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Big Walter Horton

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Horn Lake, Mississippi, USA (April 6, 1917 – December 8, 1981)

Big Walter Horton or Walter “Shakey” Horton (April 6, 1917– December 8, 1981) was an American blues harmonica player.

Born Walter Horton in Horn Lake, Mississippi, USA he was playing a harmonica by the time he was five years old. In his early teens, he lived in Memphis, Tennessee and claimed that his earliest recordings were done there in the late 1920s with the Memphis Jug Band, although there is no documentation, and many have since disputed this claim. (He also claimed to have taught some harmonica to Little Walter and the original Sonny Boy Williamson, although these claims are unsubstantiated, and in the case of the older Williamson, somewhat suspect.) As with many of his peers, he spent much of his career existing on a meagre income and living with constant discrimination in a segregated America. In the 1930s he played with various blues performers across the Mississippi delta region. It’s generally accepted that his first recordings were made in Memphis, backing guitarist Little Buddy Doyle on recordings for the Okeh and Vocalion Records labels, in 1939. These recordings were in the acoustic duo format popularized by Sleepy John Estes with his harmonicist Hammie Nixon, among others. On these recordings, Walter’s style is not yet fully realized, but there are clear hints of what is to come. He eventually stopped playing the harp for a living due to poor health, and worked mainly outside of music in the 1940s.

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