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Little Walter

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Chicago, United States (1947 – 1968)

Little Walter (born Marion Walter Jacobs in Marksville, Louisiana; May 1, 1930; died on February 15, 1968 in Chicago, Illinois) was an American singer, harmonica player, and guitarist, whose revolutionary approach to the harmonica earned him comparisons to Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix for innovation and impact on succeeding generations. His virtuosity and musical innovations fundamentally altered many listeners’ expectations of what was possible on blues harmonica. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 in the “sideman” category, making him the first and only artist ever to be inducted specifically for his work as a harmonica player.

Tired of the generic electric guitar blues of the mid-1940s, Little Walter introduced to blues a new sound by simply combining the use of a guitar amp, mic, and a harmonica; a technique used among harmonica musicians to this day. He made his first released recordings in 1947 for Bernard Abram’s tiny Ora-Nelle label, which operated out of the back room of the Abrams’ Maxwell Radio and Records store in the heart of the Maxwell Street market area in Chicago. Little Walter thus became the first musician to use electric distortion on purpose. Little Walter is widely regarded as the best harmonica player ever, and you can hear much of his talent accompanying Muddy Waters’s repertoire from the 50’s, as well as his own numerous and successful recordings of that time.

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