By Chris McCarthy
The “Boogie Man” has played his final note.
Internationally-renown blues musician and Gadsden resident Jerry “Boogie” McCain passed away on March 28 at the age of 81, leaving behind a legacy as a top-notch harmonica player as well as an outstanding person.
Services for McCain were held yesterday (Apr. 5) at Convention Hall in Gadsden.
According to several of McCain’s friends and colleagues, one had to separate McCain’s professional persona from his life off the stage in order to truly appreciate how special a person he was.
McCain played several First Friday events over the past four years, and he often sold autographed CDs at Little Faces Doll Shop on Broad Street before and after the above events.
Little Faces owner and operator Terry Jennings recalled a man who went out of his way to meet and greet those he encountered.
“We’ve been here for 22 years, and I’ve known Boogie for quite a while. He was always happy to give people his autograph and have his picture made with the kids, and he was never too busy to help someone.”
Jennings said that for her last two birthdays, McCain performed for she and her friends at the doll shop.
In turn, Jennings helped spread the word about McCain’s music.
“I usually asked people who come into the shop if they knew about Boogie McCain,” she said. “If they didn’t know about him, they did by the time they left the store!”
Jennings recalled a story of when McCain adopted a dog from the Etowah County Humane Society. From that time on, McCain bought an extra bag of dog food for the society whenever he purchased food for his own dog.
“He was just a very giving person who really cared about his friends,” said Jennings. “I really felt a closeness to him, and it’s just not going to be the same without him.”
Downtown Gadsden, Inc., executive director Kay Moore, who took over DGI in October 2007, recalled her last conversation with McCain back in February.
“He asked me if I had heard his new song about the University of Alabama football team. I told him that I hadn’t yet heard it, so he took me out to his car and we listened to it. Boogie was one of those guys who loved to entertain, particularly for young kids. They really liked to see him play harmonica with his nose!
“As his home town, I don’t think we gave him enough credit,” Moore added. “But he took what we gave him and enjoyed it. Boogie was just kind of a cool, cool person who was wonderful to be around. It’s one of those cases where you really don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone.”
Local guitarist and songwriter Danny Moon played in McCain’s backup band on several occasions when McCain performed locally. Moon owns and operates the Moonsong Café on Noccalula Mountain and works at the Gadsden Music Company on Broad Street.
Jerry McCain will live on – page 10A
“Boogie was the best harmonica player around, and he would tell you that, too,” said Moon with a laugh. “He had a great ear fro music and he wasn’t a nitpicky kind of guy to play with. We just fit when we played together.”
Moon recently wrote a song for McCain called “Boogie’s got Bling.” At the request of McCain’s family, Moon performed the number during McCain’s funeral service.
“A lot of people didn’t understand Boogie because they couldn’t get past the façade of Boogie the entertainer, but he was a guy who had a big heart and really loved people,” said Moon. “He certainly will be missed.”
Grover “Downtown” Brown, a local musician who is a member of the band “Just Country,” has an intimate knowledge of McCain’s career. Brown spent the last few years recording 10 hours worth of conversations in preparation for a book on McCain.
“I only met Boogie about five years ago, but I probably have spent more time in conversation with him than anybody else,” said Brown. “He was a good man who loved a good joke and had a great sense of humor. He was just a great guy and one of the best friends I ever had.”
Among the lesser-known facts about McCain that Brown discovered during those sessions was that McCain had a fondness for cooking as a result of his parents running a bar-b-que restaurant in Gadsden. Brown also found that McCain career in music was kickstarted by his peeling the labels off records from his parent’s jukebox and sending tapes and letters to the record companies.
Brown doubts that any present and future harmonica players are capable of filling McCain’s shoes.
“Without a doubt, Boogie was the King of the Harmonica. He was brilliant when he played, and there’s not going to be another one like him. Boogie wasn’t a master of the harmonica; he was the master of the harmonica. Nobody played in Boogie’s style. It wasn’t Piedmont blues or Delta blues, it really was Boogie’s Blues.”
The following passage is taken from a tribute written by Brown and shared at McCain’s funeral by McCain’s record producer, Artie Dean:
“As we go through this life, we meet many people – some good, some bad. Every once in a while we find someone who truly is one of a kind. I was blessed the day I met Jerry McCain. Not only was he the master of the blues harmonica, but truly a good soul. He worshipped his mother and cherished his family.
“I would like to tell you a story about Jerry the man.
“This is not a story Jerry would tell or even immortalize in song. It is just one example of his generosity and compassion.
“I work with a gentleman by the name of Gilbert Armour, who had to retire with disability. I once mentioned Boogie McCain in passing. Gilbert said that Jerry “Boogie” McCain was his idol when he was growing up. Gilbert was really down in the dumps, and I asked Jerry if he would mind giving Gilbert a call to help cheer him up.
“Not only did Jerry call him, he and I got in my car and drove a hundred miles one way to Gilbert’s house in Chattanooga, Tenn. Jerry spent an hour or so visiting with Gilbert and his wife Mary at their house. I took their picture with Jerry, and he left them with an autographed CD.
“Jerry touched so many lives while he was with us, and he will continue to touch untold lives in the future through his music and our memories.
“It is appropriate to let Jerry speak to us in the way he spoke to the world. He left us with an example of how he thought of friends of his that had moved on from this life and into the next.
“I don’t think Jerry would mind if we use the lyrics of one of his songs. It goes something like this:
‘ If Little Walter was here today, If Jimmy Reed was walking down Michigan Avenue or when the sun goes down it gets darker and darker he would have to tell us about Little Junior Parker. He would tell us about a friend of his that filled his heart with joy everybody knew him as Sonny Boy. He would tell us “you can’t have steak as long as your cows are on the hoof. He wouldn’t go anywhere until he told us bout old Howlin Wolf. Then it would be time for me to tell you his name. He’s from Alabama and he’s Jerry McCain he’s tough he’s rough and tough heh heh heh and …………. That’s tough enough.’
“We love you, Jerry!”