|Jim McCarty (Photo by BluesPhotos by Don McGhee)|
With bands including Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Cactus, and The Rockets, Jim McCarty gained international fame as a rock ‘n’ roll guitarist. With the Detroit Blues Band and his current group Mystery Train, McCarty has earned renown as a blues artist.
Who would have thought that the roots of his musical career are in jazz?
“My old man (the late James McCarty) was a drummer in the big band days,” explained McCarty, who will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Detroit Blues Society (along with the late piano player Big Maceo Merriweather) at the group’s monthly meeting and jam on Saturday. “I grew up listening to jazz, all the Blue Note and be-bop stuff – Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell.
A chance purchase turned McCarty into a devotee of the blues.
“I don’t think it’s a conscious decision,” McCarty said. “B.B. King is the guy who inspired me to play guitar, through a record I bought at a hardware store. It was ‘My Kind of Blues.’ I started teaching myself to play guitar by listening to it. I’ve still got that album.”
McCarty, 68, who recorded with Jimi Hendrix and Bob Seger, says he always had both rock ‘n’ roll and blues in his soul.
“I’ve mentioned more than one time that I need both rock ‘n’ roll and blues to be musically happy,” McCarty said. “Even during my days with Cactus and The Rockets, being on the road for 20 years, I listened to more blues than rock ‘n’ roll. The blues has always been a part of me, it reached a part of me of what I want to play.”
After The Rockets broke up, in the late 1980s McCarty joined the Detroit Blues Band. Other band members at that time were Emmanuel X. Garza (vocals/guitar), Bob Rabut (harmonica), the late Billy Landless (bass) and Tommy “T-Bone” Wagner (drums). McCarty and the band recorded two albums, “Real Life” (Blues Factory) and “Can’t Get You Off My Mind” (No Cover).
“When The Rockets ended I made a conscious decision to play the blues,” McCarty said. “With The Rockets, the mindset was always to get a big (rock ‘n’ roll) hit record and have a blues project on the side.
“At that time, I wanted to play the music I really feel in my heart.”
After an eight-year stint with the Detroit Blues Band, McCarty formed his band Mystery Train. The band, which includes both McCarty and Rick Stel on vocals and guitar, bassist Marvin Conrad, and several musicians including McCarty’s son Dylan on drums, has been together for about 18 years.
In 1997, the band joined with Detroit blues legend Willie D. Warren on the No Cover release “Willie D. Warren and Mystery Train Live.”
“We played with Willie every Sunday at The Firehouse,” McCarty said. “Mike Boulan (of No Cover Records) was running sound and recorded it. Willie didn’t even know it, and I don’t think I did either.
“After the gig ended, Mike told me ‘I think you should listen to it.’ What was great about that recording is it caught Willie right before his health started failing him.
“That old man’s voice raised the hair on the back of my neck. He was a sweetheart too. Me and Willie first met years before that. It was immediately, ‘I know who you are,' and 'I know who you are.’ It was great. I miss him.”
McCarty is still actively playing music and tearing it up.
In 2011, he released “Jim McCarty & Friends” (Cally’s Records and Tapes), a collection of 12 songs recorded live at Callahan’s Music Hall over a three-year period. Each tune features McCarty in impromptu jams with the likes of Duke Robillard, Jason Ricci, Jimmy Thackery and John Nemeth. It demonstrates McCarty’s ability to excel in a variety of blues styles.
Late in 2013, he released “Jim McCarty and Mystery Train Live,” which is available on iTunes and CD Baby.
Joining the band on the recording was harmonica player Kenny Welk.
“It starts out as a straight-ahead blues band and then moves into Cactus territory,” McCarty said. “It’s a continuous building of energy.”
McCarty loves the CD and especially credits the playing of his son Dylan, 40.
“He’s right in the pocket and just nails it.
“You should hear it when he kicks his old man in the ass on ‘Oh Well.’”
The Detroit Blues Society monthly meeting and jam starts at 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at Cooley Lake Inn, 8635 Cooley Lake Road, Commerce Township. Hosting will be the Tosha Owens Band. There’s no cover charge.
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