Little Walter / May 1, 1930 - Feb 15, 1968

Blues harp icon Little Walter Jacobs influenced nearly every single blues and rock harmonica player that came after him, Junior Wells included. He was hugely popular in the '50s with his loose & jazzy updates of old blues tunes, as well as original compositions hitting the charts and attaining worldwide popularity.

Born and raised in Louisiana, he quit school at 12 to busk and work in various cities in the South, playing with Honeyboy Edwards and Sunnyland Slim along the way before hitting the Windy City in '45. Chicago, being the loud & buzzing town that it was, forced Walter to plug in via a microphone he held cupped in his hand to be able to compete with the loud guitars and he brought this advantage to its fullest, utilizing distortion as part of the art. As they say, he was the Hendrix of the harmonica. (It must be noted that he didn't record with the the plugged-in set-up 'til '51.) He would simply walk into Chicago joints, jump up on stage, and blow away the competition.

Starting around '47 he was cutting disks for local labels and joined Muddy Waters' band in '48 for a four-year stint. He continued to do sessions for Chess Records (including on Muddy's disks), even contributing some guitar playing. He also started up his own band in '52 and immediately had a #1 hit ("Juke") from his very first take of his first tune at his first leader session for Chess subsidiary Checker. "My Babe" was also a #1 hit in '55. A couple of saxophonists that would appear with Little Walter in the '50s: young Albert Ayler and Ray Charles! (Yes, Ray was a saxophonist as well.)

He toured Europe in '64 and '67. In addition to his own hit records and his work with Muddy he can be heard on records by Memphis Minnie, Bo Diddley, Shel Silverstein, Otis Rush, Robert Nighthawk, Koko Taylor and others. His boozing and brawling got the best of him and he died in his sleep from internal bleeding at 37.

Tagged: blues, Celebrate Icons, Chicago, harmonica, jazz, Little Walter, soul!, vintage footage

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