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2012 News March 21, 2019   

August 13, 1921 - December 20, 2012

Jimmy McCracklin By Lee Hildebrand - San Francisco Chronicle www.sfgate.com

Jimmy McCracklin, one of the most prolific blues singers and songwriters of all time, with a recording career that spanned 1945 to 2010, died Thursday at Creekside Healthcare Center in San Pablo after a long convalescence.  The Richmond resident was 91 and had diabetes, hypertension and other health problems.

"He was the face of Oakland blues", said promoter Tom Mazzolini, who presented Mr. McCracklin several times at his long-running San Francisco Blues Festival and took him on a tour of Japan in 1984.  "He was probably the most important musician to come out of the Bay Area in the post-World War II years."

Mr. McCracklin had been making records for more than a decade when he finally scored a national hit, "The Walk", for Checker Records in 1958.  Recorded in Chicago, where he and his band, the Blues Blasters, had been stranded, the self-penned dance-inspired tune reached No. 5 on Billboard's pop singles chart and led to an appearance on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand".

It was the first record by a Bay Area artist to place in the pop top 10 during the rock 'n' roll era.  The Beatles later recorded a brief, impromptu version of the song during their "Get Back" sessions, but it was never released, except on bootleg albums.

"His song 'The Walk' has been incorporated into many rock songs", said Bay Area blues singer-songwriter E.C. Scott.  "Some of those people that used that riff don't even know it came from Jimmy McCracklin."

Distinctive riff
One tune that utilizes the song's distinctive rhythm guitar riff, originally played by Mr. McCracklin's sideman Lafayette "Thing" Thomas, is the now-standard Freddy King guitar instrumental "Hide Away".

"He disguised those sexual overtones", Scott added.  "In 'The Walk', he makes you think it's physical ed."

Other McCracklin hits placed high on the R&B charts between 1961 and 1966, including "Just Got to Know", "Shame, Shame, Shame", "Every Night, Every Day", "Think" and "My Answer", all of which Mr. McCracklin wrote.  His most lucrative composition was "Tramp", written for his friend Lowell Fulson.  It was a hit three times - for Fulson in 1967, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, also in 1967, and for the hip-hop trio Salt-N-Pepa in 1987 - and has been widely sampled, by Prince and numerous hip-hop artists.

Arkansas beginnings
Mr. McCracklin was born James Walker on Aug. 13, 1921, in Helena, Arkansas.  He moved to St. Louis at age 9 and as a teenager fell under the musical spell of Walter Davis, a friend of his father's and one of the most popular blues singers, pianists and songwriters of the 1930s.

"I remember", Mr. McCracklin said in 2003, "my dad asking Walter, 'How do you put all these truthful and lovely songs and good feelings about a human being together?'  The words he spoke to him I will always remember.  He said, 'I don't put 'em together because of something that happened to me.  I look at life in general.  I notice other folks.  What I write, I put the truth in there because I want to tell about what happened to me could happen to you or what happened to you could happen to me.  This is the way I put my lyrics together.  It's real life.'"

After graduating from high school, Mr. McCracklin joined the U.S. Navy, probably around 1938 before he was 18.  "My mother had to sign for me to get in Navy", he said.  She had taught him to cook, and he worked in that capacity while in the service.

After World War II, he divided his time between singing and boxing in Southern California before moving north to Richmond in 1947.  "I saw what was going on up there, and clubs was better to get jobs in", he said.

In 1992, Mr. McCracklin showed a Chronicle reporter his scrapbook, which included a letter from friend and former world light heavyweight boxing champion Archie Moore.  In the letter, Moore offered his praise of McCracklin's musical career, "You wear your success with great dignity".

American blues artist Elvin Bishop mentioned the influence that Mr. McCracklin and his contemporaries had on his work in a 2005 Chronicle story.

"I followed my old blues guys' example - Lowell Fulson, Jimmy McCracklin, Percy Mayfield - to write about what's happening in your life", Bishop said at the time.  "They just put it out there."

Mr. McCracklin made one of his last appearances in 2010 at a 90th birthday celebration at Biscuits & Blues, where he was saluted musically by Bishop, Craig Horton, Scott and Bobbie Webb, among others.

