|This transcription of Big Walter's Shuffle has been
excerpted from an Sing Out!
magazine teach-in I wrote.
Big Walters Boogie
By Glenn Weiser
One of the greatest blues harp players ever was Walter "Shaky" Horton, also known as Big Walter. He is widely regarded as having had the best tone of any blues player, and was a gifted improviser. This time well look at Big Walter, and also introduce the technique of note bending in tongue blocking position using a version of his signature tune "Big Walters Boogie." This will be the first in a series of profiles of great harmonica players that will appear here from time to time.
Walter Horton was born on April 6th, 1917 in Horn Lake, Mississippi. He took up the harmonica at the age of five, and by the late twenties was playing with the Memphis Jug Band. Memphis was a hotbed of blues at the time, and the older harp players there such as Will Shade, Hammie Nixon, and Noah Lewis must have taught him a great deal. By 1939 Walter was starting to record, and was later to give pointers to both Little Walter Jacobs and Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Wiliamsom II).
In the early fifties, Horton recorded several classic sides for Sun. His most famous cut from this period is the 1953 instrumental "Easy," a technical tour-de-force based on Ivory Joe Hunters "I Almost Lost My Mind." In 1954 the labels owner Sam Phillips discovered Elvis Presley and turned towards rockabilly, but by then "Easy" had won Horton a gig playing with Muddy Waters in Chicago. It was there that Horton recorded most of his work.
His stint with Muddy didnt last long-he was fired for showing up loaded at a rehearsal-but he still continued to record with him afterwards. Always described as shy and nervous, Walter usually worked as a sideman. Besides Muddy, his playing can also be heard behind Johnny Young, Johnny Shines, Koko Taylor, Willie Dixon, and others (see discography). He briefly boogied on the silver screen as one of the Maxwell Street musicians in "The Blues Brothers." Big Walter Horton died in 1981.
Horton recorded "Big Walters Boogie" under various, similar titles. After playing the theme he would then launch into improvised choruses. The version below is a typical example of the theme.
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