles in their Let It Be sessions. Other hits followed, such as “Think,” “Just Got to Know,” and “Shame, Shame, Shame,” and McCracklin was soon booked on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.
Many of McCracklin’s songs were pirated before he learned about copyright protection, sold as demos to record companies in Los Angeles and elsewhere. An example is “The Thrill is Gone,” which McCracklin claims to have written, and B.B. King, who made it his signature song, acknowledges McCracklin’s authorship in the 2004 documentary based on the oral history entitled Jimmy Sings the Blues, available to view below. McCracklin continued to press for song rights without success until his death.
Blues guitarist Ronnie Stewart and Caroline Crawford interviewed McCracklin at the Richmond, California, home he shared with Beulah, his wife of more than fifty years. His many gold records decorated the space over the piano where he played and sang during the interview, and the first tape ended with some lines from “Hate,” a song in process. During the session he brought out photographs of T-bone Walker, Lowell Fulson, Percy Mayfield and Big Mama Thornton and other musicians he had worked with, and club posters advertising his Blues Blasters’ performances at Minnie Lou’s, Dew Drop Inn, and the Savoy. Of the blues he said: “Blues is a feeling. It’s all in what happened in my life or to someone else’s life, which is the true facts and a feeling. When you’ve been mistreated, you’re not the onliest one. Someone else in the world has been mistreated…that’s the blues. It’s all in your feeling and the feeling is a true part of life.”
Caroline Crawford is the interviewer for the blues/jazz series of oral histories.