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Bluesman Jimmy McCracklin was born 102 years ago today
Jimmy McCracklin was born 102 years ago today.
A pianist, vocalist and songwriter, McCracklin’s style contained West Coast blues, jump blues and R&B. Over a career that spanned seven decades, McCracklin wrote almost a thousand songs and recorded hundreds of them. He recorded over 30 albums and earned four gold records.
"He was probably the most important musician to come out of the Bay Area in the post-World War II years," Tom Mazzolini of the San Francisco Blues Festival wrote of him.
Born James David Walker, sources differ as to whether McCracklin was born in Helena, Arkansas or St. Louis. He joined the United States Navy in 1938, later settled in Richmond, California, and began playing at the local Club Savoy owned by his sister-in-law, Willie Mae "Granny" Johnson.
The room-length bar served beer and wine, and Granny Johnson served home-cooked meals of greens, ribs, chicken and other southern cuisine. A house band composed of Bay Area musicians alternated with and frequently backed performers such as B. B. King, Charles Brown and L. C. Robinson.
Later, in 1963, McCracklin would write and record a song "Club Savoy" on his I Just Gotta Know album. He recorded a debut single for Globe Records, "Miss Mattie Left Me," in 1945, and recorded "Street Loafin' Woman in 1946.
McCracklin recorded for a number of labels in Los Angeles and Oakland, prior to joining Modern Records in 1949-1950. He formed a group called Jimmy McCracklin and his Blues Blasters in 1946, with guitarist, Lafayette Thomas, who remained with group until the early 1960s.
His popularity increased after appearing on Dick Clark's American Bandstand in support of his self written single, "The Walk" (1957). It was subsequently released by Checker Records in 1958.
The song went to #5 on the Billboard R&B chart and #7 on the pop chart, after more than 10 years of McCracklin selling records in the black community on a series of small labels. Jimmy McCracklin Sings, his first solo album, was released in 1962, in the West Coast blues style.
Later the same year, McCracklin recorded "Just Got to Know" for his own Art-Tone label in Oakland, after the record made #2 on the R&B chart. For a brief period in the early 1970s McCracklin ran the Continental Club in San Francisco. He booked blues acts such as T-Bone Walker, Irma Thomas, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton and Etta James.
In 1967, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas had success with "Tramp," a song credited to McCracklin and Lowell Fulson. Salt-n-Pepa made a hip-hop hit out of the song in 1987. Oakland Blues (1968) was an album arranged and directed by McCracklin and produced by World Pacific.
The California rock-n-roll "roots music" band, The Blasters, named themselves after McCracklin's backing band, The Blues Blasters. Blasters' lead singer, Phil Alvin, explained the origin of the band's name:
"I thought Joe Turner’s backup band on Atlantic records — I had these 78s — I thought they were the Blues Blasters. It ends up it was Jimmy McCracklin's. I just took the 'Blues' off and Joe finally told me, that’s Jimmy McCracklin’s name, but you tell ‘em I gave you permission to steal it."
McCracklin continued to tour and produce new albums in the 1980s and 1990s. Bob Dylan has cited McCracklin as a favorite. He played at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1973, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1984 and 2007.
He was given a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1990, and the Living Legend and Hall of Fame award at the Bay Area Black Music Awards in 2007. McCracklin continued to write, record and perform into the 21st century.
He died at age 91 in San Pablo, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area, on December 20, 2012, after a long illness.
Here, McCracklin performs “At the Club” at the Porretta Soul Festival, 2007.
Alfred Hitchcock was born 124 years ago today.
The English film director and producer pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres.
After a successful career in British cinema in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood. In 1955, he became an American citizen while remaining a British subject. Over a career spanning more than half a century, Hitchcock fashioned for himself a distinctive and recognizable directorial style.
He pioneered the use of a camera made to move in a way that mimics a person's gaze, forcing viewers to engage in a form of voyeurism. He framed shots to maximize anxiety, fear or empathy. He used innovative film editing.
His stories frequently feature fugitives on the run from the law alongside "icy blonde" female characters. Many of Hitchcock's films have twist endings and thrilling plots featuring depictions of violence, murder and crime. Many of his mysteries function as decoys or "MacGuffins" meant only to serve thematic elements in the film and the psychological examinations of the characters.
Hitchcock's films also borrow many themes from psychoanalysis and feature strong sexual undertones.
Through his cameo appearances in his own films, interviews, film trailers and the television program, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he became a cultural icon. Hitchcock directed more than fifty feature films in a career spanning six decades.
Often regarded as the greatest British filmmaker, he came first in a 2007 poll of film critics in Britain's Daily Telegraph, which said: "Unquestionably the greatest filmmaker to emerge from these islands, Hitchcock did more than any director to shape modern cinema, which would be utterly different without him. His flair was for narrative, cruelly withholding crucial information (from his characters and from us) and engaging the emotions of the audience like no one else."
