Artist: Jimmy McCracklin
From: a point of contention; either Elaine, Arkansas or St. Louis, Missouri.
Song: ‘The Walk’
First heard: in the mid 80s at one of the ‘record hops’ still taking place as part of London’s remaining 50s/60s Teddy Boy/Rocker scene; locations ranging from a rarely used upstairs function room in a backstreet Brixton pub to the staff social club in, of all places, Hackney Hospital.
‘The Walk’ is vividly remembered from the backstreet Brixton pub.
Entry through a side door, up some stairs: a long gloomy room. Hot, stifling, felt like it hadn’t been used for years; that the DJ had gone round every rundown pub in South London looking for the worst, it being the least likely to care about the demonic roar all grease n’ leather ‘the Hop’ would entice to the area for its duration.
An aspect that could have a habit of making places unpopular with local residents rest of the week round.
Blokes bopped; lovers jived; birds strolled (to use the vernacular of the time). These rules weren’t hard and fast like the bikes used to get there; but there were plenty of lads who wouldn’t stroll or jive for love and likewise lots of lasses who’d stroll and jive all night, but not bop a smidgen.
‘Strolling’ or ‘doing the stroll’ really being a name for one dance (that originally had a line of women and men facing each other), but at the time on that scene was used to mean all those of similar style, much like how Brits call all vacuum cleaners ‘Hoovers’. To the uninitiated ‘line-dancing’ is a more accurate coverall underneath which ‘The Walk’ belongs.
Each ‘stroll’ had its own repeated pattern. Some were straightforward, no more than what The Shadows used to do in unison while playing guitar; while others mind-bogglingly intricate, needing practise at home before daring to hit a dance floor (least as it looked to me).
As a rule they weren’t exactly slow, but there was something about ‘The Walk’ that left the rest looking dull; the aggressive change of pace first occurring at the eighteen second mark on the back of almost–screamed vocals.
In the dark muggy room the dance floor’s unpolished wood looked bare, reflected what little light there was like hot sand at midnight. Dancers reacted to the pace changes with a zeal equal to the vocals. Hot, red faces perspiring; long purposeful strides punishing the already beaten floor even more . . . Made ‘strolling’ look like something it’d never been before: intense; a deadly serious rock ‘n’ roll burlesque show.
The Hop there didn’t last long. Still, writing, it struck as weird I couldn’t remember the pub’s name given my dad lived in the next road—Lilford—when I was a kid, while I lived nearby at the time of the Hop and for years after.
I went online to have a look and lo and behold, what did I find but this incredible picture, used by kind permission of Tracey Gregory, Loughborough Road Histories.
More was to come; that dingy dark space was once a glamorous ballroom from Brixton’s time at the height of Victorian fashion, it still having the same ceiling to this day (image National Brewery Trust circa 1945).
Does memory deceive?
Thankfully not; Tracey Gregory also remembers going to concerts there and finding the room gloomy and dark. A photo of the side door taken in 2005 (here) also shows a different story to the recent refurb above.
Jimmy McCracklin’s recording career is extensive. While ‘The Walk’ was his breakthrough hit, making the charts in 1958, he’d been recording music on small labels since ‘Miss Mattie Left Me’ in 1945.
His first full album Jimmy McCracklin Sings was released 1962; a complete discography can’t be found online, though he certainly released albums of new material into the 70s at least (those beyond appear to be best ofs and anthologies, etc).
With ‘Double Dealing’ from 1972’s Yesterday is Gone, Jimmy shows an ability to move with the times, while maintaining his musical essence; he continued performing live until 2007.
Jimmy McCracklin passed away in San Pablo, California, December 20, 2012, aged 91. R.I.P..
In 2019, Jimmy McCracklin, among numerous others, was named in the list of artists whose master tapes were destroyed in the 2008 Universal Studios fire; a list Universal disputes almost in entirety.
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Thanks for reading 🙂
N. P. Ryan
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