Little Walter

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Little Walter , bronze statue in front of the Darmstadt Jazz Institute

Little Walter (born May 1, 1930 as Marion Walter Jacobs in Marksville , Louisiana , † February 15, 1968 in Chicago , Illinois ) was an American blues musician.

Little Walter's influence on the harmonica in the blues can be compared to that of BB King on the guitar. Critics even compare Little Walter to Charlie Parker . This comparison is probably also due to the fact that Little Walter was one of the first to play his harmonica via a microphone and a guitar amplifier and thereby achieved a sound that was very similar to that of a saxophone. In her brief biography, Madison Deniro writes of Little Walter: "He was the first musician ever to use electronic distortion on purpose."

Inspired by blues musicians like Sonny Boy Williamson I. and Big Walter Horton , he created a new style in the Chicago Blues , the solos of which consisted of original chord progressions and had a very "electric" sound.

Little Walter was one of the first to be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. In 2008 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a sidemen and the only harmonica player .


Little Walter had come to Chicago from Louisiana through Helena, Memphis, and St. Louis in the mid-1940s. In Helena, he was in contact with the guitarist Houston Stackhouse and Robert Lockwood Jr. had. On arrival in Chicago, Walter often stayed at Maxwell Street Market, the meeting place for many blues musicians from the south. There he also met Jimmy Rogers , who spent a lot of time with Muddy Waters .

Muddy Waters recognized the talent of the exceptional musician and took the young Walter into his band. So they played in the line-up Muddy Waters (git, voc.), Jimmy Rogers (git.), Little Walter (hca.), Ernest "Big" Crawford (bs) and "Baby Face" Leroy Foster (dr.), Later replaced by Elgin Evans. Recordings were made in May 1949 for the short-lived label Tempo-Tone .

The first records appeared in 1950 on the label of the same name by the brothers Leonard and Phil Chess. Chess was to become the dominant record company of the blues in the following years . A large part of this is attributed to the successes of Muddy Waters and Little Walter.

It is more a coincidence that Little Walter was accepted as a soloist by the Chess brothers. The instrumental Juke , which was recorded on May 12, 1952, was intended to serve as a signature track for the band from Muddy Waters. It became a huge hit and for Little Walter it was the beginning of his solo career. Thanks to the success of this recording, he was the first blues musician from Chicago to perform at the Apollo Theater in New York. Juke was also the first harmonica instrumental number to make it onto the Billboard R&B charts. The recording stayed there for 20 weeks, eight of them in first place.

Until 1957 Little Walter still appears in the cast lists for the recordings of the Muddy Waters Band. Then he was replaced by the young Junior Wells , who years later would form a successful musical duo with Buddy Guy .

In return, Little Walter took over the band from Junior Wells, the Aces , which he renamed "Jukes", with the line-up of Louis Myers (guitar), Dave Myers (bass) and Fred Below (dr.). Little Walter had a number of hits with the band such as Mean old world, Off the wall and Blues with a feeling .

But for Little Walter, musical success was not all positive; he was contentious and arrogant and tried to take advantage of others. Little Walter broke up with the Myers. The guitarist Robert Lockwood Jr. took her place . one that Walter had met years earlier in Helena. Willie Dixon , a well-known figure in the Chicago blues, took on bass . Walter already knew Dixon from the Muddy Waters environment. Dixon had written some of the hits that were the cornerstone of Muddy Waters' success. Dixon wrote the piece My Babe for Walter , with which he once again achieved the top spots on the charts. But for Little Walter it was the beginning of the end.

1959 left Robert Lockwood Jr. the band. Probably also because it was becoming more and more difficult even for the silent guitarist to get along with Walter. The general interest in Little Walter quickly waned and he was described as very moody at the time. Chess seldom picked it up anymore, at the beginning of the sixties it was commercially exhausted.

In 1964 and 1967 Walter came to Europe for the American Folk Blues Festival . But the European blues revival was no longer able to help this master on the blues harp on his feet. A few months after his second European tour, he got into a fight when he took to the streets on the South Side of Chicago during a concert break. The actually relatively minor injury he sustained in the process, together with previous violent injuries, led to his death in his sleep. He had gone to bed in his girlfriend's apartment at 209 E. 54th Street. The official cause of death is "cardiac thrombosis" (a closure in the pericardium) on the death certificate; no external injuries were found. He was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in Evergreen Park, IL on February 22, 1968.

In 1980 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame ; his song My Babe has also been there since 2008. Also in 2008, Walter was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . In the same year, the feature film Cadillac Records was released , some of which also tells his life story. Columbus Short played Little Walter in this film.


  • 1964 Little Walter  - Pye
  • 1967 Super Blues  - Chess
  • 1969 Hate To See You Go  - Universal Distribution
  • 1986 Windy City Blues [live]  - Blue Moon
  • 1992 Juke Snapper
  • 1997 His Best  - MCA / Chess (50th Anniversary Collection)
  • 1997 Confessin 'the Blues  - MCA / Chess
  • 1997 Blues With a Feelin '  - MCA / Chess
  • 2000 Live in the Windy City  - Columbia River Entertainment Group
  • 2004 Classics 1947–1953  - B&R Classics
  • 2005 Little Walter 1947–1953  - Classics
  • 2005 Juke - Proper Introduction to Little Walter  - Proper
  • 2006 Stray Dog Blues  - Rev-Ola
  • 2006 The Essential Blue Archive - Blues With a Feeling  - Blue Label (SPV)
  • 2008 Music Ave
  • 2008 Classics 1953–1955  - B&R Classics
  • 2009 The Complete Chess Masters (1950–1967)  - Hip-o Select
  • 2011 rock bottom


  • Tony Glover, Scott Dirks, Ward Gaines: Blues with a Feeling: The Little Walter Story. Routledge, New York 2002, ISBN 0-415-93711-6 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Biography , accessed March 3, 2012