Pro Tips & Techniques

Tom Ball on Acoustic Little Walter

Tom Ball, besides being one of the top acoustic harmonica players working today (as visitors to our Pro Pages know well), is also a harp scholar, and a great student of the masters. Tom recently posted this message about Little Walter's acoustic harp work to the Harp-L list. It's re-posted here with Tom's permission. Anybody who thinks Little Walter never played harp without an amp is advised to read this piece at least twice, then go out and get the records Tom names below. Little Walter's earliest recordings (1947 - July of '51) were all acoustic, at least as far as the harmonica was concerned. Listening (or relistening) to his work on tunes like Muddy's "Louisiana Blues" or "Evans Shuffle" is a true education in the art of acoustic playing — he utilized many of the techniques associated with the "country blues" style, such as hard smacks, cupping, throat-vibrato, tongue-blocks and tremolo. His playing during those years was quite stunning, if somewhat different than the swooping saxophone-like quality we've come to expect from his later recordings. Even if electric instruments had never been invented or come into vogue, Little Walter had already made his mark as a preeminent acoustic harp man. Although Walter had been plugging in at gigs for a few years, the first recorded evidence of him playing in the "new" amplified manner was on Muddy Waters' recording session of July 11, 1951, which produced the songs "Country Boy," "She Moves Me," "My Fault," and "Still A Fool," (the latter featuring Walter on guitar.) All of the following recordings feature Little Walter on acoustic harp: Little Walter J./ Othum Brown Chicago, 1947 Ora Nelle Blues (That's Alright) Ora Nelle 711, Chance 1116 I Just Keep Loving Her Ora Nelle 711, Chance 1116 Sunnyland Slim & Muddy Water Chicago, 1948 Blue Baby Tempo Tone 1002 I Want My Baby Tempo Tone 1002 Jimmy Rogers Chicago, 1948 Little Store Blues - take 1 Barrelhouse LP 04 Little Store Blues - take 2 Barrelhouse LP 04 Baby Face Leroy Chicago, 1950 My Head Can't Rest Anymore JOB 100, Chess 1447 Take A Little Walk With Me JOB 100, Chess 1447 Baby Face Leroy Trio Chicago, 1950 Bad Acting Woman Regal 3296 I Just Keep Loving Her Parkway 502, Herald 403 Boll Weevil Parkway 104, Herald 404 Rollin' And Tumblin' Part 1 Parkway 501 Rollin' And Tumblin' Part 2 Parkway 501, Herald 404 Red Headed Woman Parkway 104, Savoy 1122, 1501 Moonshine Blues (or Baby) Parkway 502, Savoy 1122, 1501 Take A Walk With Me (Muscadine Blues) Regal 3296, Herald 403 Muddy Waters Chicago, c. August, 1950 You're Gonna Need My Help I Said Chess 1434, LP 1511 Sad Letter Blues Chess 1434, LP 1511 Early Morning Blues Chess 1490, LP 1511 Appealing Blues (Hello Little Girl) Chess 1468, LP 1511 Jimmy Rogers Chicago, 1950 That's All Right Chess 1435, LP 1446, 407 Ludella Chess 1435, LP 407 Goin' Away Baby Chess 1442, LP 407 Today Today Blues Chess 1442, LP 207 Muddy Waters Chicago, October 23, 1950 Louisiana Blues Chess 1441, LP 1427, 1539 Evan's Shuffle Chess 1441, LP8203 Shoe Shine Johnny (Johnny Shines) Chicago, October 23, 1950 Joliet Blues Chess 1443, LP 411 So Glad I Found You Chess 1443, LP 411 Muddy Waters Chicago, Jan 23, 1951 Long Distance Call Chess 1452, LP 1427, 1539 Too Young To Know Chess 1452, LP 1511 Howling Wolf Chess LP 1553
We've said it before, we'll say it again: Thanks, Tom!


One Response to “Tom Ball on Acoustic Little Walter”

  1. tony says:

    little walter acoustic does not seem very spectacular to be honest,i think it was because he was the first amplified he became so famous,sonny boy 2 has the best tone for blues for me,but i think the best all rounder is mark feltham who can play any style

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