Hitchcock is widely regarded as one of cinema's most significant artists.
Here is Dick Cavett interviewing Alfred Hitchcock, 1972.
Annie Oakley was born 163 years ago today.
Born as Phoebe Ann Mosey, Oakley was a sharpshooter and exhibition shooter. Her shooting talent led to a starring role in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, and her timely rise to fame allowed her to become one of the first American women to be a superstar.
Perhaps Oakley's most famous trick was her ability — using a .22 rifle 90 feet away — to repeatedly split a playing card, edge-on, and put several more holes in it before it could touch the ground.
She was born in a log cabin in Darke County, Ohio, a rural western border county. Because of poverty, she did not regularly attend school as a child, although she did attend later in childhood and in adulthood.
Oakley began trapping at a young age, and shooting and hunting by age eight to support her siblings and her widowed mother. She sold the hunted game for money to locals, restaurants and hotels in southern Ohio. Her skill eventually paid off the mortgage on her mother's farm when she turned 15.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1875, the Baughman and Butler shooting act was in performance in Cincinnati. Traveling show marksman and former dog trainer, Frank E. Butler, an Irish immigrant, placed a $100 bet per side (worth $2,148 today) with Cincinnati hotel owner Jack Frost, that he, Butler, could beat any local fancy shooter.
The hotelier arranged a shooting match between Butler and the 15-year-old Annie Oakley saying, "The last opponent Butler expected was a five-foot-tall 15-year old girl named Annie." After missing on his 25th shot, Butler lost the match and the bet. He soon began courting Oakley, and they married on August 23, 1876. They did not have children.
Annie and Frank Butler lived in Cincinnati for a time. Oakley, the stage name she adopted when she and Frank began performing together, is believed to have been taken from the city's neighborhood of Oakley, where they resided.
They joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West in 1885. At five feet tall, Oakley was given the nickname of "Watanya Cicilla" by fellow performer Sitting Bull, rendered "Little Sure Shot" in the public advertisements.
In Europe, she performed for Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, King Umberto I of Italy, President Marie François Sadi Carnot of France and other crowned heads of state. Oakley had such good aim that, at his request, she knocked the ashes off a cigarette held by the newly crowned German Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Throughout her career, it is believed that Oakley taught upwards of 15,000 women how to use a gun. She never failed to delight her audiences, and her feats of marksmanship were truly incredible. At 30 paces, she could split a playing card held edge-on, hit dimes tossed into the air, shoot cigarettes from her husband's lips.
Oakley playfully skipped on stage, lifted her rifle and aimed the barrel at a burning candle. In one shot, she snuffed out the flame with a whizzing bullet. Sitting Bull watched her knock corks off of bottles and slice through a cigar Butler held in his teeth.
Oakley continued to set records into her sixties, and she also engaged in extensive, albeit quiet, philanthropy for women's rights and other causes, including the support of specific young women that she knew. She embarked on a comeback and intended to star in a feature-length silent movie. In a 1922 shooting contest in Pinehurst, North Carolina, sixty-two-year-old Oakley hit 100 clay targets in a row from 16 yards
Oakley died of pernicious anemia in Greenville, Ohio, at the age of 66 on November 3, 1926.
Dan Fogelberg was born 72 years ago today.
The music of the singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist was inspired by sources as diverse as folk, pop, rock, classical, jazz and bluegrass music. Fogelberg is best known for his 1980 hit, "Longer," and his 1981 hit, “Leader of the Band.”
Fogelberg began performing as a solo acoustic player in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois area coffeehouses, including the Red Herring Coffeehouse, where he made his first solo recordings as part of a folk festival recording in 1971. He was discovered that year by Irving Azoff.
Fogelberg and Azoff — who started his music-management career promoting another Champaign-Urbana act, REO Speedwagon — moved to California to seek their fortunes. Azoff sent Fogelberg to Nashville to hone his skills, where he became a session musician and recorded his first album, with producer Norbert Putnam.
In 1972, Fogelberg released his debut album, Home Free, to lukewarm response. He performed as an opening act for Van Morrison. Fogelberg's second effort was much more successful — the 1974 Joe Walsh–produced album, Souvenirs, and its song, "Part of the Plan," became Fogelberg's first hit.
After Souvenirs, Fogelberg released a string of gold and platinum albums, including Captured Angel (1975) and Nether Lands (1977), and found commercial success with songs such as "The Power of Gold." His 1978, Twin Sons of Different Mothers, was the first of two collaborations with jazz flutist, Tim Weisberg.
