In the right hands the blues harmonica is overtly sexual, harsh with a honey aftertaste, and just plain addictive to the junkie in some of us. The world of amplified blues harmonica has advanced globally, with notables in all areas of commerce and performance. Little Walter set the standard for amplified blues harmonica as a key ingredient of Chicago blues. We have written a paper that outlines the influences and growth of his sound, available in pdf by clicking the download button to the left.
This project began as a piece to share my knowledge as a professional blues harp player with Little Walter's new fans following his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. This developed into a fully referenced paper when Will Panther became a co-author after stumbling on information about sound engineer Bill Putnam's contribution to recording Chicago blues. We had a journey in connecting the dots to how Walter's sound came together and created a focus for the paper. I asked fellow players their thoughts about his sound and became reinspired listening to him again now just as I had in the mid '60s.
Little Walter Jacobs was an artist. In the mid '40s, he synthesized the depth of delta blues and the freshness of jump swing horn players. In the late '40s Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers provided structure for Walter as they honed their sound. In the '50s Leonard Chess, Bill Putnam and Willie Dixon rounded out the team that captured Little Walter's lightning in a bottle. The paper follows these characters' contribution to his sound, and touches on its development until it forked, as some continue to perform his licks keeping Chicago blues alive, while others extend the idiom to new frontiers, as Little Walter did a half century ago.
I discovered new information while researching this paper, and remembered why I and many others have been so deeply moved by his records. I hope it will connect a roadmap for those already aware of his life and harmonica mastering , and will provide a perspective for those discovering his soulful innovations.