Big Walter Horton – Premier Harp Player
Big Walter Horton, a blues harmonica virtuoso and also one of the premier harmonica players in the history of blues. He’s known for his innovative contributions to the music of Memphis and Chicago. Furthermore, he began his career as a child working for tips on the streets of Memphis. Nicknamed “Shakey” due to nystagmus, Horton quits school in the first grade.
Next, he makes a living doing odd jobs and playing harmonica with local veterans such as Jack Kelly, Garfield Akers. Along with Little Buddy Doyle as well as young friends Johnny Shines, Floyd Jones, and Honeyboy Edwards. They performed in Church Park, Handy Park, hotel lobbies, and anywhere else they could earn tips, nearby areas of Arkansas. Even at times, they performed in parts of Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee.
Later in 1953 and beyond, he performs and records with the likes of Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Willie Dixon, Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Winter, and many others. Likewise, his technique and tone continue to be studied and emulated by harmonica players around the world. The uplifting beauty of Horton’s music contrasted with the sorrows and tragedies of his personal life. Horton had that soft fade out at the beginning of his lines that made his playing instantly recognizable. His work with Elmore James and John Lee Hooker is worth checking out.
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