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Jerry "Boogie" McCain 

Jerry "Boogie" McCain 


Jerry "Boogie" McCain claims to be the greatest blues harmonica player alive. He's not bragging. He's just calling it as he sees it. Jerry has no problem calling things as he sees them. His wry wit and philosophical ruminations are legendary. With five decades worth of blues experience we thinks he's earned that right. Oh, and readers of Blues Critic also picked him as "Best Blues Harmonica Player" in Blues Critic's Blues Awards this past year. That's saying a lot considering the category also includes luminaries like James Cotton and Rod Piazza. Blues historians and zealots wax nostalgic about legends like Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson or Muddy Waters but we have the real thing here in Jerry 'Boogie" McCain. Maybe now he'll start getting the props he deserves as one of the greatest blues musicians of the modern era.

The Interview 


BC = Blues Critic

Jerry = Jerry "Boogie" McCain 


BC = So what were you doing when I called?

Jerry = I was just on the phone with Debbie (Jerry's manager). She's watching that American Idol bulls--t! Man, they had a blues musician on there and I would've told that fool to sit his ass down! I could play better harmonica with my nose than he does with his mouth. See, nobody plays like the old man.

BC = I know that's right. As you know Blues Critic readers picked you for best harmonica player this past year.

Jerry = You know I really want to thank everybody for recognizing my style. I've always been grateful to fans of Jerry "Boogie" McCain. The W.C. Handy people don't recognize my style. I got my own style. You know people say "Jerry, you braggin' 'cuz I say I'm the best in the world". I have a right to brag. I've been playing all my life. You know when my mama got tired of me suckin' on her titty she put a harmonica in my mouth!

BC = If it wasn't for this blues thing did you ever consider being a stand-up comedian?

Jerry = (laughs) People they ask me that all the time. I keep people laughing. I want them to have a good time. When I die we'll all have a party. In the graveyard, there'll be blues playin' and people shakin' their thang.

BC = How has the blues changed after all these years?

Jerry = Hey, the blues is the root and jazz is the fruit. A whole lot of people messin' with the blues and a lot of people keep trying. But you can't copy the rhythm. You can play and shake all you want but you gotta be born with it. The blues is black. I know they say "You can't say that!". Well, I just said it. Don't get me wrong. You know if it wasn't for white people I'd be out of business! But the blues come from black people. It came from slavery. They'd be pickin' cotton and singin' the blues to console themselves. You gotta have a reason to sing the blues.

BC = Do you feel you've gotten the recognition you deserve?

Jerry = You know the way I play harmonica- if I was a white I'd be a rich mother f---. If Nat King Cole had been white he'd of been twice as big as Sinatra. I'm just doing what a black man would do. But if it wasn't for whites supporting the blues... Sometimes I see like 9 black people in the audience. It's because blues doesn't get the credit it deserves. It's 19 out of 19. It's on the bottom of the pile.

BC = Chick Willis has a song called "Mr. Blues" where he says that blacks don't dig the blues 'cuz it reminds them of slavery. Do you think that's the case?

Jerry = People associate it with poverty too. These young kids don't even know one blues song. That rap bullsh-- they listen to. You know there ain't no talent just taking a song and doing some crazy sh-- over it. I'm gonna do an album and called "I Do Not Do No Rappin'" or something like that. But it don't matter to me. I play the blues. I am the blues. 


Jerry "Boogie" McCain 


Jerry McCain was born on June 19, 1930 in Gadsden, AL. One of five children, he grew up "po' as po' can be" as he puts it. In his teens he earned a regular gig at a local station WETO fronting a jug band! Jerry made a homemade bass. The strings were made out of an inner tube.

Jerry was influenced by Little Walter. In fact he met and proceeded to impress the old curmudgeon (then a young curmudgeon) when he covered Walter's "Can't Hold Out Much Longer". Boogie's break came when Lillian McMurry of Diamond Recording, Inc heard his demo and decided to check out Jerry and his band (which included Chris Carter on guitar, Herman Fowlkes on bass, Dave Campbell on piano and Bernard Williams on tenor sax). McMurry was impressed enough to have Jerry cut four sides in October 1953. "Wine O' Wine" and "East Of The Sun" from the session were released on Trumpet Records, home of Elmore James . But it wasn't until a year later that Jerry recorded again with "Stay Out Of Automobiles".


