Little Walter, blues harmonica legend, played
for Muddy Waters before embarking on his own blues career. He might
have fit in just as well with the Count Basie Band (and lived
longer too). Walter grew up on the streets playing for change and
fighting anyone that got in his way. You can hear it in tunes
like "Juke", his first #1 hit. (Maybe it's because
his mom named him Marion)
The Count Basie connection isn't that far fetched. Little
Walter approached the harmonica like playing sax in a big band.
Often he played simple riffs along with the rhythm section, then
exploded into a wild solo, only to finish with an out chorus of
The switch back and forth from mellow riffs to hard, biting
solo passages calls to mind Miles Davis (who was also into
boxing). Little Walter, the street fighter, had another thing in
comon with Davis, he was brilliant at creating rich musical
settings for his songs and solos. Like Miles, he had the best
blues musicians to work with- Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Freddy
Below and Otis Spann, etc.
Much more than just a sideman, Walter was an innovator when
jazz was stuck in rigid bebop and swing formats. His use of pedal
points, non-standard chord changes, and special effects on Chess
recordings in the early 50's was years ahead of similar trends in
rock and jazz music.
By Johnny Mayer.
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