Masters of Blues Harp
Little Walter Jacobs

These notes are from my harmonica transcription/instruction book, Masters of the Blues Harp, which has a transcription of: Juke (The Best of Little Walter-Chess 9192) as well as:
Rocker (Confessing the Blues-Chess 9366)
Sad Hours (The Best of Little Walter).
Blue Lights (The Best of Little Walter)

 -Glenn Weiser

Glenn Weiser's Harmonica Pages
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Book Review: Blues With A Feeling - The Little Walter Story, reviewed  by Glenn Weiser
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Transcription of Juke

Marion "Little Walter" Jacobs is widely considered the greatest blues harmonica player ever. A Creole who could speak French, he was born in Marksville, Louisiana in 1930. He took up the harmonica as a child, at first playing polkas and waltzes, and by the time he was 12 he was on his own, working the sidewalks and bars of New Orleans with his instrument. He had also discovered the music of John Lee Williamson, and modeled his early blues style on that of Williamson’s.

When he was fourteen he drifted to Helena, Arkansas, and came under the influence of Rice Miller, who along with Walter Horton, gave him pointers on the harp. The following year, Little Walter’s evolution beyond traditional folk-blues began when he started to listen to the records of jump saxophonist Louis Jordan and learn his solos note for note on harmonica.

In 1947 he arrived in Chicago with Honeyboy Edwards, and became a part of the fabled Maxwell Street scene that at one time or another included almost every postwar Chicago blues luminary. He first recorded that year behind singer Othum Brown on the Ora Nelle label, and also began playing in a trio with Jimmy Rogers and Muddy Waters, whom he had met on Maxwell Street. It was the core of what was to be the world’s most celebrated blues band.

Little Walter began recording in 1950 with Muddy, first on the Parkway label, and then for Chess, the label he was to stay with for the rest of his short life. With Waters’s "Long Distance Call," Walter became the first to record amplified harmonica. Muddy’s records did well, but despite his musical success, Jacobs had serious problems. He was prone to heavy drinking, and got into fights. "He was hellacious when he drank," Lazy Lester Johnson once told me, "and he liked the bottle." The only one who could control him, it seemed, was Muddy.

On May 12, 1952, Little Walter recorded an instrumental under his own name that the Muddy Waters band had been using to close sets with. "Juke," with its fat, amplified tone and sax-like phrases, was released under Little Walter’s own name and became a huge hit. Following its success, he left Waters’ band to form his own group, but continued to record with Muddy. From then on, either under his own name or Muddy’s, he recorded a string of sides that has been the envy of every blues harp player since. But all that changed when rock ‘n roll came along in the mid-1950s. Sales of blues records dropped and Little Walter was bitter about it.

In 1964 he toured Europe with the Rolling Stones, but substance abuse and his hot temper still plagued him. "Little Walter was dead ten years before he died," Muddy Waters told Patrick Day, gesturing to indicate drinking and then shooting dope. At gigs, as well as offstage, he would sometimes wave a pistol or two around, and had trouble keeping a band together. Photos taken towards the end of his life show a scarred, haggard man looking closer to 55 than 35.
On February 14th, 1968, Walter Jacobs died of injuries sustained in a Chicago street fight. He was only 37 years old.


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