TALK TO THE DADDY

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?"

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cadillac Records, Muddy Waters and Little Walter

Because the daddy has posted on the blues, his readers has asked him to review the movie Cadillac Records, give his analysis of the relationship between Muddy Waters and Little Walter and, oh yeah, say something about Beyonce.

Well, the daddy has heard so many rumors about Little Walter's death that he distrusts the movie industry to read, talk to the old timers who were there, and objectively ferret out fact from fiction. Also, the daddy knows from experience as a reporter that to get black family members to talk to white reporters or strangers about musicians or artists is very difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, the daddy doubts if he'll see the movie. He thinks the movie will be good entertainment but reveal little in terms of new facts and, in fact, will probably enable vicious rumors or sincere inaccuracies. But the daddy will make the following suggestion:

1.If you want entertainment, go see Cadillac Records. However, recognize
it as entertainment, not facts.
2. If you're looking for probably more accurate version of the relationship betweem Muddy and Walter, read a biography of Little Walter called "Blues with a Feeling" by Glover. It's the best research onf Walter's life that I've found.
3. If you can't find the book at the bookstore, order it online. Make it your Christmas present.
4. Until then, read the two articles written here at daddyBstrong.

When you finsih, Holla at the daddy and let him know what you think.

Little Walter and them blues with a feeling, PT I
by Mac Walton, aka, the daddy
8,16 2008

Have you heard a song 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 a small pipe 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 the 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. And it was Walter testified in words and sounds what many African Americans knew but couldn't quite bring themselves to say: they have them "blues with a feeling" and those blues follows them every night and every day.

Innovation

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.

Creation

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.”

Little Walter and them blues with a feeling, Part II
by Mac Walton, aka, the daddy

Success with the Mississippi Sax

Little Walter did some recordings for himself in 1947. But things began to take off for him when he joined the Muddy Waters band in 1948. Waters was no fool. He knew a good thing when he saw it and great talent when he heard it. So Waters featured Walter’s more modern sound in his band.

In 1952, Walter recorded a little tune for Chess called “Juke.” It shot quickly to the top as #1 on Billboard magazine R&B charts. Soon, other recordings would reach the top 10 (“Off the Wall,” “Roller Coaster,” and “Sad Hours”). Walter was on his way.

He soon left Muddy Waters band and recorded a series of hits, eclipsing the success of Waters. His songs were original (He co-wrote many of them with Chess staffer Willie Dixon), more up-tempo, jazzier; and sound more modern than the Muddy-Waters-influenced sound of the day.

Death from the cold concrete of Chicago

Yes, Walter was a success. But he was also in decline. Due to his bad temper and bad management skills, he had difficulty keeping his band together. He began to drink heavily and to use other drugs. He got into fights, the last one resulting in his death. Gesturing to indicate that Walter drank alcohol and took other drugs, Muddy told writer Patrick Day, “Little Walter was dead 10 years before his death.”

On the surface, he died on February 14, 1968 at the age of 37, as a result of wounds incurred in a fist fight during a break in a performance he was giving on the South side of Chicago (They said these wounds compounded other wounds he had received from other fights that helped to cause his death). On the surface, he died from a bad temper, an anger problem that caused him to drink too much, yell at band members and develop bad relations with women. But others said the problem was much more complex.

Some musicians said that Walter’s problems were tied to the decline in the sale of his music, the declining interest in blues music and the increased attention given to Rock and Roll, a blues derivative. They said that, to the extent that whites were interested in blues musicians, they sought out more “authentic” blues players—old men or women from the rural South to perform at festivals. Other musicians said this is nonsense. They said, yes, the music business was changing, but that was no excuse for his bad temper. Besides, they said, fellow Chicago bluesmen Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and Buddy Guy did just fine.

Perhaps there was another reason for Walter’s downfall: what he was, an artist. As an artist, deeply involved with the public, and as a black artist (singer, harmonica player, guitarist and songwriter), he had to be keenly aware of what Chicago was: a city where he and other blacks faced the same problems that he had experienced in the cities in the South where he had traveled (New Orleans, Helena, St. Louis, etc.) —cities where things were in some ways different but, ultimately, the same: cities where you work hard for little pay (if you can find a job), get beaten down by job and other forms of institutional discrimination; get assaulted by police, get exploited by absentee landlords who won’t fix a damn thing, get ripped off by grocery store owners who charge high prices for spoiled food, get attacked by thugs who live or hang around crime-ridden, gang-infested public housing, get mis-educated and made to feel inferior by public schools and get angered by the overall white attitude that black people are inferior and deserve what they get (poverty and racism).

