Little Walter

That Southern Feeling

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Chicago blues fans will know him simply as Little Walter -- no surname necessary. He is not only one of the great blues harmonica players, he was a bandleader of considerable talent and something of a recording studio genius, despite the pressure of his bosses, Leonard and Marshall Chess. Neither man seemed to really understand the value of what he or anybody else on their label was doing. A good example of this is the fact that there were three albums' worth of Little Walter material the Chess label had left lying around through the '60s and into the '70s, when a French record producer apparently saw fit to smuggle some of these pancakes of tapes out of the label's archives. Blues fans went crazy over these releases when they came out, as the tracks represented a treasure trove of first-class Chicago blues material involving many major players from the scene. Hardly weak or incomplete performances, these are examples of superb, grooving blues playing in which a series of alternate takes evolve and deepen interplay. The French editors were nonetheless kind to the listeners by spreading these alternate versions of songs out throughout the series rather than lumping them together and risking boredom. Little Walter grew up from the hard-edged Delta blues roots of his former boss Muddy Waters, who appears on some of these tracks, along with several other brilliant bluesmen such as Buddy Guy and Robert Jr. Lockwood. But he also has his own distinctive jazzy, swinging approach, featuring sparkling chromatic harmonica solos and a rhythm section backup of the sort most bandleaders would die for. Harmonica buddies will really like these instrumentals, tossed off with the determination and fortitude of a mountain climber and given titles such as "Last Boogie" and "Fast Boogie," as if they were student etudes. Which, let's face it, they ought to be. And with "killer" going in and out of style as an expression of greatness, "Dead Presidents" is a blues track good enough to earn the distinction of being called an "assassination." It is one of two recordings from 1963 in which the size of the band fattens, boasting two keyboardists, the three-in-one guitar attack of Buddy Guy, and soulful drummer Al Duncan. Unusual items include two tracks on which the harmonica player is featured as a sideman, backing up the doo wop group the Coronets. The blending of the R&B, doo wop, and blues scenes in the Chicago studios is fascinating indeed, the study of which is most enjoyable when it involves listening to material such as this. No material is provided on composers of these songs.

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