BC = Your first recordings were released for the famed Trumpet label, which also had Elmore James & Sonny Boy Williamson. Wasn't that a coup for a young artist?

Jerry = Naw, I didn't make no money. They gave me a half sent for every record sold and that ain't fair.

BC = One of your first humorous compositions, "Stay Out Of Automobiles" came from these sessions. What do you remember most about that period.

Jerry = (laughs) Those were some crazy times. We had an old Dodge that had tires blown out so much we thought people were shooting at us! That's where "Stay Out Of Automobiles" come from. I was nervous recording there in Jackson. We had racism over in Alabama, but nowhere like in Mississippi. I half expected the Ku Klux Klan or a lynch mob to show up while we were recording.

BC = That "Strange Kind Of Feelin'" LP that came out in 1990 that included these Trumpet songs. I find it strange that your photo wasn't used for the cover. You had more tracks on their than Clayton Love & Tiny Kennedy.

Jerry = You're telling me. If I have the majority of the tracks on it why did they put this other guy's face on the cover like it was his album? What kind of deal is that?


"Stay Out Of Automobiles" failed to sell significantly and Diamond Recording, Inc. went under soon after. Jerry next landed on Excello Records and from 1955 to 1957, Jerry McCain & The Upstarts cut 6 sides for Excello with producer and label owner Ernie Young. Although McCain and Young were at odds they managed to create the classic 'That's What They Want" and "My Next Door Neighbor". (Around the same time McCain also cut 11 sides on his own but none were released until the 1981 LP "Choo Choo Rock" on the White Label).


Jerry Boogie McCain That's What They Want

BC = Your Excello sides didn't come out on CD until 1995 for "That's What They Want". The original "My Next Door Neighbor" was recorded then. You cut an updated version called "My New Next Door Neighbor" on your new CD?

Jerry = Because I signed over the publishing to Ernie (Young) on that first one. Now that was stupid thing to do. We didn't agree on nothing in the studio.


In 1959 Jerry cut seven sides that came out on the Rex label. The session produced the classic 2-sided single "She's Tough" & "Steady". "She's Tough", although not charting, was a bona fide hit. Some 20 years later Texan Blues/Rock group Fabulous Thunderbirds had a hit with the tune, which also inspired their calling card "Tuff Enuff".


BC = Now of course your classics "Steady" and "She's Tough" came next.

Jerry = Yeah that's when I did "Steady" and you know that's one of the all time harmonica songs harmonica players learn. You either learn "Juke" by Little Walter or "Steady" by Jerry "Boogie" McCain.

BC = "She's Tough" was a decent sized hit too. What did you think of the Fabulous Thunderbirds doing that song?

Jerry = Yeah they did my song. But you know that other song. "Tuff Enuff". That really came from me too. You listen to 'She's Tough' near the end I was singin' "Ain't she tough enough' and they took that and made a song out of it.


Next up was three sides for Columbia Records subsidiary Okeh (including "Jet Stream" and "Red Top") before a single for RJK called "Here's Where You Get It". It was then Continental for a re-recording of "She's Tough" plus "Love Me Right". None of which made much noise. A longer stay occurred with Stan Lewis' Jewel Records. From 1965 to 1968 McCain released a total of five singles for Jewel.




BC = I've read your experience with the Okeh label wasn't a happy marriage.

Jerry = When I left they said I owed them $33,000 dollars! I thought they was paying for everything. I still owe them money I think. Ain't that some bull sh**

BC = I've read that you were moonlighting as a bounty hunter at this time. is that true?

Jerry = (laughs). I wasn't making no money just doing gigs and from those records. They were always cheating you out of royalties. Yeah, I had a 9 mm and a shot gun. This white guy I was working for, Ace Williams, he sent me all over to haul in bail jumpers. But I had to quit that I'm a blues man.


Throughout the interview Jerry talked in length about his days with Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Lazy Lester and more. He also pulled no punches about bad business partners and managers who he calls "crooks" but McCain doesn't sound bitter when he's talking. He's reminiscing. When he talks about racism he isn't angry. He's just telling you the way he sees it.

