Jimmy McCracklin, Blues singer and pianist dies at 91
Jimmy McCracklin, a blues singer and pianist who by his count composed nearly a thousand songs and recorded hundreds, including the 1950s hit “The Walk,” died on Thursday in San Pablo, Calif. He was 91.
His daughter, Sue McCracklin, confirmed his death.
Mr. McCracklin’s music spanned decades and eras of rhythm and blues, from up-tempo jump blues of the 1940s to soul of the 1960s and ’70s. Though his music eventually reached a national audience, he was most identified with the West Coast blues scene — so much so that his obituary appeared on the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle on Friday.
His best-known record is probably “The Walk,” a jubilant dance number he recorded for Checker Records while he and his band, the Blues Blasters, were in Chicago. The song was his first national hit after more than a decade of recording. He performed the song on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” television show, and it reached No. 7 on the Billboard pop chart in 1958.
Considered a rock ’n’ roll classic, “The Walk” has been recorded by a number of musicians, including the Beatles, whose brief, unreleased version was made during the sessions in early 1969 that eventually yielded the “Let It Be” album.
Mr. McCracklin was not a one-hit wonder, though. He released more than 20 albums and wrote and recorded popular tunes like “Think,” “Just Got to Know,” “Shame, Shame, Shame” and “My Answer.”
But he never recorded his most lucrative song, “Tramp.” The song cracked the pop charts in 1967 when it was recorded by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. A guitar riff that anchors it has been sampled by many artists, including the hip-hop trio Salt-n-Pepa in 1986.
Mr. McCracklin shared songwriting credit on “Tramp” with Lowell Fulson, another West Coast blues figure, though he later denied that Mr. Fulson had written a word of it. Mr. Fulson recorded it in 1967 as well.
Mr. McCracklin did not feel it was a songwriter’s place to complain about different interpretations of his work.
“The writer don’t have anything to do with no song — it’s up to the artist that takes the song and perform it,” Mr. McCracklin said in an interview in 2010. “If he perform it and sing it and put the right feeling in it, and someone else can feel the same way about it as he do, so that’s what, that’s what makes records big.”
He was born James David Walker on Aug. 13, 1921, in Helena, Ark., and was given the name McCracklin when his stepfather, Berry McCracklin, adopted him. His family soon moved to St. Louis, where the blues performer Walter Davis taught him to sing and to play the piano.
Mr. McCracklin enlisted in the Navy in 1941 and took up competitive boxing while in the service. Honorably discharged in 1944, he moved to Los Angeles and boxed semiprofessionally for a time.
Mr. McCracklin cut his first record, the single “Miss Mattie Left Me,” in 1945. In 1947 he moved to Richmond, Calif., in the Bay Area and began recording with the producer Bob Geddins. Mr. McCracklin founded a short-lived label, Art-Tone, in the 1960s.
In the late 1950s he married Beulah Fayson, who died in 2008. He lived in Richmond before moving to a nursing facility in San Pablo.
Besides his daughter, he is survived by a stepdaughter, Patricia Croner; four stepsons, Larry and Mike Collins, Willie Trader and Walter McAlpine; and two grandchildren.