He was preceded in death in 2008 by his wife of 52 years, Beulah McCracklin, and is survived by his daughter Linette Susan McCracklin and her children, Jimmy and Sarah Busby.  Funeral arrangements are pending.

Oct 19, 2012  -  Volume 7 / Issue 42


The official Central Valley Blues Society weekly dance party is free and features Ron Thompson and His Resistors every Thursday, 6-9 pm.  Dubbed the weekly "Stress Relief Party", this is the longest running blues show in Fresno - 9 years.

The party is held at the Babylon Club in the Tower District, 1064 N. Fulton Street, Fresno, CA (559-495-0852).

Not many living blues musicians can say they have performed with and recorded for legends like Big Mama Thornton, Tina Turner, Bruce Willis, Luther Tucker, Jimmy McCracklin, Pee Wee Crayton, Carla Thomas, Booker T. Jones, Percy Mayfield, Etta James, B.B. King, and Jimmy Reed.  Ron Thompson can, and that's just the beginning.

Ron Thompson is a legendary rhythm and blues guitarist and master keyboardist whose career began in the rough and tumble world of East San Francisco Bay nightclubs and bars in the early '70s.  During many years of touring coast to coast with John Lee Hooker, Hooker was quoted as saying, "Ron Thompson, he's my main man!"

After serving as John Lee Hooker's bandleader for seven years, Thompson went on to form his own group, Ron Thompson and His Resistors.

Tom Mazzolini, founder and producer of the San Francisco Blues Festival, said of Ron Thompson, "I've always felt Ron is the most talented blues guitarist I've ever seen.  He can do it all.  He's extraordinarily gifted.  What many folks aren't aware of is that Ron was a huge asset in the re-emergence of John Lee Hooker.  He was the foundation for that boogie sound."

Do yourself a favor and catch Ron Thompson and His Resistors every Thursday, sponsored by the Central Valley Blues Society, and check the society website to find other shows and jams around the Bay Area.

Ron Thompson and His Resistors

Saturday, October 13, 2012
Appellation California Wine Tasting


Date: Saturday, Oct. 13
Time:  5pm till 10pm
Price:  $10.00 At the door
Location:  APCAL (Appellation California Wine Tasting & Event Center)
32749 Avenue 7 (Hwy 99 & Ave 7)
Apcal is an amazing outdoor venue with great wines from all over the San Joaquin Valley.  Also, food and beer will be available.

Age 21 and over event.

Presented by:  Central Valley Blues Society & Apcal


Ron Thompson & His Resistors
Ron Thompson Ron Thompson is a legendary rhythm and blues guitarist and master keyboardist whose career began in the rough and tumble world of East San Francisco Bay nightclubs and bars in the early '70s.  During many years of touring coast to coast with John Lee Hooker, Hooker was quoted as saying, "Ron Thompson, he's my main man!"

After serving as John Lee Hooker's bandleader for seven years, Thompson went on to form his own group, Ron Thompson and His Resistors.

Not many living blues musicians can say they have performed with and recorded for legends like Big Mama Thornton, Tina Turner, Bruce Willis, Luther Tucker, Jimmy McCracklin, Pee Wee Crayton, Carla Thomas, Booker T. Jones, Percy Mayfield, Etta James, B.B. King, and Jimmy Reed.  Ron Thompson can, and that's just the beginning!

The Hellhounds with David Chavoya
The Hellhounds The Hellhounds are from Sonoma, California and have been keeping the blues alive in and around Sonoma County and beyond.  Voted one of Sonoma Counties' Best Blues Bands of 2009.  They play many Wineries, Festivals and Clubs with a great following of blues lovers.

Besides being a great blues band, one of the reasons we are bringing this band to perform at this years' festival is a home coming of sorts for one of Fresno's local musicians from the 60s and 70s.  David "Shuv" Chavoya was in several bands during that time period who went on to play in the Bay Area for many more years.  Shuv's amazing harmonica and vocals had him leading the way to what is a long career of performing.  Some of those bands locals may remember are The Lavendar Hill Mob, The Shag, and Black Ghost.

