Harmonica Blues Legend Walter Horton – Blues Musician Facts

Two Old Maids by Big Walter Horton

Harmonica great Big Walter Horton was born on April 06, 1921, in Horn Lake, Mississippi. Horton is not as celebrated as Little Walter or either of the two Sonny Boys, but this has less to do with any perceived lack of musicianship and more to do with Horton’s being best known for his work as a sideman, enhancing and elevating other peoples’ work.

Walter claimed to have been the “Shakey Walter” playing with the Memphis Jug Band in 1927 and this was accepted at face value by many who wrote about him; this would be hard enough to believe when he was thought to have been born in 1917; but that has since been corrected to 1921, which would have made him six years old at the time of those recordings!

He did cut ten tracks (six seeing release) backing Little Buddy Doyle in 1939, but it wasn’t until 1951 that he went back into the studio, seeing two 78’s released, on Modern and RPM under the name “Mumbles”.

In 1953 he replaced Junior Wells in Muddy Waters’ band, doing session work for many other Chess artists as well; when Willie Dixon left Chess, Horton joined him on sessions for the United, ABCO, Cobra and U.S.A. labels.
During this time there were the occasional releases under his own name, but it wasn’t until 1964 that he released an LP under his own name (well, almost; he was billed as “Shakey” Horton) It would not be until 1973 that he began releasing LPs under his own name with any regularity.

From American folk-blues festival 1970 Copenhagen

As mentioned, the consensus is that Horton’s best work was done as a sideman, but when paired with a band that knew how to back him, the results could be thrilling – case in point, this cut from a 1980 live show finding him backed by an early version of Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters –
The interplay between Earl and Horton on this number, based on Sonny Boy Williamson I’s ‘Polly Put a Kettle On’ finds each drawing inspiration from the other and pushing each one other to greater heights!

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