Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page
Jerry McCain (born 1930, Gadsden, Alabama), is an American blues musician, best known as a harmonica player. One of five children of a poor family, many of his siblings became involved in music as well, most notably his brother, Walter, who played drums on some early records. McCain picked up the harmonica from itinerant musicians "Chick" and "Shorty" who played at the local bars (and street corners) when he was young.
McCain was a fan of the music of Little Walter and met the artist when he traveled to Gadsden for a show. Different versions of the story have Little Walter introducing him to his first record producer (Lillian McMurray, of Diamond Records Inc. usually sold under the name Trumpet Records), or inspiring him to write the first song he recorded for Trumpet.
However the first contact was made, he made his vinyl debut in 1953 under the name "Boogie McCain" for the Trumpet, playing with his brother Walter on drums. After recruiting new drummer Christopher Collins, who would be with him throughout most of his career, he went on to the Excello label.
During his years with the Excello (1955–57) he developed his amplified harmonica style, and unusual blues lyrics. The Excello Label period saw the release of such noted songs as "The Jig's Up", and "My Next Door Neighbor". His later recording for Rex Records "She's Tough/Steady" was an inspiration to The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Kim Wilson duplicated McCain's harp work on their version.
In 1989, after a period spent performing and touring with lesser known bands, McCain signed with Ichiban Records, and released the albums: Blues and Stuff, Struttin' My Stuff, and Love Desperado. This saw a resurgence of interest in his "big harp style". During the time McCain was signed with Ichiban, he also released one record on the Jericho label, This Stuff Just Kills Me, which was an all star album featuring Jimmie Vaughan and Johnnie Johnson. In 2002 Ichiban released an album called American Roots: Blues featuring McCain.
McCain also released noted singles and albums for Columbia, under their Okeh Records label (1962), and for the Nashville based Jewel (1965–68) record label. The complete collection of his Jewel label records are available on a compilation CD and in recent years several of his early recordings have been released on "retrospective" and compilation CDs, including the Verose Vintage album, Good Stuff. His longest partner, Ichiban Records, also released several retrospectives in the 1990s, including ICH1516-2:Jerry McCain. (Their other notable retrospective albums being: ICH1513: Luther 'Houserocker' Johnson, ICH 1514: Gary B.B. Coleman, and ICH 1515 Trudy Lynn.)
McCain's work was featured on track 8 of the Rhino Records Blues Masters Volume Four: Harmonica Classics, in an almost lost recording of "Steady" which cuts out after 2 minutes of some of the best of McCain's harmonica work. McCain's inclusion in the Blues Master series, alongside Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Junior Wells, Howlin' Wolf, Snooky Pryor, and George "Harmonica" Smith, ensured that harmonica blues fans that had never before heard his work, will be introduced to at least a small portion of his range.
His last release, This Stuff Just Kills Me recorded for Cello Records, promised to be his entry into a more comfortable future, but after Cello Records (a division of Warner Bros. Records) folded, McCain is once again without a label. Now he has signed with Music Maker.
The City of Gadsden has honored McCain by including his own day at their annual Riverfest Event; a four day music event. The addition of The Jerry McCain Broad Street Blues Bash rounded out the entertainment and allowed many local citizens to experience McCain - live and in living color, (to use one of his phrases). A commemorative CD, featuring some of McCain's best music, was compiled for sale at the 1997 Riverfest Event.
In 1996, McCain was selected by the Etowah Youth Orchestras as the most well-known musician from Gadsden. The EYO commissioned composer Julius Williams to write a work for solo harmonica and orchestra to be performed by McCain and the Etowah Youth Symphony Orchestra as a part of the City of Gadsden's Sesquicentenial Celebration. "Concerto for Blues Harmonica and Orchestra" was premiered in November 1996 on the EYO's Fall Formal Concert at Wallace Hall on the campus of Gadsden State Community College. McCain performed the solo harmonica part with the EYSO, under the direction of Music Director Michael R. Gagliardo. The "Concerto" was subsequently performed in Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City in June 1997 with McCain, the EYSO, and Julius Williams conducting.