Helpless Dancer

The Endless Note

Harmonica (not Lewinski) – Little Walter


You can have all the technology you want but you will never better Little Walter.

Little Walter

Little Walter is the stage name of Marion Walter Jacobs (May 1, 1930February 15, 1968), a blues singer, harmonica player, and guitarist.

Jacobs is generally included among blues music greats—his revolutionary harmonica technique has earned comparisons to Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix for its innovation and impact on succeeding generations of harmonica players. His virtuosity and musical innovations fundamentally altered many listeners’ expectations of what was possible on blues harmonica. Little Walter’s body of work earned him a spot in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the sideman category on March 10, 2008, making him the only artist ever to be inducted specifically for his work as a harmonica player.

Jacobs made his first released recordings in 1947 for Bernard Abram’s tiny Ora-Nelle label, which operated out of the back room of Abrams’ Maxwell Radio and Records store in the heart of the Maxwell Street market area in Chicago. These and several other early Little Walter recordings, like many blues harp recordings of the era, owed a strong stylistic debt to pioneering blues harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson I (John Lee Williamson). Little Walter joined Muddy Waters‘ band in 1948, and by 1950, he was playing on Muddy’s recordings for Chess Records; for years after his departure from Muddy’s band in 1952, Little Walter continued to be brought in to play on his recording sessions, and as a result his harmonica is featured on most of Muddy’s classic recordings from the 1950s

Jacobs’ own career took off when he recorded as a bandleader for Chess’ subsidiary label Checker Records on 12 May 1952; the first completed take of the first song attempted at his debut session was a hit, spending eight weeks in the #1 position on the Billboard magazine R&B charts – the song was “Juke“, and it is still the only harmonica instrumental ever to become a #1 hit on the R&B charts. (Three other harmonica instrumentals by Little Walter also reached the Billboard R&B top 10: “Off the Wall” reached #8, “Roller Coaster” achieved #6, and “Sad Hours” reached the #2 position while Juke was still on the charts.) “Juke” was the biggest hit to date for Chess and its affiliated labels, and one of the biggest national R&B hits of 1952, securing Walter’s position on the Chess artist roster for the next decade. Little Walter scored fourteen top-ten hits on the Billboard R&B charts between 1952 and 1958, including two #1 hits (the second being “My Babe” in 1955), a feat never achieved by his former boss Waters, nor by his fellow Chess blues artists Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Following the pattern of “Juke”, most of Little Walter’s single releases in the 1950s featured a vocal on one side, and an instrumental on the other. Many of Walter’s numbers were originals which he or Chess A&R man Willie Dixon wrote or adapted and updated from earlier blues themes. In general, his sound was more modern and uptempo than the popular Chicago blues of the day, with a jazzier conception than other contemporary blues harmonica players.

“My Babe” – Little Walter 


To buy the music of Little Walter click HERE



October 9, 2009 - Posted by | Blues, Humour, Old Music, Video | ,


  1. It’s Lewinsky actually!

    One thing I don’t think you mentioned was that Walter was the first guy to use the closed mic technique ie closing his hands around the mic. He was THE electric blues harp pioneer although SBW2 had a better tone and was probably a better player (not so much of an innovator though). James Cotton and Junior Wells were in the same mould as Walter. Great players all.

    Comment by bigrab | October 9, 2009 | Reply

    • You are correct and this very point is highlighted in the film “Cadillac Records” which charts the formation and rise of Chess Records and includes a great performance from Beyonce as Etta James.

      Little Walter is protrayed as a womanising nasty piece of work.

      Comment by thehelplessdancer | October 11, 2009 | Reply

  2. Gotta love Little Walter. I wrote piece on Juke on the blog Song a Night. You can read it here:

    Comment by MXCronin | May 17, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for dropping in.


      Comment by thehelplessdancer | May 18, 2010 | Reply

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