Little Walter

The blues harmonica player Little Walter was born Marion Walter Jacobs in Louisiana in 1930 and like many of his contemporaries was born into a life of poverty and limited opportunities. He left school at the age of 12, leaving Louisiana to busk on the streets of various southern towns including New Orleans and St. Louis playing guitar and harmonica. Eventually he headed north and began playing in Chicago where his skill as a harmonica player began to overshadow his guitar playing and it became his primary instrument. It was during this period that he found himself competing with the volume of electric guitars which were now commonplace in blues ensembles and he began amplifying his harmonica by holding it in cupped hands and channelling the sound through a microphone. He was one of the musical pioneers using amplifiers to enhance the core sound of his instrument and experiment with distortion and other characteristics to broaden the scope of the harmonica. He became a regular session player on the Chess label and was highly respected among his peers. Unfortunately he had long struggled with alcoholism and this, coupled with his notoriously short temper led to numerous incidents both on and off stage. After being involved in a fight whilst taking a break during one of his performances, he went home and was found dead the following morning after suffering a coronary thrombosis.

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