:Blues for Big WalterYear Of Release
:FLAC (tracks+.cue)Total Time
1. Someday - Kim Wilson
2. She Loves Another Man - Jimmy Rogers
3. Worried Life - Mark Wenner
4. If It Ain't Me - Steve Guyger
5. Hard Hearted Woman - Mark Hummel
6. Great Shakes - Kurt Crandall
7. We're Gonna Move To Kansas City - Ronnie Owens
8. Sugar Ray Medley - Sugar Ray
9. Evening Shuffle - Andrew Ali
10. Easy - Mark Hummel
11. Walking By Myself - Mark Wenner
12. Little Boy Blue - Steve Guyger
13. Need My Baby - Ronnie Owens
14. Easy II - Andrew Ali
15. Rambling On My Mind - Robert Lockwood
16. Think Big - Li'l Ronnie
This time around, we get to listen to an exciting homage to one of the greatest Chicago blues harp Masters ever: Big Walter Horton WH (b. April 6th, 1921 Horn Lake, MS; d. at age 60 due to heart failure on December 8th, 1981, Chicago, IL). BWH was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame posthumously in 1982.
Nine seasoned harp players contribute one or more songs. Sometimes three as in the case of Lil' Ronnie Owens. These harp players are among the best in the world today (Kim Wilson, Mark Hummel, Bob Corritore, Sugar Ray Norcia, Steve Guyger, Mark Wenner, Li'l Ronnie Owens, Kurt Crandall and Andrew Alli). Some in that list may be lesser known but they are no less stellar.
What is obvious to the discerning ear is that these harmonica players did serious woodshedding. Just listen to the wonderful Sugar Ray Norcia's "Sugar Ray's Medley" tribute to the Master. From "That Ain't It", "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", "Rockin' My Boogie", "St Louis Blues" to "Everybody's Fishing" (and even Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill"), Sugar Ray and his band move seamlessly from one BWH song to another in one ever-flowing 18:46 minutes long track! On its own merit, that song is worth the price of admission.
So many performers got my attention here. The list would too long to provide, but among them are Kim Wilson ("Someday"), Bob Corritore ("She Loves Another Man"), Kurt Crandall ("Great Shakes"), Li'l Ronnie Owens ("We're Gonna Move to Kansas City"), Steve Guyger ("Little Boy Blue") and Mark Hummel's ("Easy).
The accompanying musicians on the CD also deserve a special mention. Some like Robert Lockwood, Jr., Henry Gray, Mike Welch, and Jimmy Rogers are legendary and better known, some less so, but all are/were masters at delivering that vintage Chicago sound. BWH was uncanny at his supportive harp work as a sideman, playing understated riffs and melodic phrasings. They return the favor in kind here towards the nine featured harp players.
Blues For Big Walter offers a generous 16-song serving. Every rendition is thoughtfully crafted, and offers a delightful presentation of Big Walter's musical soul and genius. Many of the BWH's best known songs are covered - sometimes twice as with Mark Hummel's "Easy" and with Andrew Alli's "Easy II" - yet they complement each other well, and with little to no overlaps.
These songs are presented either in a full-band format or within a stripped-down setting of only harp and guitar (check out Steve Guyger's surreal rendition of "Little Boy Blue"). "La Cucaracha", one of BWH's signature songs, surprisingly does not appear on this compilation. Not an easy song to redo, mind you, as it has a lot of timing challenges. Big or "Shakey" Walter Horton - also occasionally known as "Mumbles", but he did not like that moniker - did record that song in different versions and with different slants; just as he did with his "Walter's Boogie", sometimes under different titles like "Blues Harp Shuffle" or "All-Star Boogie", for instance. However, and in fairness to this project, there are too many BMH classics that could not be included here due to time restrictions. I am thinking of songs like "Trouble In Mind", "Blues In The Morning", and "Good Moanin' Blues", among others.
To reproduce the Big Walter Horton harp tone - as these artists do so well here - is not an easy task. His recorded phrasings may be clean enough to be reproduced by advanced players, but it remains that BWH used his huge hands to create his harmonica sound (he took pride of that fact in interviews); and on acoustic songs he also sometimes used a cup or a drinking glass to add a cavern-like sound. But what is lesser known is that he would often dip his harps in water or alcohol (beer, gin, etc.) to make them sound louder, sweeter, and horn-like! The Hohner Marine Band's wooden combs and brass reeds of old could not take abuse like that for long as they would soon get out of tune or be difficult to play, but he didn't seem to care. He often did this when I saw him perform in Chicago in the late '60s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s (he died in 1981).
A concern that a producer would have about an homage CD of this sort is that the nine chosen performers would be doing the same repetitive BWH licks over and again, thus making this tribute trite. It does not happen here. The 16 songs are fresh, exciting to listen to, and heartfelt.
Blues For Big Walter is a pure, authentic, and unadulterated Chicago Blues recording. There are no rock ‘n' roll notes here. This CD contains a huge trove of BWH ideas. It is a primer for the BWH student, and also for those who want to hear how influential his playing is on contemporary performers. I, for one, had forgotten how influential BWH continues to be on my playing style.
I commend producer Li'l Ronnie Owens not only for his astute selection of the record's contributors, but also for his labor of love behind this seminal project. On EllerSoul Records' homepage he writes: "I hope we get to do a Volume II because there are so many great players that we couldn't get on this one CD." May this turn out to be true!
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