Hello. Come on in. The daddy writes about current events, literature, music and, once in a while, drops something on you from back in the day to make you pause and ponder, stop and stare, and begin to wonder. Who knows? You may start to pace the floor, shake your head from side to side, then fall down on bended knees in a praying position and cry, "Lawd, have mercy! What is this world coming to?" Check yourself! But this blog is NOT about the daddy. It's about you: your boos, your fam, your hood, your country...our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. So let's make a pact: the daddy will put it on the track if you'll chase it down and hit him back. Together, we can definitely take it to another level. Shall we?"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Blues With a Feeling, Part I

Have you heard a son called "Juke?"

Have you heard a tune called “Blues with a feeling?”

Have you ever heard of a guy named Little Walter?

Maybe. Maybe not, but you’ve heard him. If you've ever heard slide guitarist Hound Dog Taylor sing “I held my baby,” where he sings a blues line then slides high
up on the fretboard of his guitar, making it cry like
a new-born babe, you’ve heard Little Walter. If you’ve ever heard Albert King sing “As the years go passing by,” heard him bend his guitar strings across notes and up to high heavens, making his Lucy soar to the high C's and keeping her there, like Pavarotti at the end of an aria at an opera house in Rome or Aretha Franklin at a Detroit Church on Sunday, you’ve heard Little Walter.

You see, Walter
electrified the harmonica, transforming it from a back-up instrument to a solo voice, making it moan low or soar high into the stratosphere, like the greatest of instruments, making sounds the harmonica never made before. Walter identified in words and sounds what many African Americans knew but couldn't quite bring themselves to say: they had them "blues with a feeling" and those blues followed them every night and every day.


Harmonica player/guitarist, singer/songwriter Little Walter was born Marion Walter Jacobs in Marksville, Louisiana on May 1, 1930 and was raised in rural Alexandria, Louisiana. At the tender age of 12, he quit school, left rural Louisiana and traveled to highly black-populated cities like New Orleans, Memphis, Helena (that’s in Arkansa), and St. Louis to hear and play the blues. He honed his skills by playing with the great Sonny Boy Williamson I, guitarists Bill Broonzy and Honey Boy Edwards, among others.

Like many bluesmen, Little Walter made it to Chicago (in the mid-forties) and soon garnered attention for his already great skills on the harmonica. However, Walter noticed that he was being drowned out by electric guitars in the Chess music studio and blues bars around Chicago. Frustrated, he adopted a simple but hereto unknown technique of cupping a small microphone into his hands with his harmonia. Then he plugged the microphone into a guitar or public address amplifier. In this way, he could compete with the electric guitars in the Chess studio and in the black clubs around South side and West side Chicago. But Walter did more.


Walter didn't use an amplified harmonica just for volume. He used it to get a certain tone on the instrument for which he became famous. He used it to stretch long sounds across notes or to make short sounds. Put together in a slow grooving ballad, he could make the harmonica wail long and hard or cry just a little at a time, like a person whimpering or sobbing after a terrible break-up, wondering where to go next. So it was not just the innovation but the tone and sonic effects that he got on the instrument that caused such an impact in the blues world.

It was that tone and those sonic effects that caused the great blues pianist Pinetop Perkins to say that Walter might be the greatest harmonica player ever, that caused Walter and Muddy Waters drummer Sam Lay to say he KNEW Walter was the greatest ever, and that caused Junior Wells, a great harmonica player in his own right (who was mentored by Sonny Boy Williamson I) to say, “There will never be another Little Walter. Never.”

Next: Blues With a Feeling, Every Night and Every Day: Part II


Anonymous said...

I grew up in New Orleans until I went off to college. I never heard of this singer or most of the other people you write about.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

I've been listening to the blues more lately, maybe thanks to you. I really like the one today by Albert King, As The Years Go Passing By. Whoa, that is soulful!

Daddy, have you ever written a post on blues guitarist Jimmy Wells? I'd like to read about him if heard of him and are interested.

MacDaddy said...

kit: You may have stumped me. I know a Big Jim Wells, a slide guitarist out of Texas. I know a Junior Wells, a great harmonica player out of Texas. I know a Jimmy Webb, a songwriter who wrote "Galveston," Wichita Lineman" and, I think "By the time I get to Phoenix." But no guitarist Jimmy Wells. I'll ask some of my musician friend...I'm coming to see you on your blog.
anon: Thanks for coming. But don't be surprised if you don't know some of these folks. But trust me: The Albert Kings, the Shirley Horns, the Isaac Hayes, the James Browns, Lula Reeds,and now the Little Walters were great. And Little Walter may have been greater than them all. You don't sound like it, but I hope you come to enjoy reading about some of these amazing talents.

I grew up in Alabama and Georgia, and no one told me about a number of musicians who came from those two states.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Thanks, Daddy. He played jazz, blues, in DC, maybe Baltimore, in the late 70s - early 80s. He was good. Could find him googling, I guess he retired, but if one your friends know of an album he made or was on, I'd love to hear it. Don't bother if it's too much trouble.

MacDaddy said...

kit: I was at the coffee shop with my musician friends, one of whom played in D.C. for a while. He said he never heard of a Jimmy Wells. But he's 36. My guess is that he played around D.C. a while back and just dropped out of the music scene. This happens with a lot of blues musicians. I don't think he recorded or did a video. If he did, I, or one of my musician friends, would know. They've been around. Sorry I couldn't help.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Thanks, Daddy. Appreciate your effort.