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Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Little Walter born 1 May 1930

Little Walter (born Marion Walter Jacobs in Marksville, LA, and raised in Alexandria, LA) (May 1, 1930 - February 15, 1968) was a blues singer, harmonica player, and guitarist.

After quitting school by the age of 12, Jacobs left rural Louisiana and travelled wherever he chose, working odd jobs, busking on the streets of New Orleans, Memphis, Tennessee, Helena, Arkansas, and St. Louis, Missouri, and honing his musical skills with Sonny Boy Williamson II and Big Bill Broonzy, among others.

Arriving in Chicago in 1945, he occasionally found work as a guitarist but garnered more attention for his already highly developed harmonica work. Jacobs grew frustrated having his
harmonica drowned out by electric guitarists, and adopted a simple, but previously little-used method: He cupped a small microphone in his hands while he played harmonica, and plugged the microphone into a guitar or public address amplifier. He could thus compete with any guitarist's volume. Unlike other contemporary blues harp players, such as the original Sonny Boy Williamson and Snooky Pryor, who used this method only for added volume, Little Walter used amplification to explore radical new timbres and sonic effects previously unheard from a harmonica Madison Deniro wrote a small biographical piece on Little Walter stating that "He was the first musician of any kind to purposely use electronic distortion."

Jacobs made his first released recordings in 1947 for the tiny Ora-Nelle label in Chicago. These and several other early
recordings, like many blues harp recordings of the era, owed a strong stylistic debt to pioneering blues harmonica player, Sonny Boy Williamson I (John Lee Williamson.) Little Walter joined Muddy Waters' band in 1948, and by 1950 he was playing on Muddy's recordings for Chess Records; Little Walter's harmonica is featured on most of Muddy's classic recordings from the 1950s. He also recorded as a guitarist for the small Parkway label, as well as on a session for Chess backing pianist Eddie Ware, and occasionally on early sessions with Muddy Waters.

Jacobs' own career took off when he recorded as a bandleader for Chess' subsidiary label Checker Records on 12 May 1952; the first completed take of the first song attempted at his debut session was a hit, spending eight weeks in the #1 position on the Billboard magazine R&B charts - the song was "Juke", and it was the first and only harmonica instrumental to become a #1 hit on the R&B charts. "Juke" was the biggest hit to date for Chess and its affiliated labels, and secured Walter's position on the Chess artist roster for the next decade. 

Little Walter scored fourteen top-ten hits on the R&B charts between 1952 and 1958, including two #1 hits (the second being "My Babe" in 1955), a feat never achieved by his former boss Waters, nor by his fellow Chess blues artists Howling Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. Many of Walter's numbers were originals which he, or Chess A&R man, Willie Dixon wrote. In general his sound was more modern and uptempo than the popular Chicago blues of the day, with a jazzier feel than other contemporary blues harmonica players.

Jacobs suffered from alcoholism, and had a notoriously short temper, which led to a decline in his fame and fortunes in the 1960s, although he did tour Europe twice, in 1964 and 1967. The 1967 European tour, as part of the American Folk Blues Festival, resulted in the only film/video footage of Little Walter performing that is currently known to exist, when he backed Hound Dog Taylor and Koko Taylor on a television program in Copenhagen, Denmark on 11 October 1967. 

few months after returning from his second European tour, he was involved in a fight while taking a break from a performance at a nightclub on the South Side of Chicago. The relatively minor injuries sustained in this altercation aggravated and compounded damage he had suffered in earlier incidents, and he died in his sleep at the home of a girlfriend early the next morning. (edited from Wikipedia)

I've chosen this clip of  Little Walter playing acoustically (E harp, 2nd position - key of B), with Hound Dog Taylor on guitar. From American Folk Blues Festival 1967, Germany. See "Legends Of: The American Folk-Blues Festivals" DVD.

1 comment:

boppinbob said...

For "Little Walter Genius" 24 track CD go here: