Not only is Alabama-born Jerry McCain a terrific amplified harpist, he's also one of the funniest songwriters working the genre and has been for more than four decades, as anyone who's dug his out-of-control 1950s Excello rockers "My Next Door Neighbor" and "Trying to Please" will gladly testify. McCain was born on June 18, 1930, in Gadsden, AL. As a youngster, Little Walter was McCain's main man on harp, an instrument McCain began playing at age five. Walter passed through Gadsden one fateful night in 1953 with his Aces, offering encouragement and a chance to jam at a local nightspot. That same year, "Boogie" McCain made his vinyl debut for Lillian McMurray's Trumpet label in Jackson, MS, with "East of the Sun"/"Wine-O-Wine" and his brother, Walter McCain, playing drums on the sides. McCain's 1954 Trumpet encore, "Stay Out of Automobiles"/"Love to Make Up," was solid Southern blues, but barely hinted at the galvanic energy of his subsequent output.
Jerry McCain signed with Ernie Young's Nashville-based Excello logo in 1955, cutting "That's What They Want" with his usual sidekick Christopher Collins on guitar. "Run, Uncle John! Run," "Trying to Please," the torrid "My Next Door Neighbor" (a prior homemade demo version of the track that surfaced much later was even crazier), and "The Jig's Up" ranked with McCain's best 1955-1957 Excello efforts.
The harpist is probably best-known for his two-sided 1960 gem for Rex Records, "She's Tough"/"Steady." The Fabulous Thunderbirds later appropriated the insinuating mid-tempo A-side, while McCain's harp chops were strikingly showcased on the flip. McCain waxed three 45s for OKeh in Nashville in 1962, utilizing Music Row mainstays Floyd Cramer, Grady Martin, and Boots Randolph as his backup for "Red Top" and "Jet Stream." A series of 1965-1968 sides for Stan Lewis' Shreveport-based Jewel Records included a tailor-made tribute to the company, "728 Texas (Where the Action Is)" (Jewel's address).
After too many years spent in relative obscurity, McCain rejuvenated his fortunes in 1989 by signing with Ichiban Records and releasing Blues 'n' Stuff, followed three years later by Struttin' My Stuff and Love Desperado. In 2000, McCain released an all-star album This Stuff Just Kills Me for the Jericho label featuring Johnnie Johnson, John Primer, Anson Funderburgh, Jimmie Vaughan, along with the Double Trouble rhythm section of Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton. McCain resurfaced on Ichiban in 2002 with the release of American Roots: Blues. ~ Bill Dahl and Al Campbell