It was manager Gary Sizemore who got Jerry McCain signed again following the Okey stint. This time with Royal American. Sizemore was behind the Rex and Continental recordings. The first release was "Welfare Cadillac Blues", an answer to Country singer Guy Drake's "Welfare Cadillac". But following the release of the single, "The Cockfight" McCain's career ground to a halt. The mid to late 70s were not kind to blues artists and Jerry got eclipsed by the Disco phenomenon like so many others. So it was back to gigging every and anywhere that would have him. He didn't record again until 1983 with "53 Year Old Man" and "I'm Waiting For Jesus". In 1986 the LP "Bad Blues Is My Business" was released for the Bad label. The Sizemore/McCain partnership fell apart during this time.




In 1987Jerry recorded a flop called "Blues On The Move" but was invited to compete against other harmonica kings at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco that year. Other contestants included Sammy Myers, Rod Piazza, Lazy Lester, and Rick Estrin of Little Charlie & the Nightcats. Now on the comeback trail he contacted Ichiban's John Abbey, who already had on his label the likes of Little Johnny Taylor, Blues Boy Willie, Artie White, Willie Clayton, Buster Benton, Ben E. King, Millie Jackson, and Tyrone Davis!

Four Albums were released on McCain for Ichiban. Still Jerry left the label owing them $35,000!


Jerry = Story of my career. Had I known before I got in the music business I'd end up broke I'd been a preacher and got my money! Now, bring them baskets up. (laughs).


Nevertheless, through the 90s McCain kept a high profile amongst blues people and in 1998 the non-profit Music Maker Relief foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping alive Southern musical traditions and helping its artists to survive, recorded Jerry "Boogie" McCain for the low-key "Unplugged", but it wasn't released until 2001.


Jerry Boogie McCain Unpluggrf           


First McCain dropped what is perhaps his best LP. "This Stuff Just Kills Me" came out in 2000 to rave reviews. Guests included guitarists Anson Funderburgh, Jimmie Vaughan, Carl Sonny Leyland and Johnnie Johnson. The epitome of Contemporary Blues was displayed on "Viagra Man", "No Use In Drug Abuse" and "Deadbeats", which all contain razor sharp social commentary and humor. Unfortunately, the label (Jericho Hills) folded and McCain didn't record a new disc until 2005's "Boogie Is My Name".


BC = What's next for "Boogie" McCain?

Jerry = I'm recording a new album. It's gonna knock you out. It's some of my best. Y'all ain't heard nothin' yet. I can't wait to get this out. Make sure I get your address so I can burn you a copy and you can hear it!


Jerry then proceeded to sing a line from one of his new songs...Now, I can't wait to hear the whole thing! Long live the "Viagra Man".

Jerry "Boogie" McCain

Jerry "Boogie" McCain "Boogie is My Name" (Music Maker/Boogie Down)

*** Blues harp legend "Boogie" McCain is back to serve you up some laidback juke blues like he's done for some five decades now. A virtuoso on the harmonica, McCain also has disparate vocal phrasing like a comic with expert timing and good material. "Boogie Is My Name" contains 10 originals flush with earthy wit and the blood of the blues. Opening with the appropriate "Boogie Is My Name" McCain says: "They call me 'Boogie' because 'Boogie' is my name/All around the world people just love that Jerry "Boogie" McCain". Well, he ain't lying. Although he may not enjoy the profile of a James Cotton, "Boogie" is a revered, purveyor of honest-to-goodness blues. His humor comes out again on the shufflin' "My New Next Door Neighbor" about those pesky neighbors who always need to borrow something. (The song is an update to his own "My Next Door Neighbor" from the 50s). Perhaps the most interesting song is the one with the provocative title "Demons Of The Body". Here McCain uses a church motif to preach about "demons" like "Arthur". "Arthur who?" you may ask. "Arthur- ritus of course! But even a funny guy like "Boogie" gets the blues and he digs down deep on "Cry'n Won't Do No Good". There's nothing innovative here- 'Boogie" didn't improve on the automobile- but he rides one as good as anyone.



(C) 2018. All written material found on this website is the property of Blues Critic and may only be used with permission and full accreditation (either "Blues Critic" or "Dylann DeAnna of Blues Critic") and link to this website.