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!