Happy Birthday “Big” Walter Horton





” Big Walter Horton, sometimes known as Shakey Walter Horton, is one of the most influential blues harmonica players of all time, and a particular pioneer in the field of amplified harmonica. He isn’t as widely known as his fellow Chicago blues pioneers Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II, due mostly to the fact that, as a rather shy, quiet individual, he never had much taste for leading his own bands or recording sessions. But his style was utterly distinctive, marked by an enormous, horn-like tone, virtuosic single-note lines, fluid phrasing, and an expansive sense of space. Horton‘s amplified harp work graced sides by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Otis Rush, Johnny Shines, Tampa Red, and many others; he was frequently cited as an inspiration by younger players, and most accounts of his life mention a testimonial from legendary bassist/songwriter Willie Dixon, who once called Horton“the best harmonica player I ever heard.”

  Horton was born April 6, 1918, in Horn Lake, MS, near Memphis. He began teaching himself to play the harmonica — a gift from his father — at age five, and moved with his mother to Memphis not long after, where he played in Handy Park (near the famed Beale Street) for tips. During his preteen years in the late ’20s, he played — and likely recorded at least a couple of sides — with the Memphis Jug Band (as Shakey Walter); he also learned more about his craft from Will Shade, the Jug Band‘s main harmonica player, and Hammie Nixon, a cohort of Sleepy John Estes. Horton played wherever he could during the Depression — dances, parties, juke joints, street corners — and teamed up with the likes of Robert Johnson, Johnny Shines, Homesick James, and David “Honeyboy” Edwards, among others; he also worked as a sideman in several touring blues bands, including those of Ma Rainey and Big Joe Williams, and spent his first brief period in Chicago. In 1939, he backed guitarist Charlie “Little Buddy” Doyle on some sessions for Columbia. Around the same time (according to Horton himself), he began to experiment with amplifying his harmonica, which if accurate may have made him the first to do so. ”  Continue reading