Friday 7 June 2024


On this day in Blues music history...May 1st. 

Marion Walter Jacobs the great blues harmonica player, singer and song writer is born in 1930. Known to the blues community as "Little Walter" and had a revolutionary approach to the harmonica and his impact on succeeding generations is still felt in blues today.

Jacobs was born in Marksville Louisana and raised in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, where he learned to play the harmonica. He quit school and by the age of 12 had left rural Louisiana and travelled, working odd jobs and busking on the streets of New Orleans; Memphis; Helena and West Helena, Arkansas; and St. Louis. He honed his musical skills on harmonica and guitar performing with older bluesmen, including Sonny Boy Williamson II, Sunnyland Slim, Honeyboy Edwards and others.

Arriving in Chicago in 1945, he occasionally found work as a guitarist but garnered more attention for his already highly developed harmonica playing. Jacobs, reportedly frustrated with having his harmonica drowned out by electric guitars, adopted a simple but previously little-used method: He cupped a small microphone in his hands along with his harmonica and plugged the microphone into a public address system or guitar amplifier. He could thus compete with any guitarist's volume.

Jacobs made his first released recordings in 1947 for Bernard Abrams's tiny Ora-Nelle label and joined Muddy Waters's band in 1948, and by 1950 he was playing acoustic (unamplified) harmonica on Waters's recordings for Chess Records. For years after his departure from Waters's band in 1952, Chess continued to hire him to play on Waters's recording sessions, and as a result his harmonica is featured on most of Waters's classic recordings from the 1950s.

Jacobs had fourteen top-ten hits on the Billboard R&B charts between 1952 and 1958, including two number-one hits (the second being "My Babe"in 1955), a level of commercial success never achieved by Waters or by his fellow Chess blues artists Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Following the pattern of "Juke", most of Little Walter's singles released in the 1950s featured a vocal performance on one side and a harmonica instrumental on the other. Many of Walter's vocal numbers were written by him or Chess A&R man Willie Dixon or adapted from earlier blues themes. Jacobs often played the harmonica on records by others in the Chess stable of artists, including Jimmy Rogers, John Brim, Rocky Fuller, Memphis Minnie, the Coronets, Johnny Shines, Floyd Jones, Bo Diddley, and Shel Silverstein. He also played on recordings for other labels, backing Otis Rush, Johnny Young, and Robert Nighthawk.

Jacobs died in his sleep at the apartment of a girlfriend, at 209 E. 54th St., on Feb 15th, 1968. The official cause of death stated on his death certificate was coronary thrombosis (a blood clot in the heart); evidence of external injuries was so insignificant that the police reported that his death was due to "unknown or natural causes". He is buried at St. Mary's Cemetery, in Evergreen Park, Illinois, and was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 in the category Sideman, the only artist to be inducted specifically as a harmonica player. 

#littlewalter #blues #bluesharmonica #rockandrollhalloffame

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