A well traveled and highly aware Little Walter had to know that it was not just a black woman but white Chicago, indeed white America, that gave him them “blues with a feeling.”

Footprints

Despite his untimely death, the huge footprints Walter left on the blues road cannot be overstated. His song “Juke” was selected as one of the top 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll. He was inducted into the R&B and Grammy Hall of Fame.

Of course he was the greatest harmonica player that Muddy Water’s ever had in his band. But it should be remembered that he influenced all harmonica players. So when you hear the great harmonica players that once graced Muddy Water’s band (Junior Wells, James Cotton, Carey Bell and others), you’re hearing Little Walter. When you hear some of the better harmonica players like Charlie Musselwhite, William Clarke, Paul Butterfield or John Poppers (He’s with the group Blues Traveler), you’re hearing in sound and approach Little Walter. In fact, it could be argued that it was Little Walter who was chiefly responsible for what we now call the Chicago Blues sound, or the Chicago Blues. Such was his influence on modern blues.

A very good passage from “Blues with a Feeling,” perhaps the definitive biography of Little Walter, may have said it best: “Influenced as much by horn players as other harmonica players, as much by jazz as was by blues, Little Walter freed the harmonica of {its} customary, if self-imposed, restriction for the first time.”

Have you ever had them blues with a feeling, blues that kept following you around? Then pick up a Little Walter's CD. He understood. The blues followed him every night and every day.

12 comments:

Kellybelle said...

Cool! Thanks for hipping me to this. You said you had a Howlin' Wolf post too?

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Hi MacDaddy,

I like that picture of him; along with his music, he looks like someone I would have enjoyed knowing on a personal level.

I ran across this video by a UK singer named Adele. You might like the song a lot.

http://new.music.yahoo.com/videos/--201560900

MacDaddy said...

Kellybelle: Glad you liked the two articles on Little Walter. Yes, I did an article on the blues for a black newspaper that rejected it. But the real reason is that some black folks don't want to hear the blues. But I'll find it and post.

Kit: Kit, I didn't know him, but I was told that he was good guy to know earlier, when he was in Muddy's band but something happened a year after he left. They said he was starting to hate where the musing was heading and starting to drink heavily. Maybe you wouldn't want to know him after that. But I wish I had been to sit with him and talk about those old days working with Muddy and what he thought about the music.

R.J. said...

Willie Dixon. Now that's a name I haven't heard in awhile. Great article.

MacDaddy said...

r.j.: Willie Dixon was the man for Chess Records. He didn't own the company, but he controlled the studio and the musicians. He helped musicians arrange their songs. He kept it all together.

Hagar's Daughter said...

Mac,
This was such a great post. Thanks for the history lesson.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Thanks for those posts again Daddy. I usually have to read something two or three times to get some amount of essence or meaning.
You begin to uncover something I've always wondered about: why do people react to such varying degrees to adversity? Muddy made it, The Wolf made it, why did Walter crash and burn? I've seen it play out so many times in my life.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

Sonny Boy Williamson. Now that's what I'M talkin' 'bout.

MacDaddy said...

Takenoprisoners: Sonny Boy Williamson, oh yeah! Love "Don't Start me to Talking." He trained Junior Wells, who, in turn, trained others.

Hagar'sDaughters: Thank you. I think it is important that we be the caretaker's of our history. Blues is African American history, the missing pages of American history.

"why do people react to such varying degrees to adversity?"
Sagacious:Good question. Little Walter was a very intelligent and curious guy. Whereas some people
would look at things and say,"That's the way life is," others, like Little Walter, would look at things and say, "What's going on? And why does it have to be this way?" That kind of person may not live very long.

Sam's Neph said...

Wow, great post. I've seen Cadillac Records and was aware of Little Walter on the surface, but thank you for adding this interesting backstory.

Erik Greene
Author, “Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story From His Family's Perspective”
www.OurUncleSam.com

MacDaddy said...

Sam: "A change is gonna come" is my favorite. I will check out the website.Thank you and come again.

Sam's Neph said...

Will do. You've got good discussion here.