Big Walter

Geir Oien
Mon Jul 21 10:01:32 EDT 1997

Someone wrote:

> >> As Eric Clapton said in his "Nothin' But The
> >> Blues" special, Big Walter was not a good harp player at all.
> >> In fact Eric said that listening to Big Walter showed him that
> >> one did not need a lot of technical ability or facility to
> >> "make it." Walter put his heart and soul into his playing but
> >> I agree with Clapton, he was definately lacking in facility.

This is a joke, right?

For those out there who for some reason haven't heard Big Walter,
you're better off listening to what the All-Music Guide says of his

"Big Walter "Shakey" Horton is one of the all-time great blues
harp (harmonica) players... (...) ... there is no harp player (and
that includes Little Walter) with Horton's big tone and spacious
sense of time... (...) ... his backup harmonica and virtuoso harp
solos have graced many great Chicago blues recordings - turning an
otherwise good cut into a dynamite jam.

Walter is the master of the single note and his characteristic
walking bass line (usually with a deep tone and selection of notes that
is unsurpassed) is instantly recognizable. As an accompanist, he has
few equals. His backup harp is always unobtrusive yet bright and fresh -
enhancing whatever else is going on. Give Big Walter a chance to solo
and you're in for some of the most tasteful lines Chicago-style harp
has ever produced.


He was just as comfortable playing first position (A harp in the key of
A) as with the more standard cross harp (D harp in the key of A)...
(...) ... Although Big Walter could play in the style of other harp
players (and was often asked to do so) he has no credible imitators. He
is one of a kind.


The recording of 'Easy' with guitarist Jimmy DeBerry (recorded by Sam
Philips of Sun Records in the early 50s) is a striking harp
instrumental that remains unrivaled for sheer power. For a superb
example of Big Walter playing behind Muddy Waters (and soloing) try
the cut 'Mad love (I want you to love me)' that was recorded in 1953.
Walter also plays on the classic Jimmy Rogers tune 'Walking by


But if you want to hear Walter at his best, pick up the Vanguard CD
'Chicago/The Blues/Today Vol. 3' and listen to the music Walter lays
down. Both as backup harp and in solos, this is not only classic Big
Walter, but Chicago blues at its finest - not to be missed. The
music on this album is incredible - Horton's contrapuntal backup
harp seems to float in the background,loping along, always stretching
and opening up the time. And Horton's taste in notes and depth of tone
is unparallelled in the history of Chicago-style harmonica. As Willie
Dixon says, "Big Walter is the best harmonica plauer I ever heard."
I agree. He was the man."

        - Michael Erlewine -

Anyone is of course entitled to dismiss Horton (and thereby give
more weight to Clapton's than to Dixon's opinion...) as "not a good
harp player at all" if they want to. It's your loss. Me, I am just more
glad every day that I am not a musician myself and therefore is free
to enjoy and explore the music that *sounds* best to me, instead of the
one I happen to know is most technically difficult to play.

Cheers, Geir.

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