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Little Walter

Who's the king of all post-war blues harpists, Chicago division or otherwise? Why, the virtuosic Little Walter, without a solitary doubt. The fiery harmonica wizard took the humble mouth organ in dazzling amplified directions that were unimaginable prior to his ascendancy. His daring instrumental innovations were so fresh, startling, and ahead of their time that they sometimes sported a jazz sensibility, soaring and swooping in front of snarling guitars and swinging rhythms perfectly suited to Walter's pioneering flights of fancy.

Marion Walter Jacobs was by most accounts an unruly but vastly talented youth who abandoned his rural Louisiana home for the bright lights of New Orleans at age 12. Walter gradually journeyed north from there, pausing in Helena (where he hung out with the wizened Sonny Boy Williamson), Memphis, and St. Louis before arriving in Chicago in 1946.

The thriving Maxwell Street strip offered a spot for the still-teenaged phenom to hawk his wares. He fell in with local royalty -- Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy -- and debuted on wax that same year for the tiny Ora-Nelle logo ("I Just Keep Loving Her") in the company of Jimmy Rogers and guitarist Othum Brown. Walter joined forces with Muddy Waters in 1948; the resulting stylistic tremors of that coupling are still being felt today. Along with Rogers and Baby Face Leroy Foster, this super-confident young aggregation became informally known as the Headhunters. They would saunter into Southside clubs, mount the stage, and proceed to calmly "cut the heads" of whomever was booked there that evening.

By 1950, Walter was firmly entrenched as Waters' studio harpist at Chess as well (long after Walter had split the Muddy Waters band, Leonard Chess insisted on his participation on waxings -- why split up an unbeatable combination?). That's how Walter came to record his breakthrough 1952 R&B chart-topper "Juke" -- the romping instrumental was laid down at the tail-end of a Waters session. Suddenly, Walter was a star on his own, combining his stunning talents with those of the Aces (guitarists Louis and David Myers and drummer Fred Below) and advancing the concept of blues harmonica another few light years with every session he made for Checker Records.

From 1952 to 1958, Walter notched 14 Top Ten R&B hits, including "Sad Hours," "Mean Old World," "Tell Me Mama," "Off the Wall," "Blues with a Feeling," "You're So Fine," a threatening "You Better Watch Yourself," the mournful "Last Night," and a rocking "My Babe" that was Willie Dixon's secularized treatment of the traditional gospel lament "This Train." Throughout his Checker tenure, Walter alternated spine-chilling instrumentals with gritty vocals (he's always been underrated in that department; he wasn't Muddy Waters or the Wolf, but who was?).

Walter utilized the chromatic harp in ways never before envisioned (check out his 1956 free-form instrumental "Teenage Beat," with Robert Jr. Lockwood and Luther Tucker manning the guitars, for proof positive). 1959's determined "Everything Gonna Be Alright" was Walter's last trip to the hit lists; Chicago blues had faded to a commercial non-entity by then unless your name was Jimmy Reed.

Tragically, the '60s saw the harp genius slide steadily into an alcohol-hastened state of unreliability, his once-handsome face becoming a road map of scars. In 1964, he toured Great Britain with the Rolling Stones, who clearly had their priorities in order, but his once-prodigious skills were faltering badly. That sad fact was never more obvious than on 1967's disastrous summit meeting of Waters, Bo Diddley, and Walter for Chess as the Super Blues Band; there was nothing super whatsoever about Walter's lame remakes of "My Babe" and "You Don't Love Me."

Walter's eternally vicious temper led to his violent undoing in 1968. He was involved in a street fight (apparently on the losing end, judging from the outcome) and died from the incident's after-effects at age 37. His influence remains inescapable to this day -- it's unlikely that a blues harpist exists on the face of this earth who doesn't worship Little Walter. ~ Bill Dahl, Rovi
full bio

Comments

One of a kind
tomhamilton4 2
My babe rules
very good harp player
Ilj was the very best.
The blues leave your soul feeling so good! I love listening to Walters sing and play the blues
I met Little Walter thru my aunt about 2 months before his untimely death. I had been a fan of his for years and was really shocked when I heard of his demise when I woke up one morning hearing his music being played one after another.
so bad!!!God blessed this man to his SOUL!
One Word...Wow!
The Blues is Little Walter
Genius!
this that s**t
jbetler
When I think about how great Little Walter's talents and legacy are, I also can't help but wonder how much more we could have had if he got to live a full life. He is still the GOAT!
scottcampbel l 1 9 5 8
The baddest harp player who ever lived.
this was my hommie..who dat nation
This is the reeeaalll deal let it live oooh yeah who's your DADDY baby
Little Walter was the greatest of all times harmonica player. No one came close to him period. Fred D Shurn Maywood Illinois
This man was to electric blues harp what S.R.V. was to guitar!!! R.I.P.
a big big reason i plays da harps
The greatest harp player - yup, gotta agree with that one. Bad to the bone was Little Walter. RIP brother.
he poured the demons from his soul thru his harp and it brought joy to so many !!! the weight was so heavy but , he endured until the demons finally subdued him !! great artist !!
rmgh77
free SOUL....
Little Walter is the man! PRICELESS
this is a very sssssssmmmmm m m m m m m m o o o o o o o o o o o t t t t t t t t t t t t h h h h h h h h h man
wildiaz3
only can a man with an incredible soul, is capable of playing the blues with such feeling
solobase
peerless
Little Walter Is the man when it comes to the blues harmonica. Today 11/10 and forever he will be revered by all who hold a blues harp. Amen
Little Walter was a friend of my family, he was the best then and so far he's still the best that ever lived!.
tech51
I really enjoy listening to this type of music.
wolf4x4
Gone to soon but left a big mark in Blues history. R.I.P Little Walter; music still going strong.
thatrealtorg u y i n s h o r t s
Just like n'awlins cuisine... MMM Goood! Ah Gahrontee!
LiL walter,there wasn't nothing little about his music,He had a big sound boogie woogie stlye! Great swing out music !
Fortunate for us Chess Records made amazing recordings of Little Walter..thou g h he was plagued with alcohol abuse and egocentria, there really is no one in his era that can match his creative genius...The stories of his live performances are legendary as well as his meager four of five piece bands would dismantle the contemporary 10 and 15 piece R & B bands that would be on the same show with him..
Lil' Walter was a pioneer in the coming of electric blues . The movie " Cadillac Records is a must see for Muddy , Lil' Walter , Willie Dixon fans
clo.cynthia
The blues is keep it real music i love it.. God bless all the blues players and little Walter is one of the best.
mooviegeek
AWESOME!!!!! can feel his power deep in my belly

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