Friday, October 19, 2012

Little Walter – The Blues World of Little Walter

Little Walter was, of course, the master of the Chicago blues harmonica in the 50’s and was one of the – if not the – innovators of amplified harp. I have written about his genius before, but this comp has some terrific early, comparatively obscure, sides.

While Muddy Waters was at Chess Records, Leonard Chess was initially reluctant to record Muddy’s style of down-home, gut-bucket blues, but when he did and it hit, he was even more reluctant to make any changes to the formula. Thus, Muddy’s live band, while tearing up Chicago clubs with their new, city blues, was not allowed to record with the man himself. Frustrated, Walter went over to Parkway Records, brought several members of the band with him (including Muddy) and gave the world the first taste of this classic group's sound. Chess got word of the defection, though, and had Waters re-record “Rollin’ & Tumblin’” and, with his larger circle of contacts, got the hit himself. But, while almost ignored in their times, these are some spectacular sounds!

This music became the template for the Chicago sound and these cats are at the height of their powers, honed from many hours and many gigs and they work together as an amazing unit. Waters playing is distinctive & creative and it’s always wonderful to hear this man on his guitar. Walter continues to astound with his harp – it is sometimes difficult to believe what he manages to get out of that little pieces of metal and reeds. While not an incredible singer, he still gives a great & passionate performance every time he steps up to the mic.

The show-stopper of the session is certainly the two parts of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” with Muddy’s slide front & center, and the rest of the men shouting, stomping, hollerin’ & moanin’ and Baby Face Leroy Foster drivin’ it along with double-time stomps on the bass drum. Wild & primitive times! While Muddy did a great take for Chess, this is really where it’s at! This would have driven club audiences wild!

Walter also tackles guitar on a couple numbers, freeing up Waters even more and Muddy gives an exceptional solo on “Bad Acting Woman”. The harp is the star of the show for the most part though, and rightfully so!

Funnily enough, the “blues world of Little Walter” includes songs that he was not involved in, but features artists within his “world”! Not that this is a bad thing, just somewhat misleading. But, the cuts by J.B.Lenoir, a superb guitarist, backed by pianist Sunnyland Slim and drummer Alfred “Fat Man” Wallace, do not disappoint! Great blues with style & talent.

Cuts under Sunnyland Slim’s name are also part of this “world” and here he is accompanied by Wallace on drums, Ernest Crawford on bass, Oliver Alcorn on sax and legend Robert Lockwood Jr. on guitar. Slim is a legend in his own right and here he gives two solid performances backed by this stellar band.

All in all, great, great stuff! By far, one of my favorite recent purchases!