He has shared billing with The Doors, Santana, Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane, Fleetwood Mac, John Lee Hooker, Roy Rogers and Janis Joplin.  Dave has played alongside Etta James, Charlie Musselwhite, the late Norton Buffalo, Paul Butterfield and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.

Members:  Dave "Shuv" Chavoya - harmonicas / vocals, Phil Ajioka - guitar / vocals, Bill Wolfe - bass / vocals, Allen McDaniel - drums

Lake Bottom Nails
Lake Bottom Nails Lake Bottom Nails are a new band with a mix of great musicians from the South Valley who have been on the blues scene for over 30 years.  These guys bring so much experience and passion to the blues they play.  They will leave you wanting much, much more.

Over the years they have opened for Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop, Delbert McClinton, James Brown, Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers, Tommy Castro, Jimmy Thackery, Starship featuring Mickey Thomas and many more.

Members:  Hal Kent - guitar / vocals, Gary DeFoe - keyboards / vocals, John Lauffenburger - bass, Rocky Siegenthaler - drums / vocals

November 24, 1941 - May 13, 2012

Donald 'Duck' Dunn Legendary bassist and Booker T. and the MGs member Donald "Duck" Dunn died this morning in Tokyo at the age of 70.  Dunn's death was announced by his friend and fellow MG guitarist Steve Cropper.  "Today I lost my best friend, the world has lost the best guy and bass player to ever live" Cropper wrote on his website.  "Duck Dunn died in his sleep Sunday morning May 13 in Tokyo Japan after finishing two shows at the Blue Note Night Club."

Dunn was born in Memphis in November 1941 and was given the nickname "Duck" by his father when the pair were watching a Donald Duck cartoon on TV.  The musician started playing bass at the age of 16.  "I tried the guitar but it had two strings too many", he later joked.  "It was just too complicated, man!  Plus, I grew up with Steve Cropper.  There were so many good guitar players another one wasn't needed.  What was needed was a bass."

Dunn and Cropper's band The Mar-Keys scored a hit with "Last Night" in 1961.  The pair subsequently became studio musicians at Stax Records, releasing records as members of Booker T. and the MGs and performing on an amazing array of seminal soul-pop hits.  Tracks to benefit from Dunn's firm yet fluid playing include Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay", Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour", and Sam and Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'".

By the early '70s, Dunn had established himself as a much in-demand session musician and would go on to back Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Albert King, Levon Helm, Neil Young, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Guy Sebastian, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Roy Buchanan and Arthur Conley.  He was also a key member of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd's Blues Brothers Band and appeared in John Landis' movies The Blues Brothers (1980) and Blues Brothers 2000 (1998).

Dunn played at both 1967's Monterey Pop Festival (with Redding) and 1985's Live Aid (with Clapton).  He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of Booker T. and the MGs in 1992.

July 30, 1957 - May 6, 2012

Michael Burks From The Blues Foundation www.blues.org

Guitarist, vocalist, songwriter Michael "Iron Man" Burks died in Atlanta on Sunday, May 6, 2012.  He was 54 years old.  He was returning from a tour of Europe and collapsed at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.  He was rushed to South Fulton Medical Center where he could not be revived.  The preliminary diagnosis for cause of death was a heart attack.  More information will follow as it becomes available.

Michael "Iron Man" Burks earned his moniker by his hours-long, intensely physical performances, fearsome guitar attack, and tough, smoky vocals.  He also earned it by the thousands of miles he personally logged behind the wheel of his touring van.  Burks was a true modern blues hero whose music was driven by an intense, blue collar work ethic that had won him well-deserved national and international recognition.  His instantly identifiable guitar sound and his live charisma earned him four Blues Music Award nominations.  He won the 2004 Living Blues magazine Critics' Award for Best Guitarist.  Burks received a nomination for the 2012 Blues Music Award for Best Guitarist.

Born in Milwaukee in 1957, Burks grew up immersed in the blues, and learned to play guitar at an early age.  His family moved to Camden, Arkansas in the early 1970s.  There, Burks and his siblings helped their father build the Bradley Ferry Country Club -- a 300-seat juke joint.  By this time Michael was fronting his own band as well as backing several of the blues and R&B greats that passed through town.  Burks left music to raise a family and returned to performing blues in the 1990s.

