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In the history of the harmonica blues there is a before and after Little Walter. An artist who is a pivotal between two ways of blowing the harmonica.

His predecessor John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson was the first inspiration (like most harpists) for Marion Walter Jacobs aka Little Walter.

Born in Louisiana in 1930, Walter was raised by a mean stepfather who beat him and made him work the hard way in the fields. One day he just ran away from home and started to live on his own. While still a teenager we can hear him play guitar for tips in New Orleans, then in Memphis, trying his luck among the several jug bands of Beale Street. This is where he learned the harmonica and probably also experimenting electric amplification, trying to emulate (from his own words) the sound of the accordion He heard from Louisiana's Zydeco bands. He also tried to use amplification to sound like a saxophone and is probably at that time that Walter Jacobs took the nickname of "Little Walter". There was already another Walter (Horton) who was playing in Beale Street under the name of Big Walter!

A few years later in 1945, Walter hits Chicago now as a master of the harmonica. He first tries to make a living playing the guitar and singing in Maxwell Street Market where He meets Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers who, stunned by his forceful harmonica playing, bring him to Chess studios to record with their own band. At the end of a 1952 Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers' recording session, Chess waxes an instrumental lead by Walter that they call Juke. The tune unpredictably climbs the R&B Top 40. From there on and all along the 1950’s Little Walter will record an incredible number of tracks, particularly instrumentals that will be landmarks for the Blues harmonica, influencing thousands of harp players from all around the world and for the years to come: Temperature, Sad hours, Boogie, Off the wall, Flying saucer, Crazy legs, Blue lights, Thunderbird, Quarter to twelve, The toddle etc... With warm and deep tones, alternate rhythms, complex melodies and elaborated solos, Little Walter's style is always adventurous and original. Although less famous for his vocal talents, Walter is nevertheless a good singer with a smoky tone of voice that is at its best on numbers like Mean old world, Last night, Blues with a feeling and My babe, a Willie Dixon's composition drifted from an old Gospel tune (This train) that will reach n°1 on the R&B Top 40.

While he was promised to a bright career, Walter burned his life, never satisfied, drinking too much, quarrelling for nothing, trying to cheat everybody including his great musicians who one by one (Robert Jr Lockwood, Louis Myers, Freddie Robinson) ran away from him. After 1958, Walter's career dwindles drastically. He stops practicing, is a no-show at his own recording sessions, gigs and soon finds himself without musical work in the USA.

Meanwhile his records had reached European's shores where the new blues buffs were raving about him. He then starts to tour several times in Europe! In 1967 the American Folk Blues Festival tour features his talents as well as his dreadful character, always shouting against the backing band, particularly Hound Dog Taylor who, despite being a fine bluesman on his own, was effectively unable to give the necessary smoothness that Little Walter's tunes required. At one time, Walter was so angry that He eventually refused to play with anyone and delivered his set by himself unaccompanied!

Back to the USA, he had promises to record for major European labels and do more international tours. But in 1968, he is shot to death in a side alley after one too many brawls in which he was involved in a Chicago club.

He leaves a major work and more than 50 years after his untimely death Little Walter stays as one of the most influential Blues harmonica player of all Blues history.

His recordings have largely been reissued. As he recorded almost all his work for the same label Chess, The Complete Chess Masters (1950 - 1967), a five CDs box set with copious liner notes, comprises all the recordings he made for this legendary label and is still available.

Before Chess and while he was playing on the Maxwell Street Market, Walter recorded for very small independent labels like Ora-Nelle. Those early recordings where Walter is featured on guitar as well as on the harmonica can be found on The Blues world of Little Walter on a Delmark CD.

The life of Little Walter is in-depth documented on the great book Blues with a feeling/ The Little Walter Story (Routledge). Authors Scott Dirks (a fine harp player himself) and the late very influential Tony Glover conducted a long investigation about Walter's whereabouts, finding close relatives who told a hidden story about their kinfolk. This is in fact one of the best blues biography ever. The critics raved about the book:

" Little Walter (born Marion Walter Jacobs in 1930) was perhaps the finest Chicago-style blues harmonica player of all time. Learning from such greats as Sonny Boy Williamson, he rose to superstar status as sideman to blues giant Muddy Waters and took the lowly harmonica to a place of prominence as an expressive, powerful electrified lead instrument of almost vocal qualities. Collaborating via e-mail, noted blues scholars Glover, Ward Gaines, and Scott Dirks unearthed important information on the artist's shadowy life through interviews and library research. They paint a picture of Walter as a fiery, independent soul who lived fast and loose and died tragically as a result of a street fight at the age of 37. But for his vast musical contributions, all modern blues harmonica players certainly owe a debt to this musical pioneer. A pleasant read intended for a lay audience, this is the only biography available on Walter, and all public and music libraries with blues aficionados should add it to their collections " (Bill Walker, Library Journal)

"Maybe the best book I've ever read concerning music or any music personality." (Blues Notes)

"Indispensable." (The Times - London)

" Given his standing in the world of blues, it's amazing that it has taken so long for an in-depth book on Marion Walter Jacobs to appear, but be in no doubt that the wait has been well worth it. Reading like a novel, but one which even Walter Mosley might have struggled to plot with credibility, the story of the ultimately deeply-troubled genius progenitor of contemporary blues harmonica is unfolded in an enthralling manner by a triumvirate of authors notably well-qualified for the task." Bill Moodie, Juke Blues (UK)

The movie Cadillac Records also portrays Little Walter (played by Colombus Short) but exaggerates his character a lot.

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