Love By Big Walter Horton
|Big Walter Horton is widely regarded as one the greatest
blues players. In his book I am The Blues, Willie Dixon had this
to say about the shy, lanky virtuoso: "They underestimated Big
Walter because he stayed loaded most of the time, but once you got him
in good condition he could run rings around all of them (Little Walter,
Rice Miller, etc.). You couldnt whistle, sing, hum or play a rhythm
of anything that he couldnt do like you wanted. Hed take a beer
can, cut the top out of it, cup the harmonica in there and make that
sonuvagun sound like a trombone and no one could tell the
Here is a transcription of Hortons solo from his version of Careless Love, which is one of the oldest known blues. This can be heard on his album Cant Keep Lovin You (Blind Pig 1484). Backed only by the acoustic guitar of John Nicholas, the solo follows the vocal line with some embellishments, and combines a wonderful lyricism with the harmonicas technical subtleties. Horton probably played it all in tongue blocking position, including the bends.
In the first measure, he ornaments the opening 3-draw with a releasing grace note bend-for this, begin the note bent down a half step and let it pop up to normal pitch immediately afterwards. Throat vibrato is also applied, as is the case for most of the long notes in the solo. The last note of the measure requires a variation of the grace note bending technique; here you must begin the note bent down a whole step and let it rise to a half step bend, which requires more control. In measure two, he plays a "blue" third preceded by a grace note bend. This could be described as quarter step or semitone bend, and is a hallmark of the African vocal scale. A long 3-blow with a tongue slap in measure three ends the first line.
In measure four, Horton fouls up and drops two beats of what should have been a whole rest, but the guitarist follows him with no problem when measure five begins, again with a 3-draw ornamented by a quick releasing bend as in measure one. In measures five-six, he embellishes the original notes of the vocal line by breaking them up into shorter notes, with one tied syncopation. Measure seven ends the second line with a long 3-draw, whole step bend, played with vibrato and tied over from the last offbeat of measure six. This is a hard note to play well on the harmonica, and Hortons tone is superb here. In keeping with the vocal line, measure eight is a whole rest.
In measures nine-twelve, he opens on the 6-blow, the octave, and works down to a 3-blow, the tonic, played with a tongue slap and vibrato, and syncopating the melody along the way in measure eleven. A tongue slap is also used on 2-blow, the last note of measure twelve.
Measures thirteen-sixteen are a variant of the first four bars, again with vibrato on the long notes and also the 2-draw, half step bend in measure fourteen. A blue third, 3-draw quarter note bend is also played in measure fourteen, as well as only triplet in the solo. The last member of the triplet ties into the ending note in measures fifteen and sixteen to finish the break. - Glenn Weiser
This arrangement and text © 2000 Glenn Weiser. All Rights Reserved.
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