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Big Walter Horton

Big Walter “Shakey” Horton - Blues harmonica, vocalist (1918 - 1981)

Walter Horton, also known as Big Walter or Shakey Horton,is counted among the best blues harp players. He is also considered by many to have had the best tone of any Chicago harp player.

Horton was born in Horn Lake, Mississippi in 1918, got his first harmonica from his father when he five, and won a local talent contest with it. Shortly thereafter his mother moved to Memphis, then a hotbed of blues, and according to blues researcher Samuel Charters, Horton was playing with the Memphis Jug Band by the time he was nine or ten. He also may have recorded with them in 1927 as he himself claimed- two of their sides issued that year list “Shakey Walter” as the harp player.

During the thirties he played with Robert Johnson, Honeyboy Edwards, and others, and later gave pointers to both Little Walter and Rice Miller. His first verifiable sides were done in 1939. In the late forties he went to Chicago, but later returned to Memphis to record for Modern/RPM and Sun. Of these sessions, the 1953 instrumental “Easy,” based on Ivory Joe Hunter’s “I Almost Lost My Mind,” became a hit.

By now Horton had become one of the best harp players anywhere. His tone was incredible-he could make the harmonica sound like a trombone at times. He also had a wonderful sense of phrasing. “You could tell it was Big Walter all the way down the street (from the club) when he was playing,” Jerry Portnoy told me. “He would create these tensions and then hang a long note out there that would just kill you.”

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