Various Artists

Various Artists
Remembering Little Walter

Blind Pig Records - BPCD 5154

By David Wilson
March 2014

While there is room for argument about almost everything in the Blues world, there is hardly any argument over the talent and contributions of Little Walter. Early on, attempting to keep his riffs from being drowned out by louder guitar players, Little Walter used a small mike cupped in his hands to amplify his efforts. In pushing the amplification, he became the first on any instrument, (that we know of), to explore the vocabulary of electronic distortion which has now become a common tool. His shifting of the harmonica to a more melodic, less rhythmic mode changed the genre’s expectations of how the mouth harp could be used.

“Juke”, an instrumental track recorded in 1952, reached number one on Billboard’s R&B charts and stayed there for eight weeks. Sixty plus years later, it is still the only harmonica instrumental to top the charts and Little Walter is the only performer inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a harmonica player. A knowledgeable, though somewhat rigid, blues aficionado friend once told me that Little Walter was so dominant in style and technique that all who have followed are mere pale shadows.

So, it is little wonder, save that it has taken so long, that a Little Walter tribute album such as this one was conceived and released to the market.

Each of the artists take the spotlight for two tracks, and all are featured in a grand finale performance of Little Walter’s “My Babe”. Guitarist Little Charlie Baty (no mean harpist himself as he shows on the finale), provides foundation and structure solid enough to keep the players in the zone, yet fluid enough to let them strut.

Producer Mark Hummel kicks off the program with lively interplay with both guitarists on “I Got To Go” and returns a bit later, chromatic in hand for a moving if doleful rendition of “Blue Light”.

Charlie Musselwhite offers a brief course on Walter’s bag of tricks with his performance of “Just A Feeling” and then delivers an engaging and playful version of “One Of These Mornings.”

Billy Boy Arnold may well be at the peak of his skill even after all these years and provides ample evidence with the period shuffle “You’re So Fine” taking me right back to 1953. “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” is one of Billy’s favorite Little Walter songs and his treatment from opening fanfare to final fade is primo Southside Chicago Sound.

James Harman offers a mellower treatment of “It’s Too Late Brother” but gives us a frenetic romp on “Crazy Mixed Up World”.

Sugar Ray Norcia pleased me immensely with “Mean Old World”, a tune he has performed so many times his association with will be remembered far into the future. “Up The Line,” is just plain perky.

The grand finale, “My Babe”, with everybody chipping in a solo is interesting. Arnold and Musselwhite’s are my favorite performances, but that may have more to do with my history than anything else. I’m sure every listener will find a favorite.

To sum things up, this CD warrants being on the shelf of every Chicago or electric blues fan.

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