:Remembering Little WalterYear Of Release
:Blind Pig RecordsGenre
1. Mark Hummel - I Got To Go (04:08)
2. Charlie Musselwhite - Just a Feeling (06:50)
3. Billy Boy Arnold - You're So Fine (04:14)
4. James Harman - It's Too Late Brother (03:36)
5. Sugar Ray Norcia - Mean Old World (05:21)
6. Charlie Musselwhite - One of These Mornings (05:50)
7. Mark Hummel - Blue Light (05:19)
8. James Harman - Crazy Mixed Up World (04:38)
9. Sugar Ray Norcia - Up the Line (04:46)
10. Billy Boy Arnold - Can't Hold Out Much Longer (04:37)
11. Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Billy Boy Arnold, James Harman & Sugar Ray Norcia - My Babe (07:11)
By Bill Dahl No other musician was as essential to the development of the blues harmonica in postwar blues as Little Walter Jacobs-neither Sonny Boy nor Big Walter Horton, Junior Wells, or James Cotton, great and irreplaceable as they all were (and in Cotton's case, continues to be).
Forty five years after his untimely death and more than six decades after his first hit, the rollicking instrumental "Juke," topped the R&B charts in 1952 on Chicago's Checker Records, Walter's groundbreaking innovations on amplified mouth organ still set a dizzying pace. Countless harpists have tried to extrapolate on the daring, swooping, endlessly imaginative jazz-influenced phrasing that he unfurled over the course of a golden decade and a little more on Checker; only a few have come close to capturing the essence of his unmitigated brilliance.
Cut live at Anthology in San Diego, Remembering Little Walter lives up to its title as five of the blues arena's top harpists do fine versions of two Walter songs each for an appreciative crowd. Obviously an expert in such matters, guitarist Little Charlie Baty, former leader of the Nightcats, knows how to frame each of them for maximum efficiency with his crisp, fluid licks, summoning up memories of the Myers brothers, Robert Jr. Lockwood, and Luther Tucker as his rhythm section displays unerring taste throughout.
First up is Mark Hummel, who swings through "I Got To Go" while letting loose with some full-bodied harp blasts (he comes back later on to tastily revive Walter's after-hours instrumental "Blue Light," whipping out his chromatic for the occasion). Charlie Musselwhite no doubt learned a few licks first-hand from Walter; here he delves into the lights-out "Just A Feeling" and the rollicking "One Of These Mornings," his delightfully laidback vocal delivery counterpointing some of the evening's most imaginative harmonica soloing.
Though chronologically younger by a few years, Billy Boy Arnold was a contemporary of Walter's on the Chicago circuit. He grabs hold of the classic shuffle "You're So Fine" and makes it sound like 1953 all over again, Baty and Nathan James' interlocking guitars providing the perfect backdrop for Arnold's forceful vocal and harp work. Billy's treatment of the downbeat "Can't Hold Out Much Longer" is just as impressive; at 77 years of age, Billy Boy remains at the top of his game.
James Harman swings through "It's Too Late Brother" and the rollicking "Crazy Mixed Up World" with engaging ease, and Sugar Ray Norcia contributes on-target renditions of "Mean Old World" and the percolating "Up The Line." Everyone jumps in on the finale, Walter's 1955 Number One R&B smash "My Babe," taking a turn at the mic with solos that might well have impressed the impetuous Walter himself (even Little Charlie blows some pungent harp).
There's simply no way to top Walter's original versions of any of these 11 songs. That's what genius is all about (and it cannot be stressed strongly enough that if you don't own Walter's entire catalog, you need to chase it down posthaste). But as a tribute to the participants' shared hero, Remembering Little Walter is a triumph in its own right.