After self-releasing his first CD in 1997, Burks signed with Chicago's Alligator Records in 2001 and released three critically acclaimed albums.  GuitarOne named his debut album, Make It Rain, one of the Top 200 greatest guitar recordings of all time.  He has toured the world, headlining blues festivals, concert halls and clubs.  His status as an Arkansas musical hero was confirmed by his receipt of the prestigious Sonny Payne Award for Blues Excellence in 2006, presented by the Delta Cultural Center, and by his multiple headlining appearances at The Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival.  Burks had just finished recording his fourth Alligator CD, which is due for release at the end of July 2012.

"Burks has learned to burn his own signature onto almost everything he touches.  The aching passion of Burks' voice and the probing intensity of his guitar lines come together in a searing evocation of desire and desperation.  Burks has the ability and the imagination to fuse the best of the old and the new." -- Living Blues

For a complete bio, go here:  www.alligator.com/artists/Michael-Burks/

January 25, 1938 - January 20, 2012

Photo by Gilbert Flores By Dave Hoekstra - Chicago Sun-Times www.suntimes.com
Friday, January 20, 2012

The storms of life bring clarity to a song.

And music is where Etta James found shelter.

Mrs. James died early Friday at Riverside Community Hospital in Riverside, Calif., of complications from leukemia, according to her manager, Lupe De Leon.  She was 73.

She also had been suffering from dementia and kidney problems.  In December, her physician announced that her leukemia was terminal and asked for prayers for the singer.

Mrs. James' husband, Artis Mills, and her two sons were at her side when she died, De Leon said.

"It's a tremendous loss for her fans around the world," De Leon said.  "She'll be missed.  A great American singer.  Her music defied category."

Mrs. James' best known song was the ballad "At Last," recorded in 1961, just after she signed with Argo, a subsidiary of Chicago's Chess Records.  With her measured contralto, Mrs. James surrendered to the dynamics of an entire relationship:  the wanting, the discovery and renewal.  The journey was arduous.  And she was at the finish line.

"At Last" was also a crucial record in the lexicon of Chess as it moved the label from a blues imprint (Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf) to pop.

Chicago's Club De Lisa saxophonist Riley Hampton had been recruited to create the lush arrangements with string sections that had never been used at Chess.  The label hit the jackpot, counterpointing Hampton's sweet pop strings with Mrs. James' direct blues-jazz style.

Her songs spanned generations.  Earlier this year electro-rapper Flo Rida sampled Mrs. James 1962 hit "Something's Got a Hold On Me" into his hit single "Good Feeling.  In 2008 Beyonce' Knowles portrayed her in the film "Cadillac Records," which loosely depicted the early years of Chess.  "One thing Etta taught me is her fearlessness," Beyonce' said while promoting the film.  "She was Etta all the time.  She did not try to change for anyone.  If it weren't for her crossing over - she was the first African-American woman to cross over on the radio - I wouldn't have the opportunities I have."

Mrs. James was born on Jan. 25, 1938, as Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles.  Her mother was a teenaged African-American.  She never knew her father and liked to speculate he was the famous pool player Minnesota Fats.  Mrs. James was reared by her grandparents and caregivers.  She grew up and toured with the late Johnny "Guitar" Watson and was discovered in 1951 by West Coast bandleader Johnny Otis.

Like the doo-wop singers of the era, Mrs. James was singing on street corners of Los Angeles and as an underage act in California nightclubs as a member of the Creolettes.  The all-girl trio peformed in sparkling gowns with long fish tails, high hair, and big attitudes.

After seeing the group, the colorful Otis renamed them Peaches and turned Mrs. James first name around (from Jamesetta to Etta James).  He co-wrote her first hit, 1955's seminal rock n' roll classic, "Roll With Me Henry," that was deemed too suggestive for radio airplay.  Georgia Gibbs cleaned it up and had a 1955 pop hit.  In 2008 Mrs. James received a Grammy for her version.

Mrs. James' no-nonsense template had been set.

She would roll through life's punches.

