“Little Walter” Jacobs

March 1, 1930 – February 15, 1968

Recording history: 1947-1967 for Ora-Nelle, Parkway, Checker/Chess

Also recorded with: Othum Brown, Babyface Leroy, Sunnyland Slim, Jimmy Rogers, Muddy Waters, Floyd Jones, Johnny Shines, John Brim, Memphis Minnie, Bo Diddley, The Coronets, Otis Rush, Rocky Fuller, Shel Silverstein, Robert Nighthawk, Johnny Young

Important/historic recordings:Juke” (spent 8 weeks at Billboard #1 – considered the most influential & important harmonica instrumental), “Sad Hours“, “Roller Coaster“, “My Babe“, “Blues With a Feeling“, “Off The Wall“, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

Random fact: Juke* was Little Walter’s first song from his first session (1952) and remains to this day the most influential blues harmonica instrumental. So widespread was his success and influence as a player & instrumentalist, that the Buddy Morrow big band covered not one, but TWO of Walter’s instrumental classics – “Off The Wall” and “Quarter To Twelve” – taking full circle the influence of jump blues & swing in Walter’s playing and recordings, and ending up being covered by an actual big band! (* if you listen to Snooky Pryor‘s “Boogie” from 1948 you can hear more than a passing resemblance to Walter’s “Juke”)

About: Born in Louisiana and moved to Chicago in 1945 as a teen, Marion Walter Jacobs starting playing in Chicago as a guitarist and harmonica player not long after his move. His early recordings on vocals & harmonica for the Ora-Nelle and Parkway labels showed a major influence of John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, as did some of his early acoustic work backing up Sunnyland Slim, Jimmy Rogers, Floyd Jones, Johnny Shines and even Muddy Waters. But when Little Walter finally started to record amplified harmonica, he not only changed his style somewhat, but also the course of the instrument in musical history, to manipulate the new amplification equipment used and get many sounds, textures, and tonal variations unheard of before with the harmonica. This is in addition to being the most musically creative & innovative soloist in the history of classic blues as well.

Just like Sonny Boy #1 (John Lee Williamson), Little Walter became the NEW man all players tried to emulate on the blues harmonica. To this day, the standard Little Walter set not only as an instrumentalist, but everything from the different amplified sounds he got out of the harp, to how well of an accompanist he was remains the standard not only for blues harp players, but also for some other roots styles of harmonica playing. Again, like John Lee Williamson, there are few (if any) harmonica players in blues & roots fields that have not been directly or indirectly influenced by Little Walter’s playing. And one more thing in common with Sonny Boy #1 – so many people try to emulate, copy, or “carry on” the tradition of their style and miss the mark because the styles, techniques, and chops of these players are advanced yet at the same time can be deceptively simple to the casual listener.

Recent Recognition for Little Walter:

  • “Best of Little Walter” in the Top 200 Albums of All Time (Rolling Stone Magazine)
  • My Babe” recognized in Blues Hall of Fame (2008)
  • Juke” wins Grammy Hall of Fame award (2008)
  • Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (as sideman – 2008)
  • “The Complete Chess Masters: 1950-1967″ wins Grammy (Best Historical Album – 2009)

Recommended Recordings in-print:

  • “The Blues World Of…” – Delmark (early Parkway recordings)
  • “The Complete Chess Masters” – MCA/Chess (5-cd definitive set of Chess recordings)
  • “His Best” – MCA/Chess (if you don’t want the full 5-cd set above)
  • “Blues With a Feeling” – MCA/Chess (if you don’t want the full 5-cd set above)

I’ve found the best selection of blues harmonica CDs to be available at:

blues harmonica, blues harp, lessons, history

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