Big Walter Horton Biography

6 April 1918, Horn Lake, Mississippi, USA, d. 8 December 1981, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Horton, also aka "Shakey", "Mumbles" and "Big Walter", claimed to have taught himself harmonica by the time he was five years old, and certainly the extraordinary skill he achieved speaks of a very special affinity with the instrument. By his teens, he was in Memphis and beginning to make a living from music. He later claimed to have been on recordings by the Memphis Jug Band in 1927, but as he would have been only nine years old, this seems unlikely. More plausibly, he may have been the harmonica accompanist on Buddy Doyle's 1939 records. Throughout the 40s, he continued to develop his skills on the instrument, but it was not until 1951 that he recorded in his own right, back in Memphis. Over the next two years he made a series of recordings, many of which were not issued until many years later, but which demonstrate Horton's remarkable talent, singing and playing his harmonica with great skill and imagination. One of the finest recordings was "Easy', a slow instrumental solo, accompanied only by Jimmy DeBerry's guitar, issued on Sun in 1953. Later that year, he was again in Chicago and issued two sides under Johnny Shines' name. With Horton's brilliant, soaring and swooping harmonica work and Shines" uniquely powerful, impassioned vocals, "Evening Sun", with its flip-side "Brutal Hearted Woman", was widely regarded as one of the finest blues records from post-war Chicago. Throughout the decade, he was playing regularly in Chicago, sometimes with Shines, or with Muddy Waters. He appeared on some of the latter's recordings, as well as others by Jimmy Rogers, Arbee Stidham and Sunnyland Slim. In the 60s, he reached a new audience, travelling widely in the USA and touring Europe with blues packages. As time went on, he demonstrated his versatility by adding pop and jazz themes to his repertoire, as well as showing a fondness for Latin tunes such as "La Cucaracha" and "La Paloma". He was always primarily a blues player and the tough, electric sounds of Memphis and Chicago remained the essence of his music through many fine recordings in the 60s and 70s.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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