Mrs. James would encounter leukemia, obesity, gastric bypass surgery, dementia and hepatitis C.  Marshall Chess, son of Chess co-founder Leonard Chess was fascinated with Mrs. James cigarette burn tattoos.  Her heroin addiction was so bad that when her veins collapsed she shot smack into her forehead.

"Music was a way for her to get away from the pain," said Chicago-based Chess session man Gene Barge, who arranged and produced several of Mrs. James' singles including her majestic 1970 ballad "Losers Weepers."  "There's adversity, rejection and not getting some of the money you think you should get which was another reason for her to withdraw.  It slowed her down, but she was a great singer that made singers take notice.  Like Janis Joplin and others who emulated her style.

"Etta should have been an actress and a comedian.  She was very funny.  She could impersonate almost anybody singing.  She had Ray Charles down to a 'T'.  She knew what she wanted to do in the studio.  I wanted her to establish the melody in the songs.  She was more jazz and free style.  She would chew up a producer if he was mild-mannered.  I wouldn't let her do that to me."

Chicago gospel-soul icon Mavis Staples last shared a stage with Mrs. James in 2005 at a festival in Lansing, Mich.  "When a person had a life like Etta had, you know that music was a refuge," Staples said.  "Singing was all she had to keep her afloat.  We were the same in that we did not have voice coaching or music teachers.  She probably knew what key she was singing in, I don't even know that.

"Etta James was a soul singer.  The other day (at the VH1-"Diva" tapings) they asked me to define soul.  To me, soul is gut.  Etta sang from deep down.  She didn't sing off the top of her head.  With soul, you go within to bring out what you want to relate.  I loved Etta James."

Some called Mrs. James "The Billie Holiday of R&B."  According to the 1995 David Ritz biography, Rage to Survive:  The Etta James Story, the owner of a boarding house in which she was raised would wake up Mrs. James up after his all night, drunken poker games.  He would force her to sing and as a bed wetter, the young Mrs. James was traumatized.  Ritz (who is working on the Buddy Guy biography) wrote that this led to Mrs. James' life-long reluctance to sing on demand.

In her early years at Chess, Mrs. James boyfriend was the late Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows.  They recorded together at Chess, including covering a bawdy horn-laden version of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful."  Even in the early 1960s at Chess, Mrs. James preferred the gritty rhythm and blues of Little Willie John and her mentor Johnny "Guitar" Watson.  "I didn't want to go into that Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf stuff," she said in the liner notes to the 2000 "Etta James:  The Chess Box."  "I thought that was a little too down-home and a little too old for young people."

In 1969 Mrs. James married Artis Mills and they later were arrested together for heroin possession.  He served a 10-year prison sentence.  She was sentenced to drug treatment.  They were married at the time of Mrs. James' death.

On Dec. 19 a judge ruled that Mills would keep decision-making control over her finances and health care, but released only $350,000 for the singer's medical costs from her $1 million estate instead of the $500,000 Mills requested.  Mrs. James' son Donto had requested a temporary conservationship because of concerns over the expenses.

Mrs. James was inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of fame in 1993 and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001.  She won six Grammy awards.

She recorded for Chess between 1960 and 1978, having hits such as "Stop The Wedding" (1962) and the bouncy Beach Music classic "Pushover" (1963).  In 1967 Mrs. James recorded for Chess's Cadet imprint with Barge at Rick Hall's Muscle Shoals (Ala.) studios and enjoyed crossover hits like "Tell Mama" and the blues ballad "I'd Rather Go Blind," later popularized by Rod Stewart.  In 1997 she hosted the WTTW-Channel 11 documentary "Record Row:  Cradle of Rhythm and Blues," whch celebrated Chess, Vee-Jay and other labels that flourished from the mid-1950s until the mid-1970s on the 10-block stretch of South Michigan Avenue, a neighborhood which is now making a comeback as a musical destination.

In a 1995 Q & A with the now-defunct Hear Music, Mrs. James shared the one song that brings her chills:  "Shawn Page Rose, the gospel singer," she said.  "'Forgive me Jesus.'  I think when I listen to her it just takes me back to really wanting."

Mrs. James is survived by her husband and sons Donto and Sametto James, both of whom performed in her band.


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