Little Walter: Master of the Blues Harp


Today is the birthday of Marion Walter Jacobs (1930-1968), a.k.a. “Little Walter”. This legendary master of the blues harp was born and raised in rural Louisiana, leaving as a teenager to bounce around New Orleans, Memphis, and St. Louis, where he played and learned from older bluesmen. In Chicago in the mid 40s, his career began to get traction. It was Little Walter who invented the now common technique of the harmonica player holding the microphone next to his instrument while he blew, producing a crazy, distorted wail that can compete with electric guitars. For a time he was a sideman to Muddy Waters, but in 1952 he formed his own band, with which he had a string of 14 R&B hits. His propensity for scraps resulted in his death by coronary thrombosis following a street fight in 1968. The only known film of him was taken at the American Folk Blues Festival in Berlin the previous year.


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