Phoenix reached the Top 10 in 1979, with "Longer" becoming a #2 pop hit (and wedding standard) in 1980. The track peaked at #59 in the UK Singles Chart — his sole entry in that listing. The album reached #42 in the UK Albums Chart, likewise Fogelberg's only entry there. This was followed by a Top 20 hit "Heart Hotels."
The Innocent Age, released in October, 1981, was Fogelberg's critical and commercial peak. This double-album song cycle included four of his biggest hits: "Leader of the Band," "Hard to Say," "Run for the Roses" and "Same Old Lang Syne," based on a real-life accidental meeting with a former girlfriend.
In May, 2004, Fogelberg was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. He underwent therapy and achieved a partial remission, which did not eliminate his cancer but reduced it and stopped its spread.
On August 13, 2005, his 54th birthday, Fogelberg announced the success of his cancer treatments. He said that he had no immediate plans to return to making music but was keeping his options open.
After battling prostate cancer for three and a half years, Fogelberg succumbed to the disease at the age of 56, on December 16, 2007, at his home in Deer Isle, Maine with wife Jean by his side.
Here, Fogelberg performs “Leader of the Band” in 2003.
George Shearing was born 104 years ago today.
A British jazz pianist, Shearing for many years led a popular jazz group that recorded for Discovery Records, MGM Records and Capitol Records. The composer of over 300 titles, including the jazz standard "Lullaby of Birdland,” he had multiple albums on the Billboard charts during the 1950s, 1960s, 1980s and 1990s.
In 1940, Shearing joined Harry Parry's popular band and contributed to the comeback of Stéphane Grappelli. He won seven consecutive Melody Maker polls during this time. Around that time, he was also a member of George Evans's Saxes 'n' Sevens band.
Shearing played with a trio, as a soloist and increasingly in a duo. Among his collaborations were sets with the Montgomery Brothers, Marian McPartland, Brian Q. Torff, Jim Hall, Hank Jones and Kenny Davern. In 1979, Shearing signed with Concord Records, and recorded for the label with Mel Tormé.
He died of heart failure in New York City, at the age of 91.
Here, Shearing performs “Lullaby of Birdland.”
Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" (1956) is one of the biggest and most instantly recognizable pop songs in history. It's a song so closely associated with the King of Rock and Roll, in fact, that many mistakenly assume that it was a Presley original.
In fact, the story of the song that gave Elvis his longest-running #1 hit (11 weeks) in the summer of 1956 began four years earlier, when "Hound Dog" was recorded in Los Angeles for the very first time by the rhythm-and-blues singer, Ellie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton.
A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Thornton came of age on the R&B circuit in the 1940s after starting her professional career in 1941 at the age of 14. In 1951, she signed her first record contract with Peacock Records and was soon paired with another of its artists, bandleader Johnny Otis, who brought Thornton out to join his band in California.
It was there, in late 1952, that Otis asked two young songwriters on the Los Angeles music scene if they would write something especially for Thornton. Those songwriters were Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, who would go on to have an enormous impact on R&B and early rock and roll through their work with groups like the Coasters and the Drifters.
But hits like "Yakkity Yak," "Charlie Brown," "Stand By Me," "Jailhouse Rock" and "Love Potion No. 9" were still ahead of Lieber and Stoller when they did what Otis asked and came back to him with a 12-bar country blues tune called, "Hound Dog."
On this day in 1952 — 71 years ago — Big Mama Thornton and the Johnny Otis Band recorded "Hound Dog" and turned it into a smash hit on the R&B charts, where it stayed at #1 for seven weeks.
It wasn't Thornton's recording, however, that inspired Elvis to record "Hound Dog" three years later. Presley's inspiration came from a rewrite by a singer named Freddie Bell, who changed the original lyrics to include the now-familiar, "Cryin' all the time" and "You ain't never caught a rabbit."
During his first Las Vegas engagement in the spring of 1956, Elvis Presley heard Freddie Bell and the Bellboys performing the reworked "Hound Dog" and added it to his repertoire almost immediately.
Here, Thornton performing “Hound Dog” in 1965. The performance features a young Buddy Guy.
In 1965 — 58 years ago — Jefferson Airplane made their live debut at San Francisco's Matrix Club.
The photograph of the members of Jefferson Airplane that was featured on the front cover of their best-known album, Surrealistic Pillow (1967), was taken inside the Matrix.
In 1966 — 57 years ago today — The Lovin’ Spoonful started a three week run at #1 on the U.S. singles chart with “Summer In The City.”
The song was written by John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian (John’s brother) and Steve Boone, bass player for the Spoonful.
It features a series of car horns during the instrumental bridge, starting with a Volkswagen Beetle horn and ends up with a jackhammer sound, in order to give the impression of the sounds of the summer in the city.
The signature keyboard part is played on a Hohner Pianet, and the organ is a Vox Continental.
Women in a Paris bar…
Photo by Steven Meisel