LITTLE WALTER & THE KINGS OF THE BLUES HARMONICA
BLOWIN' AND SUCKIN' (4CD)
Deford Bailey, Jed Davenport, Noah Lewis, Sonny Boy Williamson (both John Lee and Rice Miller), Hammie Nixon, Jazz Gillum, Sonny Terry, Forest City Joe, Snooky & Moody, Joe Hill Louis, Dr Ross, Willie Nix, Walter Horton, George Mayweather, Jimmy Reed, Henry Strong, Sammy Lewis, Howlin' Wolf, Billy Boy Arnold, Slim Harpo, Junior Wells, Little Willie Foster and of course, Little Walter!
This 4 CD set tracks the development of the blues harp and demonstrates how in the 1920s, some great musicians took this cheap and relatively easy to learn novelty and turned it into one of the most innovative and hardest working instruments in the blues.
Compiler Joop Visser selected his tracks wisely. The first CD covers the earliest stuff with artists as diverse as the archaic DeFord Bailey, Will Shade and Noah Lewis with their jug band sound, Sonny Boy Williamson and Jazz Gillum and the deep Chicago blues and Sonny Terry and Forest City Joe with their country whoops and hollers.
The transition into electric blues on the second CD is represented by James Cotton's adventurism on Muddy Water's "I Love the Life I Live", Jimmy Reed's easy going high note blowing on "Jimmie's Boogie", Howlin' Wolf's urgency on "Crazy About You Baby" and Sammy Lewis's raw, down-home Memphis doodlin' on "So Long Baby, Goodbye". Some of my all-time favourites are here, including Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me Talkin", Slim Harpo's hard thumping "I'm A King Bee" and Junior Wells' epic "Hoodoo Man" are sitting here in good company.
The next two CDs cover all fifty-five tracks Little Walter issued from early May 1947 to late June 1957. From his very first recordings for Ora Nelle Records with Othum Brown and Jimmy Rogers and on into his years at Chess with legends like Muddy Waters, Big Crawford, Henry Gray, Robert Lockwood, Otis Spann and Luther Tucker. Little Walter just oozed with genius and all of his greatest songs are here - including "Juke", "Last Night", "My Babe", "Thunderbird" and "Lights Out".
It's stunning material. This is the stuff that changed the entire feel and sound of blues harmonica and no musician who heard him ever played the same way again. This fabulous box-set puts it all in perspective and if you have the slightest interest in blues harp, I urge you to get it - it'll turn you into a full-blown addict!
(This review was first published by Red Lick in 2008 when this set first came out - now re-pressed and available again!)
Review Date: March 2013